Our physical senses are portals not only to the world outside our bodies but also to the world within us. The right taste on the tongue gives pleasure and stimulates chemical reactions that create a natural high. A certain texture or sound triggers thoughts that are related, that move us toward other thoughts and impressions. A single fragrance can bring back a memory full force and drop us into a scene from 20 years ago.
Given the power of the senses, it would be silly not to take advantage of them when doing creative work such as writing.
But for the most part, writing is interior work—words and ideas—whether it’s in a journal or on assignment for a publisher. It would be easy to disconnect from the senses when we’re looking for just the right word or trying to untangle a sentence. We might even overlook the physical while we explore our emotional landscape. But often the physical will help us find that landscape.
Another thing to remember about writers and physical senses is that most writers have their favorite senses. For instance, one writer may include a lot of visual details. When she journals or writes a letter or posts on her blog, she supplies all sorts of information about how things look—but she neglects details having to do with sound or texture. I think every writer leans more toward one or two senses and not so much toward the others.
Now, there’s no law that we must include every sense all the time—that would become tedious and forced anyway. But you might read over something you’ve written and notice which senses you accessed and used. And then ask yourself, “Is there a reason I never write about how things smell? Or feel to the touch?”
It might be that you simply need to develop your attention to a particular sense. It may also be true that a certain sense tends to trigger something in you that is uncomfortable—and so your neglect of that sense is a subconscious avoidance. This is useful to know.
Try focusing on a specific sense, and see what happens. See if it changes the story you’re writing, or if it helps you remember some other part of an event that happened to you.
- Describe an event that happened in your family—better to focus on something small that happened in a short time frame. But here’s the catch: write about that event only in terms of the colors, or the sounds, or the smells, or the textures . . . you get the idea. Choose one physical sense and focus on it to tell this little story.
- Drink a beverage you don’t usually drink: if you’re not a coffee drinker, try a cup, just a few sips. Or, if you haven’t had lemonade in years, have some now. Notice any associations you make with the flavor; follow your thoughts and emotions as you allow the flavor to linger. Write whatever comes to mind.
- Make a short list of people who have been significant in your life. Now meditate on each person, and choose a scent that you believe fits that person. It doesn’t have to make rational sense; this has more to do with your intuitive and emotional knowledge.
Creator of the universe—and creator of me—please wake up my senses so that I can experience life on this planet more fully and vividly.
I wrote the material this week especially for this online retreat—these are not book excerpts! However, if you find this material helpful and would like to pursue your writing further, you will probably enjoy my brand new book: The Art of Spiritual Writing: How to Craft Prose That Engages and Inspires Your Readers. Use code 4365 to purchase your copy for only $10 through 10/31/13. Shipping and handling are additional.
I’ll be hosting a Tweetchat on Friday, October 4, at 12:00 CST. Use the hashtag #writethesoul to join in and discuss your experiences from this retreat week. Ask me any questions ahead of time here on the blog or @VinitaKS on Twitter.