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How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions: Grow Your Third Eye (6)


“When we engage not only the naked eye
but the growing eye as well, we begin to see 
the extraordinary within the ordinary.”

-Rebecca McClanahan

The “growing eye” or “third eye” that is invaluable to all artists is that ability to look beyond the physical manifestations of things, people and events.

The poet and mystic Gerard Manley Hopkins called this ability the “growing eye” because it expands when it learns to participate emotionally and spiritually with whatever it is we focus on.

The example McClanahan gives us of a writer using her growing eye is  Annie Dillard who wrote the book Holy the Firm after living on an island in Puget Sound for two years. Dillard wrote:

“I wake in a god. I wake in arms holding my quilt, holding me as best they can inside my quilt.

“Someone is kissing me — already. I wake, I cry

” ‘Oh,’ I rise from the pillow. Why should I open my eyes?

“I open my eyes. The god lifts from the water. His head fills the bay. He is Puget Sound, the Pacific; his breast rises from pastures; his fingers are firs; islands slide wet down his shoulders. Islands slip blue from his shoulders and glide over the water, the empty, lighted water like a stage.”

We use and grow our “third eye” when we contemplate things, seasons, events and people and choose to look beyond what our two eyes see.

McClanahan suggests doing an exercise she learned from Kenneth Koch’s book, Wishes, Lies, and Dreams:

  1. Imagine you have a third eye in between your two seeing eyes
  2. Recognize that this eye can see far beyond dimension and space and can penetrate unseen mysteries
  3. Know that this eye has unlimited power
  4. Refuse to use images perceived through the naked eye.

Additionally, the author recommends regularly closing our eyes in silent meditation: “Sometimes the best way to describe our world is with eyes closed. Daily life clouds our sight and our insight, especially when we spend time before televisions and movie screens where the visual world is even more frantic and fragmented than the world of nature, breaking into images lasting only seconds…Our naked eye becomes so filled that our inner eye refuses to see.”

“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.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Friday Web Finds | Writing on the Pages of Life

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