One of those fundamental rules of creative writing that gets hammered home by teachers, editors, agents, and other writers is “Show, don’t tell.” Description is one of those writing skills that comes naturally to some and must be learned by others. Either way, it takes practice to hone the skill of describing in a way that is fresh and interesting. I thought I was gifted at descriptive writing until I did an Image Journal inspired by Melanie Rae Thon’s exercise. The intense nature of this exercise pushed me past my comfort zone as I did it every day for a month. When I emerged from the other side of that month, I not only had thirty days worth of descriptions (some of which inspired stories), but I had a new appreciation for using different senses and looking at the world in unusual ways.
- Begin by setting aside a quiet time each day to work on your journal. Each day consider, “What is the most vivid, interesting, or memorable thing I saw, heard, tasted, smelled, or touched today?” If you believe you have a sixth sense, consider that as well.
- Describe the experience as fully and evocatively as possible. Follow the advice of Flannery O’Connor and use at least three of your senses to describe one image. If you can, revisit the object after you’ve described it and try describing it again.
- Your image may come from a dream or memory as well as from immediate experience. The point is to record your thoughts through your senses.
- Do this everyday for a set amount of time. It will not be easy. You’ll get frustrated, blocked, annoyed, and want to give up. You’ll write some really terrible things (my description of broccoli, written when I was pregnant, makes me cringe). But you’ll also start to look past obvious ways of describing, become more in tune with your senses, and possible come away with some inspiration for future projects.