Radical Noticing

We can so easily get caught up in catastrophising about the future, worrying about the past and generally living in our heads so that we become blind to what’s going on around us. Ten years ago I was offered a free spot on a MCBT course in London. Learning to notice was a big part of the course. The aim of noticing was, of course, to be more present. To be here now. And what a change this simple act made to my life and also to my writing. 

Awareness–noticing the world around– us helps alleviate anxiety and depression. We are present and don’t get caught up in stories about how bad or good we are, the past or the future. By being present we often discover that life is actually ok in this moment and, in fact, there’s a lot of beauty in our daily ordinary, magic in our mundane. 

The practice of noticing also helps us become better writers. Readers read to experience the world so it’s important that we writers slow down and savour the world around us so that we can share our observations. Give your readers significant, specific detail and they will smell, taste, touch, hear and see as vividly as you have. Give your reader a dash-dash of detail and they’ll paint the rest of the picture in their mind’s eye.

Derek Jarman was a master of detail and a master of noticing. Modern Nature, a journal of his last years before he died of AIDS, is one of my favourite books of all time. Jarman’s noticing was a radical act because he refused to be the sad, sorry victim the tabloids, and some sections of society, wished him to be. Instead he committed to finding joy in the everyday—that magic in the mundane— to notice and to record beauty. This noticing was pure subversion. He wasn’t going to be shamed. He wasn’t going to be sorry. He would notice and record and stake his place in the world by celebrating joy and beauty in his every day, every damn day.

Saturday 8th April

The night sky here is a riot that outshines the brightest lights of Piccadilly; the stars have the intensity of jewels. So flat is the Ness that those stars that lie at the horizon touch your very feet and the moon tips the waves with silver.

The nuclear power station is a great ocean liner moored in the firmament, ablaze with light: white, yellow, ruby. Whilst around the bay the lights stretch from Folkestone to Dover. High above, jet liners from the south flash silent in the stars. On these awesome nights, reduced to silence I walk across the Ness. 

Never in my many sleepless nights have I witnessed a spectacle like this. Not the antique bells of the flocks moving up a Sardinian hillside, the barking of the dogs and sharp cries of shepherd boys, nor moonlit nights sailing Aegean, nor the scented nights and fireflies of Fire Island, smashed glass star-strewn through the piers along the Hudson—nothing can quite equal this. 

Modern Nature Derek Jarman: Penguin

Just wow. Notice the specific detail. Notice the colours. Those little brushstrokes of words. An ordinary walk across Dungeness at night made extraordinary by his attention to detail. Jarman was an artist and so was trained to notice detail but we can all be trained. We can train ourselves and we can start right here, right now. 

  • What do you see out of your window? Notice colour. Notice shadow and light. Notice nature. Write it all down. Don’t edit, Just write.
  • Set your alarm and look out of your window at different times of the day. What do you see? Who do you see? What’s happening? Really narrow your focus on the micro. If you hear a voice inside your head saying this isn’t important, ignore it. It is. It’s your life.
  • Sit on a bench outside. What do you smell, touch, taste, see, hear? Who is passing? Who is talking? What are they wearing? What’s happening?
  • Never dismiss seemingly small events—the starlings gathering together on a fence; a woman running across the car park after an Asda bag whirling in the wind. Readers love the the small ordinary events of everyday life. Use detail to take them there. If you go rock pooling, I want to smell the samphire you forage. I want to feel it between my fingers—how wet, how green.

Until tomorrow, happy writing! Enjoy!

Kerry is the founder of Write like a Grrrl which offers creative writing courses for women & NB in partnership with For Book’s Sake in the UK. Kerry’s Write like a Grrrl courses are now taught all over the world and Kerry has facilitated workshops across the UK, in Ireland and Russia. Her writing has been featured in various publications including Steer, The Manchester Review, the Kenyon Review and Spilling Ink. Her play Trust was recently performed at the Gulbenkian Theatre.

Leave a Reply