Tuesday, January 24, 2017


post by Lynn

“Hey Lynn,” my husband calls from the door that leads to our deck. “Come here a minute.”

I leave the bedroom where I am putting away the laundry and go to him.

We stand on the deck and watch the northeastern sky bubble and boil and flash in a late-season thunderstorm.


We follow a red tailed hawk as it circles the blue spruce where our resident flock of sparrows are hiding, hugging close to the trunk.


We marvel at the jackrabbit tracks marking up last night’s snowfall with crisscrossing trails and mussed up drifts: signs of midnight skirmishes.

That’s it—a simple sharing. A call and a response, repeated again and again throughout the year.

My marriage is fueled by such moments.

So is my writing.

Because what is writing, really, but a call from the writer (Hey, come and look!) and a response from the reader?

Isn’t it our job as writers to bring the readers out of the muddied water of their lives and show them the one greenish pebble at the bottom of the cold stream?

To help them focus?

To help them SEE?


Lots of writers and writing teachers have discussed the importance of focusing in.


Writers like Adair Lara, who, in her book, Naked, Drunk, and Writing, speaks of the “luminosity of the particular” and goads me to write with images.

“When you trust images to do the work for you, much of what spills onto the page is unconscious… Writing is turning your thoughts, abstractions, generalizations, and opinions back into the experiences you got them from.”

As a tool, Adair suggests, ask yourself questions. If you want to write about running away from home at age seven, ask: What did I take with me? Find the details in that moment. Write the images.

You want to avoid the kind of “quick trick” techniques that keep you from really looking closely at the real world and focusing on the people in it. “How to Plot Your Novel in Thirty Days,” “Create Fabulous Characters in an Hour!” – these shortcuts do not usually produce very good work. What produces good writing is accurately noticing specific real living individuals and instances. Focus on the things you notice, and focus on the very small things you notice – the things other people, nonwriters, pass right over… build from the ground up using the true observed stuff of real life.
-- Heather Sellers, The Practice of Creative Writing

In Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual, he describes a deceptively simple activity that poet Linda Gregg assigns to her students:

Study closely six things each day. 

“What seems like a simple discipline turns out to be quite difficult,” Ted says, “because by habit, most of us go through our lives without paying much attention to anything… it’s observed details that really make a poem vivid.”


Tina Welling, in Chapter Six of Writing Wild, encourages me to slow down and chronicle the details of a moment. She describes a night where a momma moose and her twin calves bedded down in front of her bedroom window.

Excitement might have rendered Tina unable to notice all the details of this sight, but she has trained herself to slow down and observe deeply.

“My reward: I saw snowflakes in the eyelashes of the mother moose,” says Tina. “If I hadn’t broken my experience down into its separate pieces, I never would have seen that while trying to take in the whole wonderful event of moose in my yard.”


I have my marching orders for the day: Go forth and observe.

I have a small notebook with me to jot down the images. If I’m lucky, and observant enough, I may find something that makes me call out to you in future blog posts:

Hey, come and look!


  1. Lynn, how do yo do it? How do you know just what I need and provide it? I started a poem this morning for a poetry group I've joined and your sage advice reminded me to add more detail to what I've written. I've got a good start, but need to get in closer. Once more, thank you. Oh wait, come look at this. Kath and I do that all the time.

  2. Just goes to show that we writers travel in the same boat!

    By the way, I'm going to go to Barnes & Noble tomorrow and order my copy of A Death at Tollgate Creek: Songs of the Prairie. I have a Nook, but still like to hold a book (with such a lovely cover too) in my hand. Looking forward to it.


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