“Condensing Fact From The Vapor of Nuance.”

Being a good “noticer” comes hand in hand with being a good writer.

I write this confidently after layering insightful bits of advice on top of each other over the years. The first bit that stuck with me was Hemingway’s advice about being a better writer, that I read often.

Here is an excerpt of the interview. (Hemingway is responding as Y.C, “your correspondent”)

“MICE: How can a writer train himself?

Y.C.: Watch what happens today. If we get into a fish see exactly what it is that everyone does. If you get a kick out of it while he is jumping remember back until you see exactly what the action was that gave you the emotion. Whether it was the rising of the line from the water and the way it tightened like a fiddle string until drops started from it, or the way he smashed and threw water when he jumped. Remember what the noises were and what was said. Find what gave you the emotion; what the action was that gave you the excitement. Then write it down making it clear so the reader will see it too and have the same feeling that you had. That’s a five finger exercise.

Y.C.: ….When people talk listen completely. Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say. Most people never listen. Nor do they observe. You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that. If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling. Try that for practice. When you’re in town stand outside the theatre and see how the people differ in the way they get out of taxis or motor cars. There are a thousands ways to practice. And always think of other people.”

These words strike me as profound, every single time.

Being observant is a valuable skill that will not only excel your career in writing, but in anything you decide to do. Becoming a doctor, an engineer, a manager, a salesperson, an inventor, you name it.

A goal of mine is to become a better problem solver, because no matter where life takes me, I want to be able to rise to any challenge.

The key to being a good problem solver is to being a good problem finder.

When we find ourselves stuck in complex problems, it’s not because we can’t find the right solution. It’s because we haven’t found the right problem. We need to isolate the root issue that is resulting in the problem in the first place.

Seth Godin illustrates this idea perfectly. He even credits being observant to his success frequently. When people compliment Seth Godin, he humbly responds by saying,

“I’m just a guy noticing things.”

Seth Godin, The Marketing Podcast

That there is the answer to his worldwide success. His power of noticing things.

I am currently reading the book Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. In the book, Juanita, one of the main characters, talks about her biggest inspiration, her grandmother, whose portrait hangs in her office.

When Juanita is questioned about the painting, she explains why her Grandmother is a hero in her life. Her grandmother had supreme powers of observation.

[She could] condense fact from the vapor of nuance.

In the book, Juanita explains the moment she realized her grandmother’s talent for observation. When Juanita was younger, she found out she was pregnant, and her whole mind went adrift. The entire household didn’t notice anything, but her Grandmother did.

“Anyway, my grandmother came to visit,’ she continued, glancing back over her shoulder at the painting. ‘I avoided her until we all sat down for dinner. And then she figured out the whole situation in, maybe, ten minutes, just by watching my face across the dinner table. I didn’t say more than ten words- ‘pass the tortillas.’ I don’t know how my face conveyed that information, or what kind of internal wiring in my grandmother’s mind enabled her to accomplish this incredible feat. To condense fact from the vapor of nuance.

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson’s prose eloquently describes the power of observation.

Paying attention is something all writers should do, as Author Millie Florence eloquently says in a sneak peak of the premiere episode on the Notes on Becoming Podcast.

P.S. I found a interesting episode on the On Being Podcast titled, “The Art of Noticing, and Then Creating” with Seth Godin that I am listening now, and think you might enjoy!

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