There’s a powerful connection between the five senses, the emotions and memory. For instance, the smell of new-mown hay can bring back a childhood summer in an instant. Recalling visual details, as well as specific sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, will help bring your writing to life in the reader’s imagination, and give you credibility as an observer.
Exercise Think of a period of your life that you’d like to write about and make a list of the sights (“shimmering images”), sounds, smells, tastes, and textures that you associate with it. Pick one item from your list and begin to write about it. Write freely, without premeditation. Just pick up the trail, no matter how faint, and see where the memory takes you. Follow the trail for ten minutes, keeping your pen moving. Do this with at least three memories from your list and see what emerges. Keep expanding the list as new memories come to you. As you continue to do this exercise, notice what themes begin to emerge.
Optional: If you have a work in progress and you feel that it’s flat and lifeless in places, close your eyes, think back to that period of your life, and unearth some new sensory detail that you’ve overlooked. Write about it. My Pine Tree Idora Tucker One of my mother‘s essays about her childhood home, a Randolph Center farmhouse, contains this passage about the many sounds made by a tall pine that grew next to the road. —ST ” . . . When I think of my childhood home I always think of that tree. It stood close enough to the windows of the bedroom where Ruth and I slept that we could hear the sounds it made. Creaks and groans meant a storm was in progress. The view from the window confirmed what the tree was telling us. The tree told us when it was raining by letting us hear the drops as they fell to the driveway below. Furthermore, during a rainstorm the tree released a delightfully soothing woodsy smell. A whispery whish, whish meant a gentle breeze. No sound at all meant different things in different seasons. In winter it meant a snowstorm, just snow falling gently, because a windy blizzard caused the tree to shriek in agony. In summer absolute quiet meant sultry heat, perhaps the forerunner of a thunderstorm. Lying in bed at night when the windows were open, the quiet whispering of the pine tree made me feel cozy and content as sleep took over. . . .”