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The Necessity of Observation

Recently, during one of the brief lulls between ten straight days of rain showers when the sun was making a brief appearance, I was sitting on our front porch proofing a piece of writing before submitting it to the critical eyes of an editor. Trying to think of that elusive “better word” to replace the merely “adequate” word, I was staring off into space, thinking that perhaps the word would jump out of the ether and into my brain.

Suddenly, I became aware of a strange odor, an offensive smell that jerked me out of my musing and back into the real world.

Oh no! I thought. The neighbor’s cat has been using the mulch in our flower bed as a litter box again!

Just as quickly, my mind returned to my word search. After all, I couldn’t very well shoot the offending cat, and I certainly wasn’t about to dig around in the mulch to find and extricate the source of the offending odor! My eyes flitted back and forth across the yard in front of me as though hoping to find the right term “out there” somewhere. That’s when I noticed them: blossoms on the Bradford pear tree that stands smack-dab in the center of our yard.

That’s it! I realized. It’s not the cat after all, but that tree!

It’s a good thing I didn’t shoot the cat!


The Bradford is certainly not the first to bloom in this area, at least in our subdivision, and most of the houses in the development have one (if they’ve managed to survive this long). Our tree seems always to be the last of the last few to bloom. A true late-bloomer! But this year, it must have decided to beat the rest of them to the punch. This is the earliest I ever recall its blooming. And it was only late February!



But back to being observant. That’s precisely how we miss some of the most beautiful (or dangerous) things in life. We get so caught up in the many things that clutter our vision that we fail to see the things right under our noses. This is a critical mistake for every writer. Its also a fatal mistake for anyone who might face danger.


The student didn’t, so Stuart pointed “it” out to him. The smells of the old building and its products. The squeak in the planks on the wooden floor. The clatter of the rolling ladder as the clerk sought an item on an upper shelf. The chatter of the old-timers who sat around the wood stove in the rear of the store, having stopped in just to gossip with the proprietor and other friends. Then Stuart instructed the student in the importance of observing the “little” things in one’s environment.

Failure to do this causes us to miss out on some of the very things that can make or break our writing, things that will make it “pop.” But that mistake can also get us into trouble and danger if we aren’t careful. The copperhead in the leaves at the edge of the yard. The mugger lurking in the shadows of a nearly deserted parking garage. The “check engine” light that is blinking but hasn’t yet caught our attention.

Don’t be in so much of a hurry that you miss the “little” things in life, the things that add beauty to life, the things that will, when incorporated into your writing, make it real and authentic. And always be on guard against the “little” things, the “henbit” of life, that threaten to trip us up, the “little foxes that spoil the vine,” as the Scriptures say.

#writing #reading #teaching #writers #advice #books #publishing #editing #Lessonslearned

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©2020 by Dennis L. Peterson