Beating Writer’s Block: Describe What You See

Describe What You See

At the moment of writing this, my desk isn’t as tidy as it could me. There are items there that don’t belong. Two tubs of pens are standing tall and proud and almost full. A sonic screwdriver pen is sitting beside the laptop. An empty cup that once contained tea is waiting for me to bring it downstairs to be put in the dishwasher. There’s a lamp sitting at the edge of the desk – a desk that’s too small to do much with, anyway – that doesn’t have a bulb in it. It’s nothing more than a metal ornament with a lamp shade on it. Above the desk, there are CDs and DVDs belonging to my parents, on a shelf that should contain my own music. Above that are three shelves that were attached to the wall incorrectly; they can barely support the weight of the very few items that remain on them, they are slanted forward towards the floor, and they are only gathering dust.

That right there is an incomplete, but still demonstrative example of what I mean when I say “Describe what you see.” Look ahead, and write about everything. This isn’t just a list, either. You’ll notice some observations and comments on various items that are before me. I could have written a lot more about what I could see from my bed, if I were sitting on it, and describing everything I could see, in every direction.

That’s exactly what I suggest you do. Action Time! Sit in the centre of whatever room you’re in when you write – even if it means sitting on the floor – and using either your laptop or tablet or a notepad and pen, describe everything you can see in as much detail as possible. Write about it in the first person, or the third if you prefer. Make observations. Make comments. Look in every direction.

The point of all of this is to get yourself describing, beyond the physical dimensions of the world around you. Novelists will benefit from this in the most obvious way: exposition is an important craft to practice, and settings are important to develop. By forcing yourself to address the room around you when you write, you’ll become much more attuned to writing exposition in your work in progress, and should face fewer problems when you return to your work.

Poets, too, will see the benefits of being able to describe how something looks, how it makes you feel and think. Use the skills that are available to you; describe the room the way you feel the words coming. Keep it natural, and put something of yourself in the description.

But what about non-fiction?

How does someone writing a book on corporate law for the general market or household organisation for lazy husbands make use of describing the room around them? It’s less obvious, but the use of exposition is of a major benefit to writers of all sorts in helping to make a work more readable, more human, and more relatable. You can tell from my own writing that I avoid trying to sound technical the entire time. The appearance of the words on the page is important. While academic work requires a certain tone, there’s nothing to say that everything else should come off quite so serious.

Make jokes. Make observations. Use anecdotes. Tell stories. The most interesting books on business I’ve read have been the ones that tell the stories of other people demonstrating the principles about which the author is writing. In the end, those skills come from developing the craft of exposition and description.

While you’re beating Writer’s Block, you’ll also be honing your skills. Even if you’re still struggling with your work in progress, at the very least you’ll have participated in a worthwhile task.

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About Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is a writer, born, raised and still living in Dublin. By day he's a student and bookseller, by night he writes fiction and uses social media.
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