How to See Through a Writer’s Eyes—All Three of Them

Photo by Peter Forster

Writers are made, not born. Writers are born, not made. Writers are born without maids. Whichever nature/nurture boxing glove you decide to swing in that battle, I hold that there are some distinct methods to cultivate a writer’s eye, and that those cultivations can result in sweet writerly fruits. (Please excuse that that last sentence mixed its metaphors with a waffle iron rather than a whisk.)

Our lovely kitty image above is figuratively indicative of my intent: as a writer, you must always look at situations with your writer’s eyes. But those eyes must have a different focus, while still giving you a clear picture. Before I get into the wherefores of bicameral write-sight, let’s underscore one fundamental: there are stories EVERYWHERE. No matter if you’re a poet, a journalist, a short-story scribe or a Tweetin’ fool, stories saturate your day—they are in your neighbor’s mail (don’t look without permission), your boss’s impatient gait, how your daughter wrapped your Mother’s Day present, why coins feel cold, a bat’s favorite breakfast, and how endless calls from AT&T about expanding your network offerings make you want to scream.

Stories Are Everywhere
Stories are not the province of the high and mighty movers and shakers; stories rest there too, but they are much the stuff of the commonplace, the cupboard, the errant gesture, the box left on the bus bench. You just need a writer’s eyes to see them.

So back to those bicameral distinctions: You need what I like to call a crazy eye and a calm eye. One eye is your open-to-all experiences self, your id eye, and the other is objective, your superego eye. A small example (and in a larger sense, how a stories lurk in everything): You see see a brightly-colored bird. Your crazy eye opens—is there a story there on how the male birds are most often the ones with the wild plumage? Maybe an article on who the Audubon of today might be, if such a specimen exists. Branch out: think about your first flight on an airplane. Could one of your characters have an overwhelming aversion to flying on airplanes, so that a scene on one in which he breaks down is pivotal to a story? What did Leonardo da Vinci have in mind when he designed that prototype flying machine?

Rely on Your Crazy Eye, Collect from Your Calm Eye
Let your crazy eye go crazy. Your crazy eye is a speculator, a dreamer, the one that swigs the moonshine even when the lip of the bottle is mossy. When your crazy eye whispers (which is quite a feat for an eye), listen.

But you also need your calm eye. That eye questions and discerns—where might there be a market for that story, what’s the natural lead for the story, do I really want to write that story, is there even a story there? Both eyes are your friend, and both are necessary for seeing that there’s a story in everything, but that that story shouldn’t necessarily be written by you. But you never know unless you open your eyes to it. (Personally, I like the crazy eye—it will sometimes make a crumpled bag in the street appear to be a body, before your wise eye tells you no.)

Your third eye, of course, is your calm Buddha nature, the eye on the face you had before you were born. That eye judges not. (Though it likes strong shots of whiskey—oh, wait, that’s somebody else.) Keep all your eyes open, and story ideas will flood your inner screening room. Some of those blended visions will find their merry way to the page.

Tribute to the Old Man
Finally, I must salute Mr. Bob (Sarge) Bentley, who turned 93 today. My dad, a good citizen, a good guy, who has made many people happy over many years. I love him, and I’m honored to be his son.