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Work like a visual artist to develop new writing muscles

Woman painting by lake

On a recent trip to Canada, I noticed a woman painting along the shore of the lake. She had her easel set up and was capturing the snow-capped mountains rising up out of the water. I noticed how she would look at the scene in front of her as if memorizing a detail, then bow her head to canvas and work on a section for several minutes before raising her head to memorize another detail of the setting.

This reminded me of advice I once read from author and poet Priscilla Long in The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life. To learn how to write body language in your scenes, she suggests the following exercise: Go to a public place like a coffee shop and observe two people as they talk to each other. Notice their body language. Write in your notebook all the body language you see.

She says, “…observe them while writing continuously. Observe their postures and gestures, the way they hold themselves, they way they move their hands, where they place their feet. Use this strategy taken from the visual arts: Look, memorize what you see, then turn to the page and write. Then look again….”

Like the woman painting the lake, using our writing muscles in this way exercises our observation and interpretation skills and makes us more aware of our surroundings.

For more details about writing body language and other details about writing craft, read Long’s book. It’s part of my writer must-have library.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Priscilla Long’s book is one of my all-time favorites, too.

    You’ve written a lovely post and have inspired me to work like a visual artist. I’ll read your words again and then get to work. :)

    Linda

    June 18, 2012

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