The Power of Observation

There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

– Will Rogers

Recently I came across an article on the Writer’s Digest about how to improve your writing by observation. (Freese, Cris, “The Power of Observation: How to Observe and Improve Your Writing,” writersdigest.com). I can see how this could be useful for writers, especially writers who are new to the craft, such as myself. I encourage you to read the article.

After reading the article, I decided to use my break at work to give it a try. Below are my observations of my environment at my day job; I am probably sharing more that I should, but so be it. I grabbed my writing journal and started jotting down my observations, focusing on all the senses. I just wrote as it came to me, raw, not worrying about spelling or grammar. Below is what I wrote that day.

Government Office/Cubicle Environment

It’s fall and the window blinds are open allowing the rare November sun light to spill into the office, overpowering the more common fluorescent lighting. This is especially nice since this time of year I arrive to work in the dark and leave just as the sun is setting.

Thanksgiving is later this week, and my office mates are more festive than normal with their choice of attire, maybe it is because there are less people working, as many take the week off for vacation.

The space is lacking artwork on the white walls; all there is adorning the walls are clocks, governmental regulation postings, first aid kits, whiteboards for various projects, and cheesy motivational posters.

The most interesting portion of the office is my co-worker’s display of individualism through the decoration of their cubicles. There are sports fans with their shrines to their favorite teams, the anime collector, the pet lovers, several with family photos, and pictures drawn by their children … not to leave out the over-achiever who has all the certificates, awards and business books displayed predominantly.

The office is equipped with a white noise system that hums along, mostly forgotten about unless you focus on listening to its constant drone of soft static. Though it is easily noticed if they turn it off, as you can hear every sound in the office, then there is the loud guy who sounds even louder. So much so that you fantasize about ways to shut him up. As the white noise does normally drone on, you typically only hear the muffled noises of the cubicles surrounding you, a phone conversation, people typing away on their keyboard, the crumpling of a candy bar wrapper, and the occasional number called out in the customer service lobby. This time of year, too frequently the most common sounds heard throughout the office are sneezing, blowing noses and wet coughs that make you cringe with each hack. Please stay home when you’re sick.

Thankfully this workplace is a fragrance-free zone and we don’t have to work with the person wearing so much perfume that reminds you of your grandmother’s bathroom or the bro wearing Axe body spray. Otherwise, in the morning you can smell what people are having for breakfast. This morning it is apple cinnamon oatmeal, and someone is having a breakfast burrito. At lunch someone will have ramen noodles, and there is always the person eating tuna that lingers well past lunch.

I can’t notice or think of anything that relates to the sense of taste.

Rarely is the temperature perfect. You’re cold in the winter and hot in the summer. There is an HVAC system which can’t seem to keep a constant 72 degrees. At least it’s not damp.

And this is why I dream of being a full-time writer.