Writer as Witness


As storytellers, we create settings and characters with enough authenticity to entrap readers in our imaginations. The goal is to elicit feelings somewhere in the broad spectrum of human experience, to personally invest the reader in the outcome of our tales.

Frontyard1.dianapeach.jpgA sense of reality and plausibility in our stories aids us in that task. External intricacy adds texture as it paints pictures in a reader’s mind. Our own emotional landscape is fodder for our characters’ souls.

I love the idea of writers as witnesses. We are observers of details, the ones with personal knowledge of hidden imagery and feelings, which we attest to through our words.

In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron encourages artists to become witnesses, to take time out of each day to observe our outer and inner worlds with curiosity, as a way of enriching our store of experience and ultimately our art. She suggests occasional artist’s vacations, to gather experiences foreign to our daily routines.

Frontyard3.dianapeach.jpgI frequently wander about in zombie-like unconsciousness. My familiarity with my routine and surroundings allows my brain to dally elsewhere, usually embroiled in developing scenes, prodding characters, and plugging up plot holes.

Unless I make a mindful choice to engage, I don’t.

I wrote a post back in October called Emotional Writing about a necessary willingness to explore painful feelings. This is tough work: witnessing our own agony and blindness, picking through our hearts with an observer’s impartial eye. And how far are we willing to delve into someone else’s experience, to embrace it as our own?

Frontyard5.dianapeach.jpgToday I’m another kind of witness. If I sit still and pay attention, I see cloudy light reflected on rain-slick leaves, the diamond patterns of stained glass at the end of a dark hallway. Gossamer cobwebs thread the air around the old chandelier. The dog snores on the couch and rain drips from sagging gutters to patter on the metal roof. It’s chilly this morning, and Pinky the cat has commandeered my sweater. If my nose weren’t stuffy, I might smell coffee brewing.

Any one of these details may end up in my writing today.

I share a few photos of moss growing in my yard. I would have never witnesses the beauty if I hadn’t taken the time to look.

50 thoughts on “Writer as Witness

  1. The writer’s eye caught us young traveling in books.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. These pictures of moss are so engrossing, I almost forgot to read the post! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It does seem to me that you need to cultivate a high degree of presence so that you can absorb all of the necessary details. You need to look keenly with that writerly eye of yours towards every aspect of the reality you intend to recreate on the page. It demands keen perceptions on your part. You gather as many of the many details that exist in the world around you as possible. However, subjectivity is not the mortal enemy, because you want to see the universe with eyes uniquely your own. Otherwise, your descriptions will be as dry as peeling paint and there will be no emotional resonance. Observe the entire universe as a loving witness. Record every detail from that state and authenticity will flow effortlessly out of that. I love the authenticity that emerges when you are actually in a situation. You see things for yourself firsthand, so naturally, your authenticity will be enhanced. I would think it would be exceedingly difficult to construct detailed filled world that resonated with authenticity when you had to build these worlds solely from academic research. If you are truly present, you are going to see the unexpected nuances that are suffused with the ring of truth that make for really good writing. You have an artistic imperative to cultivate a high degree of presence, and sensitivity to the world around you. Then readers will care for you and the words that you write, because you will have imbued your worlds with a softness and a deep abiding compassion that draws the reader in emotionally. Even if you the world you are witness to is horrific and cruel. You need to possess a loving compassion for everything that you see. Your reader will then be most appreciative for having you as their attentive guide through your words and worlds, because you will have made them care about something. And in the end, that’s what it is about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the thoughtful comment. You capture the essence of the whole discussion. There are so many different kinds of readers who enjoy a huge range of books. Some want to become emotionally immersed in characters. Others wish for a fast-paced escape or humorous satire. Author experience adds to the reality of every book. I personally like reads that move me, books where I emotionally connect and lose myself. That’s what I hope to write, and for me, presence and openness to experience fills the creative well I draw from.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Alka Girdhar says:

    Although I am not (yet) an established writer in a worldly sense, that is I have not written a book that has been published, but I agree with your thoughts and opinion. We should aim to be a mindful observer of happenings around us while also being objective, kind of distant enough to stop being partial or biased.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the comment, Alka. I can’t say that I’m unbiased and objective in my writing, but I think you are spot on about needing some ability to step back and look at what makes a story interesting. That includes exploring other world views. Oh, and in my opinion, you are a writer if you write!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Alka Girdhar says:

        Thanks! Anyone who writes fiction, is in a way already being distant and in a way objective too.
        As a writer, I am at a stage where i want to move on and take off towards higher realms of writing with proper planning and professionalism. At times I wish somebody could assess my writings and guide me honestly but I am also aware it is my own mysterious journey that will unfold with time.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. […] posted on Myths of the Mirror: As storytellers, we create settings and characters with enough authenticity to entrap readers in […]

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That moss is beautiful, Diana. I guess I’ve always thought of moss as green. I guess I’ve never thought of it in Technicolor. This was a good piece and I enjoyed it. I’m trying to catch up with what I missed when my laptop was in the repair shop. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Rosanna says:

    I loved this, Diana primarily because assuming the witness mode is one of the primary goals of meditation, and I have personal experience about this wonderful state.

    I loved this post also because I have found the post I will reblog next week, on Monday 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. […] Diana wrote a post about being more conscious of our surroundings… So here is my take on what is […]

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Misheal Crocker says:

    You make an excellent point about the world around us having some great and amazing things to enrich not only our own lives but the lives of our characters in the stories we write. Of course, in turn enriching the life of the reader. A perpetual loop of joy in the small and rich things of life.

    Very well written, I enjoyed your descriptive prose even in this post, painting a lovely picture as you described things.


  10. Dawn D says:

    I have now been able to read the words. I love this post!
    I try, often, to be mindful of the world around me. I have discovered I enjoy taking pictures too; it helps me stop long enough to take in what is going on around me. I also enjoy discovering how the mind of a child works, why people say the things they say, do the things they do.
    Right now, birds are chirping outside, the sun is hitting hard and the heat is starting to get stifling. My cat just settled next to me, having just sought (and gotten) many cuddles.
    My mind is at peace. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. […] ever since some comments I exchanged with Diana over at Myths of the Mirror. She posted yesterday pictures of moss she took, and that was the trigger for me to start this poem. I’m surprised at the words that […]

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Dawn D says:

    I didn’t even take the time to read your words, I apologise. I’m just too tired right now.
    But I saw your moss and loved these pictures, it reminded me of a discussion we had a while back, and made me decide that I’d use my own picture to do the 5 pictures in 5 days challenge, at least if I find the time to start it tomorrow. 🙂
    I promise, I’ll read your words then too!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Being present…It should be so simple. It often is not. Thoughtful post, Diana.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Carrie Rubin says:

    “artist’s vacations, to gather experiences foreign to our daily routines”—I love the idea of this. As writers, many of us are introverted and prefer staying enclosed in our own little worlds (I know I do). But in order to expand our writing, we need to expand our experiences. It’s all part of the process.

    Liked by 2 people

    • When I was writing a book that took place on an old sailing ship, I did tons of research and then signed up for my tall ships “artist’s” vacation. I think the crew thought I was crazy with all my off-the-wall questions. But oh my, did I learn a lot beyond what I read. And had fun.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Erik says:

        If there were a “Love” button, I would have just hit it. Too much writing suffers from problems with validity because writers rely solely on imagination and not enough on experience and research. I’ve seen everything from medical descriptions of accidents to explanations of musical instruments go horribly wrong — all of which could have been researched, viewed, even held in hand (in the case of an instrument) with a bit more diligence.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I have to admit to relying more on research than hands on experience, but when the opportunity is there…I try to take it. And “doing” is so much more fun than “reading about.” You should have seen me trying to learn to fight with a sword and shield (hysterical!)

          Liked by 2 people

  15. Erik says:

    It’s interesting that today was the day you came across my own post “After the Crash” and commented there. I definitely resonated with all points of your own post today.

    From your post: “As storytellers, we create settings and characters with enough authenticity to entrap readers in our imaginations. The goal is to elicit feelings somewhere in the broad spectrum of human experience, to personally invest the reader in the outcome of our tales.” in the case of my own writing (at least my blog and recently released book), not only do I draw from my own experience — I am the character! It’s tough, but I do hope to draw the reader into personally investing in the outcome of my tales nonetheless.

    Love the moss, the personal descriptions, and prompt to readers to actively and intentionally notice. This is important for us all, not only as writers, but as whole people.


    • I agree, Erik. After posting, I was thinking about the simple desire to be “present” in my day, regardless of my craft. I can go almost all day without paying attention to the sensory lushness of my surroundings and what a loss. Writing has made me more mindful in my life:)

      Liked by 2 people

      • Erik says:

        As both a whole person and a writer (who writes most about real-life choice, positivity and interactions with others) — I find that even more tragic than missing our world is missing the people in it. We get so focused or into our routine that the very real people around us can become no more than background noise, objects and obstacles we use or move around, props on the stage of “me.”

        Particularly as writers, however, making the choice to be intentional and to interact with the fascinating people available to us every day offers an endless well of inspiration for our characters!

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Your observations made this fun. I love the moss, I love the personal bits! I think Pinky is a fantastic name for a cat!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thanks for sharing the secret of your wonderful descriptions!

    Liked by 2 people

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