For Writers: Paying Attention

We have a world around us just waiting to be noticed—small, everyday details.

Not long ago, on a beautiful sunny summer morning, my husband walked into the kitchen. “I fixed the bathroom scale,” he said, looking pleased. “You weigh five pounds more than you thought you did.”

For some reason that I still can’t fathom—Steve thought that was good news. He’s an accountant. Numbers are important. Not those numbers, I tried to explain, barely able to hold back my indignation.

That conversation between us became a blog post. That’s the beauty of a writer’s life…everything is grit for the oyster. Especially husbands. Sons provide some pretty good material, too. You can elevate the smallest things through your storytelling ability—even a bathroom scale.

But how?

By paying attention.

In my purse is wirebound ruled index cards (you can get them at CVS for a buck or two). I jot down all kinds of little details on those index cards—interesting words, funny remarks I overhear, ideas for beats to break up dialogue. I’m training myself to pay attention. An added bonus—you can make your friends nervous as you scribble down little observations about their mannerisms.

For example, notice some of the tiny details in this excerpt of The Haven:

“Well, at least we have Annie’s grandfather set up so he’ll be all right by himself,” M.K. said hopefully.

Fern eyed her over her shoulder. “We have him set up so that you and Jimmy Fisher can come each Saturday and keep up with the housework and bring him fresh food.” Out loud, she subtracted seven from thirty-five. “Let’s see. Just four more Saturdays.”

“That many?” M.K. asked in a puny voice.

Fern wasn’t listening. “Don’t you agree, Hank?”

Uncle Hank was helping Annie’s grandfather into his chair on the porch where he liked to sit and watch the world go by—not that much of the world was going by this little dirt lane. He lifted the old man’s feet up and placed them on a pillow. “You betcha! I might even come with you two next Saturday. I’ll bring my checkers.”

Annie’s grandfather brightened at that thought. But it worried M.K. Since when did Uncle Hank volunteer for work? Ordinarily, he woke early and tinkered with a few buggies that were sitting in his buggy shop, since he was up at that hour anyway. But then he figured he’d done his day’s chores and off he’d go to fish at Blue Lake Pond.

“What would you say to that, Edith? You coming too?” Uncle Hank looked over at Edith and winked, which flustered her. Edith Fisher never flustered.

Edith looked away, and her hand crept up to the knot of hair on her neck. “We’ll see.” A rosy blush crept over her face.

Their eyes met.

M.K. and Jimmy exchanged a dark glance, a rare moment when they saw life from the same vantage point.

What was happening to the world? Everything was upside down.

We have a world around us just waiting to be noticed—small, everyday details. Weave them into a story and you’ll be amazed at the results: you can ground a character in a scene and deepen texture to a personality.

Look for inspiration in the places in which God puts you. Ordinary places. Ordinary people.

Develop eyes and ears to see and hear life on a deeper level. Once you begin, you’ll be amazed at the sources of inspiration you’ll encounter. I can guarantee that life will never seem quite the same. Instead, it will be filled with meaning. Just as God intended it to be.

About Suzanne

Suzanne Woods Fisher writes bestselling, award winning fiction and non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish for Revell Books. Her interest in the Plain People began with her Old Order German Baptist grandfather, raised in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne's app, Amish Wisdom, delivers a daily Amish proverb to your phone or iPad. She writes a bi-monthly column for Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazine. She lives with her family in California and raises puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. To Suzanne's way of thinking, you can't take life too seriously when a puppy is running through your house with someone's underwear in its mouth.