“To acquire knowledge, one must study;
but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.”
~ Marilyn Vos Savant
A wise and talented memoirist and creative writing teacher, Beth Kephart, has her students do an exercise where they go out into the world and take ten photographs.
The students know they are going to come back into the classroom and write about those photos. I bet they are already thinking about the clever things they will say as they snap off their shots.
But then she has them do something unexpected. She asks them to disregard the main object in focus, and instead look into the background. What’s there, she asks. What are you missing? What are you not seeing? How does that inform your subject? How does that influence your story?
In editing my own memoir, I took Beth’s advice. As I read through my finished draft I saw how Lyme disease was threaded strongly though the background, even though my focus is on my psychic awakening. I knew I needed to bring a little more attention and detail to this background thread. I also saw my insecurities, twinkling there like stars. The same insecurities I deal with twenty-five years after the fact. Hmmmm….
We can learn much from those background details. It can completely change our story.
I love my friend Chris Dryden’s photo of him jumping over a car on his skateboard, back in the day. It is such a strong image. But when you look into the background two things stand out. Chris is doing something amazing, and the guy in the blue shirt has totally missed it. The Charleston x-ray clinic stands watch too. The perfect destination for any skatie who doesn’t quite make that tricky jump. I laughed and laughed when I finally noticed that.
What’s going on for you right now? What details in the background of your life deserve some attention? How might they change your unfolding story? What things do you want to bring from fuzzy into focused?
It’s a useful exercise for life, as much as for writing.
Much love, Nicole xx
PS – If you are writing memoir I highly recommend Beth Kephart’s book Handling the Truth – on the writing of memoir