Essential Writer Skills: Observation

Essential Writer Skills: Observation by R.S. Mollison-Read

Writers require a number of skills to enable them to do their best work. This is the first in a series titled, Essential Writer Skills that will focus on the specialized abilities writers should develop, and some techniques to hone these skills.


A writer needs to be able to take in the sights, sounds, smells, and touch of their surroundings, in a unique manner. It is not enough for a writer to simply observe that a breeze is blowing through the trees; a writer needs to use the complexities and nuances of language to describe exactly how that breeze rustles the leaves on the tree. A writer might also describe ‘when’, and ‘where’, or even attempt to answer the elusive ‘why’.

To do this, writers must become adept at observing their environment; making a mental note of how the world around them works, and how to best describe that world to a reader. Observation requires focus, attention, and most of all patience.

I’ve found it to be a very beneficial exercise to seat myself somewhere and watch the world go by; making careful note of the physical environment, the people within that environment, and the way in which those people interact with the physical environment. I find it most helpful to stay in one place for a while, and then I often shift my position to gain another perspective of the same area.

I also enjoy walking, as I’ve discussed in great detail here. I find it helpful, not only to clear my head, but to observe how I personally interact with the physical environment. This can be incredibly helpful in my writing, particularly when I’m writing about how a character might respond emotionally to their environment.

Watching people can also be very interesting, and informative. I observe body language, physical posture, and emotional expression. Then I store all of those observations away to use in my writing later.

What do you think? Is observation an essential skill for writers? Tell me in the comments below!

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