Thursday, July 7, 2005

Come to Your Senses

Sensory information brings your writing to life, but it may not come easily to you. I sometimes have to work at coming up with sensory details for my writing, probably because I seem to have a limited memory bank, no not my I blame it on age, I have to blame something after all. To combat this problem I keep a notebook, actually two notebooks, filled with sensory details and other useful information that I have trouble retaining.

One notebook is in my purse and I write in it whenever I find myself waiting for someone or something. I have always hated being left to wait in the car, but once I started my sensory notebook I found I didn't mind it so much. While waiting I observe my surroundings and try to take note of what my senses are picking up. I also observe the activities taking place around me and write about them with special attention to sensory detail. If I run out of things to write I imagine myself in another setting and write about it from what little memory I have often coaxing more and more details from the depths of my mind. You can do the same while waiting for your doctor/dentist, or anywhere you find you have time on your hands.

My notebook also has a section for writing down names that appeal to me, locations I hear about, news items of interest and sometimes story ideas that pop-up when you are involved in non-writing activities.

I have a larger notebook that I use at home. I take it with me when I go outside to enjoy the weather and my surroundings. I live in the Pacific Northwest and there is much to appreciate outdoors. Sometimes I write whatever pops into my head and fill it with sensory bits and pieces writing on and on until I can't write anymore. I plan to take this notebook with me on vacation at the shore this summer. New surroundings mean new smells, tastes, sounds, etc. Write as much information as you can think of about what you are experiencing. Is that new food hot/cold, sweet/sour, smooth/gritty, and what does it remind you of? Does it make you gag or slip down your throat too quickly?

Sadly for me, a few years ago I lost my sense of smell, suddenly and permanently. I miss it terribly. My home is surrounded with Honeysuckle, Lilac, Jasmine, Lavender, Pine and so much more. I can't smell any of it and I struggle to think how to describe what you cannot experience. Had I known this was going to happen I would have written it all down while the scents were still there for me.

It is not too late for me to note the feel, look, sound or taste of things. How about you? Have you come to your senses?

(c)2005 Sharon A. Soffe


Rhonda Phillips said...

Sharon...I also record my 'senses' in a journal. It's been five years now that I've filled three small journals with pages of comments from my travels or from simple excursions to the local pond, etc.

How on earth did you lose your sense of smell ( if that's not too personal to ask)? I'm glad you have prior knowledge of those smells. Of all the senses, that would be the one I'd choose to fail first. Don't we all admire the rose's beauty far more than we sit around smelling it?

I've enjoyed reading your blogs.

God Bless!

Shari Lyle-Soffe said...


I would have said the same thing before it happened to me and perhaps I still would, but I truly miss the scent of flowers, ocean air, campfires and Christmas trees.

I had a serious virus and asthma while under a great deal of stress and it may be that was the cause. Doctors can't say for sure. I was quite ill at the time and it was some time before I realized that I had indeed lost my sense of smell. In the spring when I couldn't smell the armloads of lilac blossoms I knew something was wrong.

I am glad you are enjoying my blog. It is a new experience for me but I am enjoying it.

dale harcombe said...

Hi Shari, I can't imagine being without a sense of smell. Apparently sense of smell is one of the most evocative of the senses in regard to memory. guess the rest of yours have to overcompensate. The notebook's a good idea. Like you I keep a notebook to record impressions.

Rhonda Phillips said...

Shari...the virus theory is probably valid. I hear that viruses change your chemistry forever (that's spoken from someone who has NO idea if it is a fact). I'm glad you have memories of those smells though.


Shari Lyle-Soffe said...

Yes I am grateful for the memories but it tugs at my heart when I thrust my nose into handsful of fragrant blossoms and detect nothing. Oddly enough on truly "rare" occasions I will detect just the tiniest whiff of scent, and even rarer, sometimes I can be sitting on our deck and if the temperature and the wind are just right I catch an all too brief whiff of fragrance from our Honeysuckle. It comes unexpectedly and goes all too quickly, but you can't force it, you just have to be grateful for that split second of enjoyment.

Susan Taylor Brown said...

Nice post, Shari. A sensory notebook is a great way for all us writers to remember those fleeting sensory encounters. I've heard it said that if we can write a scene with a smell or a sound in it, it is more likely to "click" in the reader's mind and will be a scene they long remember. So in a key scene, I always try to get them in.

Susan Taylor Brown

Shari Lyle-Soffe said...


Thank you for your comments.

I believe sensory details bring the writing to life. I am trying to learn to use as much in my writing as possible. I'm not good at it yet...but I plan to be. ;o)


Rinda M. Byers said...

I can't keep a notebook unless it had a chain to attach it to me, as I will lose it for sure (confirmed umbrella, watch, and wallet loser that I am), but I opt for a plastic packet with pens inside with loose pieces of scrap paper, so I can file or store the notes easier later on...I seem to be able to hang onto this larger packet better and the pens as well, trapped as they are inside the packet...however, pens and scrap paper are always at hand in key locations all around my house as well...better than magazines in piles..

I am sorry to hear about your loss of smell. It affects your taste as well so it is almost like having two senses diminished. Neither of mine are very good anymore...with too many attacks of sinusitis..

Rinda M. Byers

Shari Lyle-Soffe said...


Thank you so much for your input. I find that writing things down is helpful even if I never see the note again. It seems to help imprint the information in my tiny memory.

Sorry to hear you are are fellow scent-less sufferer.