Observation Exercises

I always hear from other writers that in order to write, you have to read as well as write every day. There are a million different writing exercises out there and they’re being used by colleges, professional writers, and amateurs alike.

They all strengthen writing skills. But I’ve also read a handful of times that writers also begin to notice things in different ways than most people do. They think in terms of describing what they see to someone else rather than simply just seeing.

I’ve decided that observation skills are important, too, not only to write but also to live. If you know certain descriptive words or phrases or simply just like to envision how you would tell someone about it, then your observation skills are being used. Good observation skills can put you ahead of the game on many levels; if you notice something that other job applicants don’t notice, then you’ll stand apart from the other potentials in a positive way.

Here are a few observation exercises I’ve come up with. Some of these are really fun, while others are a little more tedious, especially for those who don’t necessarily write. They all help improve your observation skills, though.

Exercise 1: Descriptive yelling.

Sounds a little harsh, but it really isn’t. If you’re somewhere different, somewhere you may not go to all the time or be in all the time, watch little things for a small amount of time and see if any descriptive words pop into your head, then shout them out. Or just say them. The shouting just makes it more entertaining =)

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I was pushing a full cart – very full – through the parking lot a few days ago and did this. “Precariously!” because everything on my cart was balanced but not sturdy.

Exercise 2: Look a little more closely.

When you’re going about your daily tasks and the world is turning and you’re doing your thing, try looking at things for just a second longer than usual. You never know what you might notice there. Maybe you notice that a moth looks like its wings are textured and bronzed. Maybe you notice that your instructor put a mistake into your paper on accident. Maybe that strange shape hidden in tall grass on the side of the road is a vehicle full of people in need of rescue.

The point is to take in as much as you possibly can. Remember all the shiny, beautiful things in the world and enjoy them. There is a lot out there that looks more interesting up close – especially when you take a few moments to appreciate its beauty.

Exercise 3: Trust your spinach!

There was an exercise in a book about writing that was referred to, and in this exercise, you’re being taught to trust your intuition or instinct but replace intuition or instinct with the name of a vegetable. Vegetables are healthy for you, right? They’re inanimate, can’t really betray your trust. Plus, it’s funny to tell people you trust your corn. Or your broccoli. Or, in my case, my spinach.

The point in this for observation purposes is to look again if you feel like you need to. There could be a really good reason for that need, like checking behind a bunch of merchandise you don’t want to find the exact one you do want.

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Exercise 4: Write down everything.

Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. Obviously, you can’t write down everything. What you can do is sit down with a specific object and put it in front of you. Then, you begin to write down everything you possibly can in regards to this object. What color is it? How can you specifically describe this color to communicate a mood? What size and shape is it? Can you pick it up? How much does it weigh? Do you like picking it up or is it difficult and awkward? How do you portray an emotion through this action and description?

Once you do this a few times – let’s say three to five times – your observation skills will increase massively.

Why does this work? How does it work?

Just like when you learn to drive a car or walk as an infant, you can learn observation. Your mind makes connections and those connections strengthen as you practice whatever it is that you’re doing.

If you do something every day for a year, then stop and start doing something else, there’s a good chance you’ll be rusty after another year. However, when you re-learn something, your mind makes the connections again much more quickly than the first time, and you suddenly find it, once again, fun and effortless.

Playing the piano and speaking a foreign language are examples of these things.

A good example of what fields good observation skills are useful in is police and detective work. Someone may tell these people more about themselves through body language than through their words.

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Another field this is important in is software development, web development, and anything that involves script or coding languages like web design. If you’re learning how to become a software developer, you’re probably tediously troubleshooting pages upon pages of code or script to make things work properly.

Obviously, developing your observation skills is important for a number of careers. I hope these little exercises get you going and help you begin developing a keen sense of observation and attention to detail!