Monday, March 11, 2013

An Observation Exercise for Writer's Block

Recently, I saw a writer post that she hadn't written a word in six months. Not a word. Since my muse is usually in overtime skitting from project to project, it's hard for me to to believe writer's block exists, but it apparently does.

This writer said she had situational depression. While I don't know her, I tried to be helpful and suggested the following observation exercise which I learned in a college writing class. Thanks to my favorite writing professor, Jo Van Arkel, for this valuable lesson.

Choose a location--any location (inside or out)--and take your laptop or pen and pad with you. Then, using your senses write down EVERYTHING you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.

Don't leave anything out. Scribble away and clean it up later. I promise this will get the words flowing. I even had to use shorthand to keep up with all of my senses and fast-paced surrounding!

For my assignment, I chose to go to a downtown bus stop. Soon, I was among intriguing people (hey, be nice) and the smell of popcorn from a nearby movie theatre that is long gone. I also smelled exhaust from passing cars and heard breaks screeching and cars humming. I could feel the cold concrete bench under my behind, the wind on my face, and saw birds swirl overhead. I took notice of everyone's clothes, perfume, hairstyle, and some very worn shoes. Then, I listened for dialogue. Yes, I happily eavesdropped.

While I don't remember the conversations, I do remember a story emerged between strangers. This suprised me and delighted my professor. I had planned to sit there for an hour, and as the windy day turned to dusk, I begrudgingly left my hard chair behind hours later. After all, I now had several handwritten pages to type.

This observation exercise is an easy, helpful way to get the words flowing. It also helps with realistic dialogue, new characters, and hones your senses.  After 20 years, I still remember it fondly as one of my favorite writing exercises. Try it and let me know how it goes.


  1. What a great exercise. Thanks for sharing!

  2. It was so enjoyable, Sharon. And fun! I tried to think of a place with unique characters and found one. I hope I still have the paper somewhere.

  3. I've done that exercise before. It did get the juices flowing again although I don't think anything ever came of it.

    1. Just getting the creative juices flowing is a great start. Thanks, Wanda.