Description begins in the beholder’s eye, and it requires attention.
If we look closely long enough and stay in the moment long enough, we may be granted new eyes.
In Chapter Two of Word Painting, McClanahan says that good description begins with observation. When we focus on something or someone long enough, we begin to notice things that we would have missed if we didn’t give our full attention. Singer and songwriter Paul Stookey said, “Sometimes, if you sit in one place long enough, you get used. You become the instrument for what it is that wants to be said.”
McClanahan advices writers to keep on looking, to put the writer’s eye to use as often as possible and long enough so that we will be able to see forms emerge and patterns reconfigure themselves. Says McClanahan: “Most of us simply don’t stay in one place long enough to be used.”
She also pointed out that the advice a comet-hunter gave to novice comet-hunters during a radio interview could also work well for writers:
- Stay at the eyepiece and keep looking
- Watch the sky everyday
- Study as many established comets as you can so you’ll know what one looks like when it appears
- Be patient. The do-or-die approach rarely works
Adapting these time-tested advice to writing, the author says that writers should begin by reading the best literature, especially those rich in detail…”so you’ll be able to recognize an effective description when it appears.” She continues, “I say when, not if, for the comet will appear. The universe is stacked in favor of possibility. If we are patient enough, if we don’t force the process but rather remain open to discovery, one day, probably when we least expect it, a comet will appear.”
I choose to be patient.
“If description is the flowering, it is also the root and stem of effective writing,” wrote Rebecca McClanahan in her book, Word Painting, A Guide to Writing More Descriptively. I’m reading this book because I meet my Waterloo every time I have to describe something in writing. I honestly feel this makes my writing flowerless. This is such a good book and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to write well. I’ll be using this blog to take notes as I read through this book, so this post is part of a series. I hope you’ll learn along with me.