Using your senses

Use your sensesAn old writing exercise encourages you to be aware of all five senses—not only while you’re actually writing, but also while you’re researching. If you are interviewing someone, for example, you need to pay attention to the words he is saying, but also take note of the sights, sounds, and smells that are part of the experience, and take note of how they make you feel.

This doesn’t mean that every news release you write will begin with an adjective-laden description of the setting; but paying attention to details gives you resource to draw from that can make your writing more layered and rich. By using your senses when you gather information, you can invoke your readers’ senses when you are conveying the information to them, in whatever form you choose.

For example

To illustrate this, I’ll use a poem I wrote many years ago when I first joined the family at Living Springs Community Church. It’s a very literal interpretation of the five-senses exercise, and my goal was to use physical senses to describe an intangible reality.

My God,
You look like a crinkled smile on a familiar face,
aaaa like hands raised in the congregation.
You feel like a hearty handshake
aaaa or a child’s hug.
You smell like warm earth, cut grass, and spring blooms—as well as
aaaa candle wax and smoke.
You taste like a church potluck—
aaaa variety and familiarity and surprising spices and old favorites
aaaa in an atmosphere of laughter and prayer.
You sound like harmony and solos and just-right tempos
aaaa in praise songs both memorized and spontaneous.
My God,

Would this work for you?

Would an exercise like this strengthen the kind of writing you do? Are there certain types of writing—novels, brochures, ads, poems—that are more appropriate for this kind of exercise? Or does it work mainly for poetry?

How conscious are you of your senses when you are writing? Which of the five senses do you tend to overlook in your writing?