Writers: Pay Attention to the Little Things

We’ve managed to glorify busyness to the point where saying you aren’t busy gets you the judgmental eye rolls instead of the other way around.


When was the last time you paid attention? REALLY paid attention?

Not just to street signs or what’s on your screen as you walk from place to place, but to the little things, the details. The people around you, the cars, the dogs, the insects. The way the rain hits the pavement, the shapes of the clouds, whether there’s anyone else out there paying any attention to their surroundings for real.

Being detail-oriented isn’t just a generic job qualification. Not when you’re a writer with a mind that needs to imagine and create in order to continue functioning properly. It’s a skill that, if developed over time, can help you write better stories. Stories readers will find themselves unable to pull away from, once they are sucked into its details.

A good story includes small, seemingly insignificant details that end up becoming an important part of the plot. And if you have a habit of breezing through the world without paying enough attention to the small details scattered around your own life, you’re probably going to have a hard time writing stories that have this level of strategic detail woven in.

The problem is, we’re busy. More than that, we’ve managed to glorify busyness to the point where saying you aren’t busy gets you the judgmental eye rolls instead of the other way around. But that’s not going to help you write better. You have to stop. You have to observe. You have to be able to build an entire story around something as small and seemingly insignificant as a dandelion in the middle of a backyard, because details really are everything, whether you realize it or not.

We’re not talking about endless descriptions and paragraphs full of adjectives here, either. We’re talking about the way authors often surprise and mislead their readers, by throwing in small details that are easily and purposefully missed, because they know paying attention to details isn’t at the top of everyone’s priority list.

Pay attention. Tell better stories. It’s something small, and seemingly insignificant. But there’s a lot that goes into writing a story, and it isn’t enough just to sit down and write. You have to live first. You have to practice skills in the real world before putting them to paper.

It’s time well spent, if you take it.

Image courtesy of Meg Dowell.

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