Your Greatest Strength as a Writer

“[N]otice what you noticed. No, go further: tell yourself the audacious thing that because you noticed, it matters.” ~ Linda LaPlante

The conversation occurred during those minutes before class when students wait with varying degrees of patience for the teacher—in this case, me—to begin.

“I think parts of my brain are missing.” This came from a tousle-haired, thoughtful young man in the second row. I said something about that being more true for me all the time, thinking he was talking about poor memory or lack of attention.

“I don’t feel envy. Not ever. I don’t think I ever have. That’s not normal.”

This was not what I expected to hear. The students in front of him were silent, as was I.

“You’re lucky,” another student told him. “It’s not a good feeling.”

Then it was time for class to begin.


Photo of Girl Noticing
Photo credit: Aleksandra Banic

Why did those 30 seconds or so stay with me to the point that I know I’ll remember the scene and the words and the faces long after I’ve forgotten the topic of the class that day or even the names of the students involved?

Alice LaPlante offers an answer in The Making of a Story, a book I am stealing away moments to read whenever I can:

“[C]reative work comes from noticing. You are being given a warning, an intimation of something, and that something is the creative urge, sometimes buried quite deep in your subconscious, telling you that something matters, there’s information and intelligence there to be considered, material to uncover there, memories and associations to explore.” (p. 36).

This is why many successful writers keep notebooks, to record those intimations, to write ourselves a reminder of what we’ve noticed. LaPlante tells us that, as writers, we’ve “always noticed”:

“There have always been things that caught your attention, piqued your interest, or otherwise caused you to pay closer attention to something than perhaps someone else would. Indeed, the very individual nature of noticing is your greatest strength as a writer.” (p. 35, emphasis added)

LaPlante’s words gave me much comfort this week. Do you ever find that you can’t explain to others why a conversation or an event or even the look in the eyes of the person crossing the street in front of you is interesting, memorable, even important? That it matters? When you try to share the import of what you notice, do others look at you as though you are speaking in Klingon?

What if your drive to notice is a strength, not something that’s weird, and, what if instead of trying to talk about it, you write it down?

What have you noticed recently?

Did you tell yourself it matters, even if you don’t know why?

Did you write it down?

7 thoughts on “Your Greatest Strength as a Writer

  1. Hi Lisa,
    Whenever I see something that I want to memorize and write about later, I make a note in my cell phone,or type it in my private blog. On holidays I carry a little notebook with me. One day my Vman had to stop at a gas station because I absolutely HAD to write down something, and I was on the back of our Harley 😀

    • I love the image of your being on the back of the Harley and saying you need to pull over to make a note of something! You are definitely in a good note-taking habit, Marion. 😀
      ~ Lisa

  2. Actually, I take mental notes of what happens around me. Or in the case of my historical field trips, my camera is the best notebook I have. I begin writing in my journal once the thoughts and notes have congealed into a concept or into a scene.
    Also, if something in class sparks inspiration, I place a star next to the concept in my notes so I can return to it later.

    • Ah, yes, a camera is a wonderful note-taker! Thank you for adding that one. I also like the star technique.

      I used to be able to rely on my mental notes much more reliably than I can now. 😉

      ~ Lisa

  3. Lisa, I love this:
    …something matters, there’s information and intelligence there to be considered, material to uncover there….

    Just the other day, I wrote down images from a dream I had. I’ve always been a vivid dreamer, but this one stuck with me in particular. There was so much detail in it, that I had to wonder if there wasn’t a story behind it. Your post is a testament as to why I made a record of, what was likely, a ten second dream.

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