“He parked down by the river and entered the back of a bar that smelled of coffee, flat beer and cigarette smoke that had soaked into the walls and vinyl booths. A swamper was swinging a wet mop on the floor, the bartender loading a cooler with long-necked bottles of beer. A man with peroxided hair, wearing a yellow muscle shirt and stonewashed jeans and polished military boots, split a nine-ball rack with such force the cue ball jumped the rail and rolled across the floor” – James Lee Burke
“I could barely see his old straw hat in the distance as he moved between the rows. I jumped down and hurried to meet him. With dusk approaching the gaps between the rows were even darker. Because the sun and rain had cooperated, the leaves were full and thick and weaving together so that they brushed against me as I walked quickly toward my father” – John Grisham
I admire writers who describe a setting or a person or an action as if they were there, met the person or really scraped their knee on that rough surfice so their skin resembled blood slowly protruding from a sieve.
When writers invite me onto a street in Italy I always wish I had the means to travel there and write about that same street, but what about our OWN cities or hometowns?
I grew up in a small industrial fishing town called Walvis Bay in Namibia. I am now based in Cape Town and have not even seen half of the city. Both these places have endless scenes, textures, smells, tastes, weather, landscapes and characters to offer. No two places are the same.
My aim with this post is to encourage you to explore your immediate surroundings. For instance, stop going to the same old coffee shop. Try a new one. Have a different flavour coffee or muffin at each of them. I once went to a very lovely looking coffee shop, very modern. Their muffins looked absolutely to die for. I ordered the large choc chip and couldn’t wait to bite into the rich, moist chocolate taste. It tasted like cement, old cement if there is such a thing! You could have stoned something to death with that (an example of a texture and taste I will remember).
Look at the interior, feel the fabrics (yes, they might expect the cops and a nurse with a massive needle to burst through the door) and observe the people who go there.
When you write about a certain street – go there. Stand on the sidewalk and look, really look, at the buildings, the architecture, the paint, the windows, the wooden doors, the way the building number dangles from the wall or is stuck to the door.
Go to different beaches (or canyons if you are crazy enough not to live near a beach) and feel the sand, listen to the sounds, time the sunset.
Sneak into that filthy pub and order a beer (take a hand sanitizer if you are so inclined), talk to the barman, go to the restroom and marvel at the disgusting graffiti on the toilet door.
This especially helps me when I get stuck and dull. You will be surprised how by just visiting a new environment, inspiration slaps you in the face. The more we experience, the deeper our knowledge and our resources!
You get the drift. Explore. Experience. Then write better.
Let me know whether you found this useful 🙂
Oh, yeah, and remember your notebook!