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Spring has most definitely sprung, and what better way to celebrate than to pick up a camera and go outside. Today marks the mid-point of this blog’s celebration of National Poetry Month. So let’s take a break from poetry and practice seeing deeply instead. “Breaking Habits of Seeing” is a fun activity from Discovering the Writer Within by Bruce Ballenger and Barry Lane. Experienced writers make unique observations as second nature, but all writers occasionally fall victim to complacency. If you want to breathe new life into your writing, try this exercise.

Image of a dried leaf on rocky shore.

Breaking Habits of Seeing

Whether done alone, with members of a writers’ group, or with students or your children, remember to let yourself indulge in the playfulness of language.

  • Find a small rock. If not, any small, natural object will do: a stick, leaf, flower, pine cone, etc.
  • Generate a list of observations related to your rock. Go beyond the obvious. Keep passing the object around and adding to the list (if done as part of a group).
  • Keep looking closer. Don’t stop thinking and adding the list!!! Push yourself to see more than just a boring rock.
  • Now circle any observations that another person would not immediately see as obvious.

Consider what this silly exercise has to do with becoming a better writer or poet. What do the lists reveal? Were your observations mostly obvious or were you able to see things in new and interesting ways? Do you make things hard on yourself or is it easy to let the observations flow? How can over-thinking harm your writing?

The authors of Discovering the Writer Within note, “What makes familiar things worth writing about is that we are able to find a way to see them that makes them new, both for us and the people we write for.” Part of any writer’s duty is to remind ourselves to try to treat subjects in new ways. Simply churning out content without taking a unique perspective will mean a higher likelihood of failing to engage readers.

Follow Through

It can be hard to make observations that go beyond the obvious, or sometimes we’re just too plain stubborn to try thinking our writing is already perfect. To hasten the process, you will do the following:

  • Grab a camera and head outside.
  • Pick an inanimate object, preferably something that is familiar to you.
  • Set aside at least 15 minutes (it’s easy to get carried away with this one, believe me).
  • Limit yourself to no more than one roll of film and/or 50 digital pictures.
  • Make each shot as varied as possible. Aim for a variety of angles and distances. Better yet, if you have time, return to take pictures of the object as the light changes throughout the day.


Freewrite for five minutes about the taking the pictures. What did your camera see? Did your photos go beyond the obvious?

Ready for more practice?

You can continue to do more with your pictures by trying the exercise What Photography Can Reveal About Writing. Photography and the revision process have a lot in common when it comes to re-seeing subject matter in a variety of ways.

This exercise shares the same basic premise as Finding the Questions as featured in the book The Curious Researcher. Many approaches exist to find what is interesting or unique about any subject. Never stop trying to bring fresh angles to your writing. Your audience will respond in kind.

When is the last time you noticed something unique or made an unusual observation or connection about an everyday object? What tactics do you use to help your writing stand apart?

Permission must be granted by JeriWB to use the leaf and rocks image in this post.

Article by Jeri Walker-Bickett aka JeriWB

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