On Sunday afternoon the day is warm and bright. I go to the park with my notebook and a copy of The Brothers Karamazov which I’m almost done reading. The grass is green and proud maples stand in full bloom as the park bustles with activity. Some people with picnics, others sit peacefully on blankets and watch the soccer game on the field. I sit under a tree, take off my shoes, my socks, and absorb the bliss of this day. I remove the notebook from my bag, a pen, and look around. I start to write.
To my left, about ten meters away, a young women sits with a book reading and taking notes. She doesn’t notice me looking at her. Doesn’t notice me writing notes of my own, describing her in a paragraph, writing about how her caramel legs languish in the shade. How a slim pink belt wraps around her waist. How her hair sprouts from her head in thick curls.
In front of me there is a group of 20-somethings, about eight of them sitting on blankets with cases of beer and bags of chips. Four of them get up and kick a ball around, not with any aim or competition, just playfully kicking it around, back and forth, and calling out in the sun. They don’t know I’m describing them in my book. They don’t even look.
Two young boys bound past me. Their feet stampede the earth and they seem to be brothers. One of them snarls wildly when he reaches the street and hides behind a car. The other comes around to snatch him and they both explode into a run again, their green T-shirts flap and ripple in the wind whisking past me at top speed. They don’t know that I’m writing about them. Don’t notice the words in my book that describe them running, playing, shouting, their voices breaking through this afternoon.
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Writers are observers. We record what we see, relate it to others, and often without being noticed. It is our words that do the work, not our bodies. I encourage you to go out someplace where there are people and describe what you see. Be an active observer. Capture what you see as a photograph with words. This can be an enjoyable exercise and it will train you to describe things in clever detail. You will invent fresh ways of doing it. You might even surprise yourself. Try this at the park, the mall, the coffee shop, the library, the university, the subway station, the street, the stadium, the racetrack, the festival, the botanical garden, wherever you go be an observer and write what you see.