Looking and seeing are not the same thing

“Vision is the art of seeing
what is invisible to others.”

Jonathan Swift 


There are winter moments when I look beyond the window and see only grey sky or tall timber. Other times my attention is caught by something closer… perhaps a bird scrounging seeds, a desiccated hydrangea blossom in the garden, or the unexpected pattern of bare branches.

Winter Hydrangea

Earlier this week I discovered the first pink buds of our Lenten Rose peeking out from among last year’s floppy leaves. I don’t know how long they’ve been visible, but I didn’t notice them on my last garden walk. Looking is not seeing. I have to really pay attention before I truly see.

That may be why I’ve begun setting down the words of my new project but not actually writing the story. These words feel too ordinary… like I’m missing what it is I’m supposed to experience. A first draft is meant to be ragged, but it needs to be purposeful, and the words that are seeping out don’t yet feel that way. In time the right ones will come, after I’ve searched beyond the obvious and discovered the significant. When I’ve stopped looking and truly see. Then I’ll be off, racing through a scramble of sentences to record the story that is, for now, only visible to me.


My apologies for subjecting you to that last paragraph. It’s from my journal and doesn’t convey anything meaningful except to share where my ‘mulling’ process has been taking me. How do you approach the pre-writing of a new project? Is it all done in your head, or do you dare to put some of it on paper?


“Never lose an opportunity of
seeing anything beautiful,
for beauty is God’s handwriting.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson
~  ~  ~

6 thoughts on “Looking and seeing are not the same thing

  1. I’ve not begun a new novel, but sometimes a blog post may cling to the inside, needing some stimulus to dislodge it from head and heart. Other times, as you describe, words cannot flow from the keyboard fast enough to make room for the next sentence. Blessings to you, Carol…

  2. Shari Green says:

    Such good thoughts…searching beyond the obvious to discover the significant. Love that! And the words in that quote — beauty is God’s handwriting. 🙂

    I find it really helpful to have begin a file for pre-writing. It may have bits and pieces that make it into a first draft, but mostly it’s writing about the story, rather than writing the story itself. That frees me, I think, and really helps in the search for the significant.

    Gorgeous photo of the silhouetted branches!

  3. Jenn Hubbard says:

    Back in the notebook/typewriter days, I used to do all of my prewriting in my head. In the computer era, I’ve done much more of it on the screen, because it’s so easy to save files, or cut and paste things from them. But lately I’ve come to value the prewriting that still goes on in my mind, and not be so hasty to write things down, until they build up a certain energy and shape internally.

  4. Carol says:

    I appreciate your responses to this… to find out the different ways we each deal with our common experience of getting ready to start a new story.

  5. I enjoy reading about your process and what inspires you, Carol.

    It’s rare that I pre-write. If I get an idea, I’ll turn it over in my mind. When I go to the computer, it often takes some surprising twists and turns.

  6. joylene says:

    Might sound like muddling to you, Carol, but your post expresses what I so often feel. That I’m not scraping the surface enough. What I really want to say is just beyond there…. If only I could… reach it.

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