Observing and Perceiving Your World
“Good writing begins with clear thinking. Clear thinking begins with focused perceiving. All writing consists of original observations of, and reactions to, life. The sharper our skills of observation and perception, the more we will have to say and the better we will be able to say it. Read the parables of Jesus and notice how carefully the Master Communicator observed details and used them in original ways to convey profound messages.” (Herr 1983, 1999)
Reasons for Original Perception:
- It helps the writer to continue in personal growth…
- By developing alertness and awareness of life.
- By helping prevent boredom and a lack of fresh inspiration.
- By keeping the life and ministry fresh and updated.
2. It helps provide information and inspiration for producing lively, practical, readable literature…
- Observing your world enables you to bring new life and color to anemic sentences. No matter how profound the message is, if you say or write it in a dull way, your audience or reader will go on to the next story.
3. It helps you show more than tell…
- Personal focused observation provides you with more detail and first-hand experience. You can get a better picture of what’s actually happening from experience rather than second-hand information. You can show with more description, detail and life in your story.
- It helps you to increase the emotional tenor of your writing.
- You should never tell your readers how to respond, emotionally, to your writing. Instead, you paint them a vivid word-picture with perceptive words so that they cannot help but have an emotional response to your writing.
How to Increase Perceptivity:
- Develop an attitude of insatiable curiosity. Ask questions like: Who? What? Why? When? Where? And How? We can’t expect readers to care about something that we care and know little about.
- Try new things…
- Break out of the daily rut. Go visit a friend. Take a new route to the store or workplace. Try a new recipe or buy a new piece of clothing. Take the family out for a walk or to go see new sights. Have a family night without the interruption of cell phones, computers, game machines, televisions and other electronic devices.
- Take some risks with your writing. Try some new markets and try to teach yourself new skills that will benefit your life and/or your writing. The only sure way to fail is to refuse to try.
- Purposely broaden your scope of personal interests. Try new food and new hobbies. Visit new places.
3. Open up your mind to new things that don’t go against God’s word.
- Try new or different types of reading material. Try new magazines, new authors, and new forms of writing. Read poetry, science fiction, ancient literature.
- Try new or different ideas you received from your new reading material, television programming, conversations, hobbies, music, organizations and places. Don’t fear new ideas because they are different. Don’t embrace them without thoughtful consideration. Let them stimulate your mind, broaden your interests, and show you new ways of looking at old issues.
- Caution: Never say “no” when God says, “move.” Never move into new areas when God says, “no.”
- Older ideas are not better only because they are comfortable, they are the way your parents did it or taught you to do it, or they are passed down through generations by individuals, churches and/or religious organizations.
- New ideas are not necessarily better just because they appear more relevant to modern society or because they “appear” to be easier, healthier, or safer.
- Always check out new and old ideas by comparing them to the teachings in God’s word.
- Don’t fear controversy. If you are confident of God and trust Him, you can look at every side of a controversy, even those that are obviously wrong. With controversial viewpoints, don’t always assume your viewpoint is the only correct one.
- Carefully evaluate and pray over the controversial viewpoints. By doing this you will (1) confirm your present opinion and feel more secure about it or (2) you will discover that the opposing viewpoint has other facets that merit a closer look at the evidence, human nature, and scriptural viewpoints. Whatever you decide, hopefully you will clearly understand why others disagree with you. Understanding is vital to communicating compassionately with your readers.
- Welcome new experiences and stories other people share about their experiences.
Our five senses:
Open your senses. These are the body’s gateways that allow the body to receive and process information from the outside world and bring it in to our hearts and minds. We must keep our senses active, in good repair, and well-oiled. Not being alert and aware of our environment may cause us to miss out on something important. Our five senses are: hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch.
Wherever you go, listen to the sounds around you. Do you hear birds chirping or squirrels chattering, warning others you are in the area? Is the wind blowing; is it gently blowing leaves around or is it howling, alerting you to an approaching storm? Are the waves crashing in on a nearby sandy beach? Or do you hear the sound of rushing water from a large river? Is there a pond nearby with the sounds of bullfrogs croaking all around?
Do you hear the sounds of people talking, singing, or screaming? Can you hear a baby crying or the giggling of small children as they play together? Do you hear people talking to their pets or the dogs barking at their people? Or perhaps you hear the angry “ffffff” sound as a cat faces and warns a nearby dog not to come any closer?
Do you hear church bells ringing? How about cars racing by during rush hour, honking horns or blowing loud sounds from their mufflers as the drivers rev up their engines? Can you hear the squealing sounds from car tires as the hot rod drives try to get the attention of nearby crowds? Can you hear the whistle of a train or the shrill sound of a siren as it blasts through all of the other sounds and drowns them out, alerting you to the ambulance or police car that’s racing by to the nearest emergency?
Whatever sounds you hear, record them in a notebook or with a tape or audio recorder. Then spend time considering the words you would choose to convey that sound to your readers. Write these word combinations down in your notebook and save them for future reference.
Take walks around your area and carry a micro-cassette tape or handheld recorder with you. Record the sounds and keep a collection of audible treasures in your writer’s reference library for future use.
As you venture out in the world, pay attention to the details of the people, places, and material things around you. Notice the shapes and colors of the trees. Are they evergreens? What shape are their needles? Do they have pine cones? What about oak and other leaf-bearing trees? What color and shape are the leaves? Are the leaves one color or are they a variety of different colors? Or maybe the trees are fruit-bearing such as apple or cherry trees. Do they have fruit on them? What type of fruit? Is it ripe? What color is it?
What type of environment do you live in? Is it a city, suburb, desert, forested area, prairie or swamp? What do you see when you go outside? Do you see wall-to-wall concrete or rows of houses or forests with wildlife running about? Use your eyes everyday as though each day is the last day you will be able to see. Write down your observations in a notebook.
We’ve all smelled the scents of flowers and of fresh-baked apple pie. The smells make your mouth water and draw you into the location from which the scent originates. Flowers and apple pie smell good but what about food burning on the stove as it cooks or garbage when the trash hasn’t recently been disposed of? Every day as we go about our business, our nose smells a variety of scents. Unfortunately, many of us are too busy to stop and smell the flowers or to slow down and enjoy the aroma of coffee brewing or bread that’s baking in the oven. Busyness causes us to miss out on many of the simple pleasures of life.
Take some time out of your busy schedule for a walk. Stop and smell the fragrances around you. Find a pleasant smell and follow it until you locate the source of its origin. Let your nose lead you into new adventures.
Note: Imagery, using the senses of smell and taste, is relatively rare because it is difficult to do. Yet it is highly effective when the writer succeeds at it.
Do you remember your main dish from last night’s supper? How did it taste? Was it bland or spicy? Was it hot or cold or sour or sweet? Were your vegetables fresh and crunchy or overcooked and mushy? Was your dinner salty? Did it have pepper in it? Was your meat overcooked and tough or tender and juicy? Did your food taste fresh or stale? Was it leftovers that had picked up the odors of other foods which were also stored in the refrigerator?
In your mad rush to gulp down your food and race off to your next appointment or sporting event, did you let all of your food flavors blend together or did you even notice them? If possible, take some time to savor each mouthful of food. Perhaps you can even get adventurous and sample some new foods.
Don’t ignore your taste-buds after mealtime. Discover new tastes from the environment around you. Have you ever tasted the salty ocean water or sampled water from a lake, river, stream or creek in your area? How about fresh fruit you have personally picked from a tree or fresh vegetables you have grown in your garden? How do these fresh foods taste in comparison to their counterparts that you can purchase in the grocery store?
Children learn about the world by touching the material things and the people in their environment. As adults, we often discard the process of learning through touch. Perhaps this is because many material things and people in our environment have already become familiar to us. However, we frequently find new material goods yet we don’t bother to take the time to check them out.
Have you noticed the incredible variety of textures in the environment around us? Items can be prickly or smooth, hard or soft, rough or silky, hot or cold, sharp or dull, furry, leather-like, rough like sandpaper or stringy like burlap or rope.
With a little concentrated practice, you can open up your senses and discover a fascinating world. A trip to your local department, fabric or hardware store would be a good place to start. Once you have explored the textures, you will find yourself slowing down to a reasonable pace to start enjoying life with exhilarating new dimensions.
To further explore how writers use the senses in their written works, read some samples from books. Your public library would be a good place to find books full of written works. But for now, read the poem that I (Robin Ulbredtch) put together as a sample:
Thank you, Lord, that I can smell
freshly-baked bread and ginger ale.
Thank you, Lord, that I can see
a black and yellow bumble bee.
Thank you, Lord, that I can hear
my crying child and hold him near.
Thank you, Lord, that I can touch
the special people I love so much.
Thank you, Lord, for the senses—five,
That remind me daily I am alive!
Cultivate the notebook habit for preserving our observations and perceptions. Don’t trust your memory with all of the sensory impressions, experiences, new ideas and spiritual insights you collect write them down and store them for future use. For preserving this information, we first start with the collection phase. We need to go out into our community and observe and record our sensory perceptions.
For this activity I recommend using a Stenographers notebook or a large spiral notebook with the spiral on the top of the page. This will prevent the spiral from interfering with our writing. Once you purchase your notebook, set it up as follows:
- If you have the steno notebook you will notice two columns formed by a red line that divides the page in half. We are going to use both of the columns for separate notations. If your notebook does not have a vertical line going down the center of the page, please draw one with a pen or pencil. You are going to need two columns for your activity.
- The left column will be for writing in the types of observations we make. For example, on the left side we will write “Sight observation:” On the right side of the page, we will write down what it is that we saw with our eyes. We will do this same process for all of our sensory observations. We can also include notes, ideas, quotes, and other items that we may need to record when we are out in the community.
- For each item we record in our notebook, we should also write the date and source of information. For example, if we write down a fact or note from a book or a quote from a person, we need to know where that information came from.
- For quotes that come directly from people, we need to make sure we have every word written down exactly as it came from the mouth of the person. We also need to have it put in quotation “marks” whenever we use it in our writing pieces. We also need to be careful not to add or change the quote in any way or to include quotes in our work that defame the character of a person or slander a business or organization. If we do include these derogatory quotes, we need to have proof that they are true, and even then we risk the possibility of being sued by the person or organization who was injured by the words.
- Look at the sample page that follows this list. This will help you set up your notebooks.
- Take a few hours on a day of leisure and go on a walk to a park or other community site where you can observe nature and the world around you. Watch and listen for opportunities where you can pick up information about your environment through your senses. Write down what you hear, see, smell, taste and touch. Include detail that you might want to use in your written pieces. See the samples I have included on the page that follows. My page will not have a line through the middle of it but I will arrange it into two columns as it should appear in your notebooks.
- If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
 Herr, Ethel (1983, 1999) An Introduction to Christian Writing, 2nd. Ed., Published in the U. S. A. by Tyndale House; Nashville TN: ACW Press; Europe: Godalming, Surrey: Highland Books, p. Acknowledgments, 29.
Writer’s Information Collection Worksheet
Note: I am having temporary issues with getting the format of this sheet correct on the website. The date, time, and observation titles should be in the left column on your notebook sheet. The paragraphs about what I saw, smell, touched, etc. should go in the right column or side of your notebook page. Please bear with me until I can get this issue resolved. If you have any questions, please email me at email@example.com
Date: 5/9/2020 Time: 2 p.m. Location: Sandpoint City Beach
I saw a black poodle running away from a large yellow cat. The dog had a look of terror on his face, and he was running as fast as he could go.
I could smell someone cooking steak on the grill. It made my mouth water and I wanted to join in the barbeque. The steak cooking smelled wonderful!
I saw a little girl crash on her bike. It looked like she scratched her knee. She cried and her loving father grabbed and hugged her. It reminded me of my loving heavenly Father.
When I sat on the grass it was cold and wet. Moisture caused the grass blades to stick to me and to one another.
I saw a sign that the beach was closing next week for lifeguard training, in preparation for the upcoming swimming season.
Scripture came to me:
“The joy of the Lord is my strength.”
Quote: From Ethel Herr (1983, 1999), An Introduction to Christian Writing, 2nd. Ed., Published by Tyndale House: USA; Nashville, TN: ACW Press; Godalming, Surrey, Europe, p. acknowledgments.
“Books don’t happen. They grow,often slowly, from tender roots planted in well-prepared soil long ago, An Introduction to Christian Writing sprouted, leafed, budded, and blossomed under the watchful eyes and skillful hands of a lifetime array of literary gardeners.”