My Favorite Writing Advice: Slow Down & See It

writing advice slow down & see it

Favorite writing advice:

“Slow down & SEE it.”

Who said the writing advice slow down & see it:

Ann Hemenway, fiction writing professor (& University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop grad so she knows her stuff)

Why:

Sometimes going fast is the best thing to do the first time through so you can get it all down on the page. Moving fast, writing and not editing, is a great way to keep your forward momentum going. But you miss a lot of the details ~ how the floor was old and buckled in spots, perhaps, or how the smell of sausage frying in the kitchen made your character’s stomach clench down, maybe, or how the gold buttons on the dresser, which you never even noticed the first time through, caught the afternoon slant of sunlight.

If you want to fully see whatever scene you happen to be in, you’ll have to slow down, way down. You’ll have to see in your mind’s eye everything that’s happening. If you want your readers to be in the story, to feel like they are a part of it, to make them remember it long after the book is closed, then you have to engage all their senses. The only way, IMO, to do that well is to slow down and see everything in each scene ~ to tell the most rich and full story that you can.

Does that mean you’re going to use every single detail? No. Actually, please don’t because then you’ll lose readers by boring them with stuff that doesn’t really move the story forward. But it does mean, as the writer, you’ll have a much better sense of what’s going on & a much better idea of how to convey the most important details to the reader. Because, remember, it’s the little details that will make your readers believe.

How the writing advice slow down & see it changed my writing:

I took the time to put myself in my character’s place and started asking questions like these:

HEAR:

  • What sounds do you hear, both close-up and far away?
  • What sounds don’t you hear that maybe, given the situation, you should (for example, a car accident and no one is yelling or crying or making any noise at all, why not)?

TOUCH:

  • What does whatever you’re touching feel like (soft, bumpy, scaly, etc.)?
  • How do you feel touching it (happy, grossed out, curious)?

SEE:

  • What objects are around you & what characteristics do they have (shiny, flat, sharp)?
  • What’s going on in the environment/setting where you are (forest, warehouse, boardroom)?
  • Who else is there with you & what are they doing?

TASTE:

  • If you’re eating, what does it taste like (sweet, bitter, brings back a memory of first grade)?
  • If you’re not eating, what can you still taste (for instance, the tinny taste of blood when you bite through your lip or the wicked taste of bile scuttling up your throat or the flat aftertaste of mint gum after you spit it out)?

SMELL:

  • What can you smell, both faint and strong?
  • What do you wish you could smell in that moment (for example, an old girlfriend’s perfume, your deceased child’s skin, the roses in front of the house where you grew up)?

FEEL:

  • What does your body feel like (tense, nauseated, sweaty, elated)?
  • What’s the weather doing (raining and cold, so hot sweat is beading on your hairline, wind screeching and chafing your cheeks or dead calm)?

Anyway, asking these kind of questions took my writing to a whole new level, no more on-the-surface telling but instead I put the reader right down in it. I focused on making readers feel what it was like to be there, doing my best to make it more than a story, to make it feel like real life. If you want to write that way too, then, as my former professor said, you need to slow down, way down, and see in your mind’s eye a full & complete picture of each scene.

So do you let yourself slow down & see it? Please feel free to share your thoughts & experiences in the comment box below.

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40 thoughts on “My Favorite Writing Advice: Slow Down & See It”

  1. Hi Shelli – another great piece of advice for writers. Thank you for sharing. I do need to write as much as possible as fast as possible.

    It is during the next draft that I slow down and savor each scene to enrich the story.

  2. Shelli,

    So needed to hear this again today. Right at this moment I am living in the scene, slowing down to taste, touch, feel, smell. I am inside my character’s skin and mind and heart.

  3. Hi Shelli! *big smile
    Again, tag another as a “favorite blog post”. I write and edit about every 500 – 1000 words and when I’m finished my 1st draft, I repeat the process all over again [as many times as it takes], until it feels right.
    Hope you have a terrific week ?

    1. Hi Sandy! *waves* Awww, thanks. Glad you enjoyed it. I love this: “as many times as it takes until it feels right.” That’s so true. Thanks for the reminder. Hope you have a great week, too. Cheers!

  4. Hi, Shelli. I totally agree with you. Fast at the start and slow way down thereafter. Now, I just need to make sure I’m putting that good advice to use. I realize it’s only one day, but I hope you’re having a great week.

    -Jimmy

    1. Hi Jimmy! *waves* Yes, sometimes that’s the most challenging part of any advice, actually putting it to use. 😀 I am having a great week, thanks; hope you are, too. Cheers, my friend!

  5. This is what I have been doing the last few days. I raced through the first draft, capturing all the action and momentum. Now, I’m moving slowly, scene by scene, almost in a meditative state, becoming aware of each sense and feeling my way through the details. It’s good to know I’m on the right track. Thank you sharing this!

    1. Hi Melissa! *waves* I love this: “almost in a meditative state.” I never thought about it that way, but that’s so true. Meditation is all about becoming aware. Thanks so much for sharing that. Cheers!

  6. Maria S McDonald

    Oh what a wonderful advice. I find that in hindsight, this is why I write firstly with pen and paper – you have that easier transition to look up and absorb your surroundings, notice all those little things you hear/smell. I sometimes stare into the wide open space (read: ceiling!) and visualise the setting my character’s in, and from there, the other senses just come together and I can write about it more effectively 🙂

    1. Hi Maria! *waves* I love writing with pen & paper for the very same reason; it’s slower and seems easier to absorb your surroundings. Cheers!

  7. Deeone Higgs

    Wow Shelli! These were some really great tips you’ve shared here with us. I liked how you proved your point throughout this post as well.

    As a writer, it’s imperative that we give the reader the experience we desire them to have reading our material. I think these are superb questions you’ve provided here, to ensure we’re doing just that.

    Thanks for sharing with us what has helped you along the way. Way to go on paying it forward! 😉

    1. Hi Deeone! *waves wildly & throws confetti for the release of your book* Thanks for the fab compliment. Made me smile. 🙂 I love this: “imperative that we give the reader the experience we desire them to have” because it’s absolutely true. Cheers!

      1. Deeone Higgs

        Thank you kindly, Shelli! *waving back* BTW, the confetti was such a wonderful touch! 😉 Absolutely loved it — and totally saw it fall too! 😀 Cheers!

  8. And if we as authors don’t fully ‘see’ our scene, how can we expect our readers to? Great post, Shelli. I think I’ve just found a new blog to visit!

  9. C. E. Lemieux, Jr.

    I think this will be one of my favorites. I am most comfortable when I actually slip into the story and feel/see what is happening. Of course sometimes the trance is broken by “Can you take out the trash?” *smiles* Always love your insight Shelli.

    1. Hi Chuck! *waves* Thanks so much for stopping by my blog; it’s lovely to see you here. 🙂 Yes, my favorite writing times are when I slip down into it & lose track of time. You’re right, too, that it usually gets broken but in my case it’s, “Mom? Mom? Mom?” ~ lol. Cheers!

  10. Pingback: Day 75: Falling asleep at the keys « the writing blues

  11. Great post, Shelli! These are the kinds of things I’m always asking myself as I write. I have to put myself into the scene–that’s what works best for me, anyway. 🙂

    1. Hi David! *waves* Thanks for the fab compliment. That’s the best way to write, IMO, immersing yourself fully in the scene. I love this: “that’s what works best for me.” That’s so important, too ~ figuring out what works best for you & doing that. Cheers!

  12. This is so true Shelli. We need to slow down after we get the first draft down and add those sensory details that take the reader into the world we’ve created. Great post!

  13. Hi Shelli, just catching up on a few of my fave blog posts and what good timing! I am in the middle of writing a scene for my second novel, inside a cave. I have been slowing myself down for the last two days, even on my first draft. My task is to stay in the moment as my main character, Jackie, and his fellow contestants navigate the pitch black chambers whilst they are pursued by an invisible threat. It’s all about balancing the pace and the connection with the reader, especially in the dark. This has been a great reminder for me and great advice of which you certainly adhered to in terms of executing Small as a Mustard Seed. Also looking forward to any updates on your future projects, Shelli, cheers for helping me put the brakes on 🙂

    1. Hi Tom! *waves* Awww, thanks for adding this to your fave blog posts. Makes me smile to hear that. 🙂 Okay, now I want to read your scene ~ nothing like caves and pitch black and an invisible threat to jack up the tension. I love this: “My task is to stay in the moment” because it’s so important for writing a great scene/story. I will certainly keep you in the loop when my next novel comes out. Cheers to you!

  14. Hey Shelli, this post is great advice for writing, but I was also thinking for life in general – it’s so important to slow down and take it all in. And I think that will make us all better writers as well.

    1. Hi Paul! *waves* You know, I agree with you there. It’s true for life in general. I know I get so crazy busy some days & miss all kinds of stuff. My favorite days are always the ones where I can sit around and take it all in. 🙂

  15. Susan H. McIntyre

    Great post! Not only do you show what descriptive writing is all about, but you also encourage us to do that in our lives as well. We know we’re in the writing zone when we are “in the scene” rather that just at the computer keyboard.

    1. Hi Susan! *waves* Thanks for the fab compliment and it’s so true, you can tell you’re in the zone when you’re in the scene and forget about the keyboard. 🙂

  16. To me that is when the writing is going well. My favorite way to describe it is that the story is so clear in your imagination it is like watching a movie.

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The 7 Tips to Savor The Holidays

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