The best thing for an aspiring writer to learn is how to be still and pay attention. Whether it’s paying attention to the way people talk, behave and treat each other.
Richard Powers had gone to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts because admission was free until noon on Saturdays, and there it was — August Sander’s 1914 black and white photo of three farm boys heading to a dance.
The photo haunted him. He saw an entire story in that old photo, and within 48 hours he’d quit his job and started writing his first novel; Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance.
When pressed on his key to success, he gave one piece of advice — PAY ATTENTION’
So what is the First Step to Better Writing?
Believe. Not in yourself because you’re not (yet) good enough. You and I both suck at this. I’m asking you to believe in the world, that it will always present you with stories and when you see them, write it down for yourself
Everything is material — only if you’re willing to pay attention.
Take a leaf from David who looked at the stars and wrote one of the greatest poems in history in Psalm 19.
The sky tells a great story of motion and beauty. The birds sing. People on the road are fascinating. Even Your feelings are scripts for an Oscar-winning screenplay. Immerse yourself in books and pay attention to how the author writes, the flow from scene to scene and the diversity of characters.
Everything around you is screaming stories, all you have to do is sign a publishing deal with them and share with others. Or be a thief. Steal from creation.
“Be present, practice attention, and the story you are working on will feed on everything in front of you” — Richard Powers
You don’t have to write about everything but by paying attention to what matters to you and others, you will become a better writer over time. What are people discussing? Why is the world the way it is? What are you angry about?
People will ignore your misgivings if you write relatable content.
On Climbing the First step to Better Writing
Consume information in detail and your mind will do all the work for you. In time, everything will come together when you write. For Richard, it was his book “The Overstory”.
And it all came together because of one moment of attention, that changed his life forever.
The path to becoming a better writer is already at your door. Bend the Knob by paying attention.
So how do you pay attention?
- Be quiet.
- Be patient.
- Use all five senses.
- Accept what you experience without judging it.
And Then Record.
Consciously pay attention to what’s happening around and in you without interfering. Don’t judge or block anything out.
After you’ve paid attention, write two sentences about it immediately on your notes app or paper. If you forget to pay attention, don’t beat yourself up, just do it again intentionally. Every time you forget is a reminder to pay attention again.