Internal versus External Vision

One of my neighbors is a fireman. I don’t know if it is part of his profession or not, but I’m always amazed by what he sees. We’ll be standing in front of my house, talking, and he’ll reach down to palm a candy wrapper some rotten child has left on my lawn. We’ll stop our cars on the street to exchange news, and he’ll remind me to turn out the mirrors I turned in to squeeze out of the garage. He’ll ask about a tree branch on our property that looks like it is about to fall down, one I pass under every day but never seem to notice.

My neighbor has vision that is all about the external. I have no idea what his inner life is like, but I’m fairly sure he doesn’t spend much time imagining the life of Henry VIII or contemplating how an April snow shower might resemble falling apple blossoms, two ways I find myself spending time. (Although I could be wrong.)

As writers, we tend to spend a lot of our time in our heads, or obsessing over a single external detail. The trick is to find the balance between external and internal vision — between being present and noticing the world around us, and saving a quiet space in our heads for our work.

It’s a balance I still struggle with. How do you manage?

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Liz Michalski


  1. Vaughn Roycroft on May 28, 2013 at 9:04 am

    I just spent the last three nights socializing in fairly large groups. Not only do I feel like I need a break from eating and drinking, I’m just plain exhausted. I think what you are talking about is part of it. When I’m out talking to people only see occasionally or meeting for the first time, I’m in my head throughout. I’m always wondering what they’re thinking, analyzing every sentence (theirs and my own in hindsight).

    I think it was Lisa Cron, in her book Wired for Story, that speaks about how most non-writers keep track of two or three levels of ‘story’ — their own goals, motivations, and the possible conflicts that will arise from them, as well as the G-M-C’s of others as they go about their day to day activities. Most experienced writers learn to handle five or more. But it’s taxing. And I’m not sure it can be turned off. I’ll need some down time, some solitude, to recuperate.

    I know you feel as I do, that walks in nature are a balm. It’s rainy here, but I’ll still be out there this afternoon, for at least an hour. Maybe two today. Thank goodness for those with sharp external vision in our lives.

    • liz on May 28, 2013 at 5:57 pm

      I haven’t heard of that book, Vaughn, but it sounds fascinating — I’m adding it to my Goodreads list. Thanks for telling me about it.

      Nature definitely helps, but it is flea and tick season here, so the Slobbering Beast’s jaunts are curtailed. I hope you enjoyed your rainy walk!

  2. Jan O'Hara (Tartitude) on May 28, 2013 at 11:10 am

    I find doing anything physical helps–cleaning, cooking, walking, particularly dance. In dance, if I’m to keep up, I can’t do anything other than execute the present move and anticipate the next. For a short while after, that mindset lingers, and I seek it out sometimes because I feel more grounded.

    • liz on May 28, 2013 at 5:56 pm

      I’m the same,Jan — so long as the activity requires me to concentrate. If I’m familiar with it, then I still find myself zoning out and concentrating on whatever I’m currently mentally working on. The challenge is finding a sport that continually mixes it up. Riding used to work really well for me. Running, not so much. : )

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