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,” 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.

Progress On My Debut Novel – Post 3


“As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.”
Ernest Hemingway

I wish you all the best in 2020. I am not one for resolutions, but I do set loose goals for myself that I’ll track throughout the year. Last year had mixed results, but more positive results than less favorable. Professionally, in my day job, I settled into working in a government position. My focus has been learning that job, as I am hoping it is the job that will take me into my retirement career as an author. While learning the job, I got a promotion into a position that will fit my lifestyle and within my goals very nicely — all good things. Plus, I get a three-day weekend every other week.

We have been making steady progress upgrading our house; this process will carry on for a while, as we have the time and budget to complete the work. This year we are well on our way to replacing the floors — no more carpet.

Being a veteran and a student of history has taught me the importance of being prepared for emergencies. Being prepared for a natural disaster or other emergencies has become essential to my family and me over the last couple of years. I don’t go crazy about it, but a little thought into what situations you are most likely to face in your area will guide you towards the basics of what you should have on hand to be prepared. Living in Oregon, we don’t have natural disasters as often as other parts of the country, but there is still the possibility. Researching the best methods and items to be prepared for our situation has been useful not only on a personal level but helpful for my WIP as well. We did well last year in filling out the basics in our plan; this year, we want to work on fulfilling the items that would be considered ‘nice to have.’

As for my writing goals – last year, I got serious about my writing (it was about mid-year when it kicked in), where I was able to prioritize writing daily. I am not at the point in my WIP where word count is a useful metric for tracking progress, as I have been working on my outline and research. While I do note my word count, it is hours that I am focused on tracking. This year my minimum goal is to work on writing activities for 10 hours a week or 520 hours per year, the equivalent of a part-time job. I hope to exceed this, but this is an achievable goal. Once I get into writing the first draft, I’ll focus on time and word count. My top goal for 2020 is to finish my first novel to the point of being ready for publishing. I have set small goals to work towards the prime objective, but I won’t bore you with them now.

As for where I stand in my current WIP – I am about 50% through a detailed outline that is closer to a first draft without the narrative and dialog. After doing research and putting some thought into the work I have completed to date, I am going back and revising much of the first 50% before finishing the outline. I am focused on inserting scenes to set up events in books two and three. I am adding scenes for characters who I want to have a more prominent role, changing POV for scenes, and rearranging scenes for a better pace. I don’t view these changes as a setback; I consider it part of the learning process and an opportunity to improve the quality of the novel. Either way, it has been an enjoyable way to spend time.

I hope you had a successful 2019, and I wish you an even more successful 2020. Happy New Year.

Progress On My Debut Novel – Post 02

Thank you for joining me on my journey of writing my debut novel, which is the first book of a planned trilogy that falls somewhere on the spectrum of dystopian and urban survival. You can follow my more frequent updates on Instagram.

Straight up, September had mixed results but was positive overall. After spending the summer developing a habit of writing daily and working on main character development; I had a working plan of using September to do the Outline, and the final three months of the year to write the first draft with a 90,000-word target.

At the end of September, I was only about 40% of the way through the outline. I can tell you it was not from lack of working on it or putting my writing time in; I have been tracking time and word count daily. I don’t feel good about missing the September outline target, but I perfectly fine with my effort and the quality. It is not worth beating myself up over it. Looking back, it was an unrealistic goal. The kids started school and require more time in the evening, plus with my work schedule, I can only dedicate about an hour a night to writing. I got my writing hour in most nights with the occasional night missed due to family time. I do get more writing time on the weekends.

The outline is far more detailed than I expected. Keep in mind, this is my first time through the process. The scenes I outline are not in bullet point form, I free write what happens in the scene within the three-act structure. I don’t worry about narrative, and only add dialogue if I think of something good, that I don’t want to forget. The good news is this will help make for a smooth first draft. The reality of this is I am under absolutely no deadline, and I would prefer the quality is good, over quantity. As long as I know I am writing regular and getting the work in, I am okay with it.

My revised goal is to get 10 quality hours of work in a week. Super doable (1 hour each work night, and 1.5 hours on weekend days; if I can’t do a night during the week, it is easy to make up on the weekend). This will be the plan through the outline phase of my WIP. As long as I get in the work, and what I am creating is of quality, then I see that as a success.