I was inspired to write this post after reading Nannus’ Turning the Other Way which explains what blind spots are and how they apply to all thinking. It’s directed toward everyone, artists and non-artists alike. It’s beautifully written and a quick read, so please check it out first. It might inspire you to take a stroll down an oft-neglected path.
I thought I might apply his insights to writing and its connection to our sphere of attention in everyday life.
I’ve become aware of systemic problems in my fiction writing through my writing group. These friends constantly and unanimously tell me that I need to include more visual descriptions. Not only that, but I have a tendency to mess up time in such a way that one would have to posit parallel universes in order to make sense of what I’ve written. (And I don’t write Sci-Fi, so this is truly problematic.)
Now that I’m working on the second draft of my novel, I’m forced to face these annoying details head on.
But wait. Are these just annoying details? Or is there a greater problem here?
It wasn’t until recently that I realized why I keep having these same problems over and over:
Your blind spots in writing are your blind spots in real life.
They say you should write what you know, but if you’re not a great observer, your writing is going to reflect that.
I am not a great observer. I don’t pay a lot of attention to visual details like what the room looks like, etc. Not unless something really strikes me as out of place.
For example, I get annoyed when people interrupt a conversation to point out some object in the background, or something someone is wearing, or whatever, and I think, “Are you listening to me?” It’s because I don’t pay great attention to those things I can’t imagine such a detail trumping the words that come out of their mouths. I usually come away from such people feeling like a very boring person. Maybe I am, or—and I hope this is true—maybe I’m just not as attuned to these things as other people are.
Which explains why dialogue is the easiest for me to write. It’s what I pay attention to in life. Other people find describing a room or a landscape very easy, but have a hard time coming up with “things to say” for their characters.
Of course, I would object that you can’t just tack on dialogue. It has to be integrated into the story and the character. You don’t just make up filler because you know your character should probably say something at some point.
Yet what have I been doing with visual descriptions? Tacking them on. So imagine:
So and so has blue eyes and brown hair.
I hope I’m not the only one who finds this boring. This is the kind of stuff I gloss over when I’m reading a novel. Too many of those kinds of lines will make me stop reading.
No more tacking on. I have to go out into the world and pay attention, I have to force myself to focus on things I’m not used to. That means I have to select the appropriate and relevant details, and see their meaning. I need to clue myself into visual details that in themselves tell a story.
What stories am I missing in life? Is life really a Platonic dialogue? No, this is just the way I’ve been seeing it—and this excludes of a lot of potentially interesting things.
I have to learn to pay attention to my real life blind spots or else my writing will not feel true. This requires expanding my horizon of attention, and I don’t suspect this will be an easy feat.
(Not unless I find myself stuck at a dinner party chatting with someone boring.)
Are you aware of your blind spots? What are they?