You fill up my senses

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Crocuses, Seattle, WA, Photograph by Caroline Allen

Creativity requires an influx of the sensual. In modern office buildings, malls and homes, we’ve moved far away from the organic sensuality of the earth, of farm and forest, of river and mountain, that so fed human creativity in the past. Engaging all of the senses is crucial to powerful writing. But to engage those senses in our writing, we must engage them in ourselves. Daily.

Smells, tastes, textures, sights and sounds, the more we can engage these in ourselves, the more they will appear organically in our writing.

I use an exercise in my writing class…a description exercise. I bring in a bag of oranges, and have the students sit for a half an hour, peeling, sniffing, eating and writing a physical description of the object. It’s amazing to stand in front of class and watch grown men and women close their eyes as they put their noses into the meat of an orange. I tried once using a small bag of chocolate (Snickers candy bars, to be specific), and it didn’t work. Students used advertising cliches, creamy nougat, rich chocolate, that sort of thing. There is nothing better to excite the sensuality of writing than something organic, fresh.

To go from description to metaphor, I asked the students after writing the description to think of what the smell, texture or taste of the orange reminded them of. This is what metaphor is all about, moving from the mundane to the sublime, from the orange to a grandmother’s kitchen, where the sweet smell of decomposing oranges combined with the sight of a corset hanging from the radiator, an image that left an indelible impression upon one writer in the class.

To get in the mood for writing, try surrounding yourself with the sensual, a bouquet of roses, fine cheese, a glass of rich red wine, a walk in a verdant wood. Watch how the sensual nurtures your writing.

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