How to make your writing more interesting and memorable

How to make your writing more interesting: Image of The Gatteaux Family by Ingres

The Gatteaux Family by Jean Auguste Dominque Ingres

Want to make your writing or your art more interesting? Want it to stand out and be remembered better? Want readers to be able to visualize with great clarity what you’re writing about?

Add details.

There it is. Details. That’s the big secret, or at least one of them for crafting more interesting fiction and non-fiction and adding layers to your art.

As Steven Pinker points out in his excellent book, The Sense of Style, which sentence can you mentally picture (and thus likely retain) better:

“The set fell on the floor” or “The ivory chess set fell on the floor”?

Only two words differentiate the two sentences, yet that detail makes the second sentence more concrete. You can picture the ivory chess set better.

The ways in which you present details are as diverse as the types of writing you might do. But here are two considerations.

First, for fiction, use details to add depth and clarity to your descriptions. “It was a dark and moonless night” doesn’t make you feel the night as well as, “The darkness oppressed her, like the blackness of a cave, complete and unyielding.”

For non-fiction, wherever possible, use examples (as I just did above). Examples offer details while also providing an analogy the reader can relate to.

Details are your friend. But how do you go about making their acquaintance? You can rely on your imagination. But your imagination will grow if you learn to collect details and stockpile them for later.

Travel helps us in this regard. When we go out into the world with our eyes open and our notebooks or cameras or sketchpads at hand, we can see and then capture details we’d otherwise miss. We then bring back these small treasures to our studios for use in our work. Anyone can do this, but it helps to know some shortcuts and techniques. And where might one find such helpful tips?

I just completed a new paper, just for you, my guide to capturing and collecting details. It’s a free resource here if you’ve signed up on the site. I call it Come Closer: The Novelist’s Approach to Collecting Details because the basic concept came from an interview with a novelist I read many years ago. He described traveling to a city, for example, where a scene for his next book would take place. But instead of writing all the details about the whole city, he would find one interesting street corner and then document that thoroughly. He’d then have some great details he could throw into his descriptions that provided authenticity and made the scene more compelling.

I liken it to an Ingres drawing. Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, the 19th century French painter, is considered one of history’s finest draftsman. His drawings, such as the one above, are exquisite, but what I appreciate is his isolated use of extreme detail. In the above image, the background is a mere suggestion. Even the clothing is rendered with the minimal lines needed to convey meaning. But look at the faces. They are meticulously drawn. Ingres used details where they mattered and didn’t waste the effort in areas where they don’t. And so should we.

If you want to make your writing more interesting, check out the guide to capturing details. The beauty of it is that you’ll learn tips and techniques that will not only make you a better writer or artist, they’ll improve how you travel as well.


The Closet Creative

Let’s start the New Year with something I wrote for a friend who was forgetting just how creative he is (something we all do from time to time). May it encourage you to live more creatively in this New Year…


Door of a potential Closet Creative in San Gimignano, Italy

Hey Closet Creative, are you in there? It’s time to come out!

You know who you are.

You watch commercials not because you’re interested in the product, but in the story they’re trying to tell. Or the music. Or the set design.

You skim through the headlines of the newspaper (which you likely browse online) but then you settle down for a slow read in the culture section.

You like bright shiny objects not for their material value, but for their design.

The conversations that energize you are ones of possibility, of new ideas, of what if’s…

You follow innovators and creative types on Twitter. Your newsfeed reflects similar interests.

Beauty matters to you.

And very few people know any of this about you.

Why? Because while art and creativity, inspiration and the imagination, technology and design are all powerful interests, you — to varying degrees — deny that these are yours. They fill a large part of your soul but a small part of your identity.

You are, in short, a Closet Creative.

Why is this?

  • Creativity isn’t practical. And you are a very practical person.
  • Creativity doesn’t pay the bills. You’re still practical.
  • Creativity is for other people. Artists and such. They don’t look like you (or so you think).
  • You likely took a stab at some creative effort when you were younger. A drawing perhaps. A musical performance. Maybe a poem or a project that meant a great deal to you. And it got shot down. Wasn’t “good.” Didn’t meet others’ standards.

You learned at a young age that creativity involves risks. Ones you’re not willing to take.

So you stay in the closet.

It may be dark in there, but it’s “safe.” Certainly not as scary as creativity.

Creativity? Scary? You bet. You can’t control it. You can’t really understand it. Others certainly won’t. It makes you feel something inside that doesn’t feel normal. You don’t know what to do with any of that.

And yet…

And yet. You know who you are. You may not know why creativity matters to you, but deep down it does. Desperately.

Deep down, you want someone to give you permission to be the creative person that you sense you might be but never could be. You want the green light. The go-ahead to try something new, something different. Something…creative.

This is it. This is your permission to heed that inner longing, that yearning that you suppress and even deny but that won’t let you be.

You are creative. How do I know? Because we all are. In one way or another, we all have an innate hard wiring to make something new, find a cure, solve a problem, do something better, create something that never existed before.

Some of us just hunger to express this more than others. And far too many of us ache to create but never act on it. And then we get to the end of our lives and all we have to show for it are regrets. Let that not be you.

Be the creative person that deep down you know you are. I give you permission, but most of all, you need to give you permission. You no longer need to be a Closet Creative.

This won’t be easy, but it will be good and right and true.

We’ll be coming back to this topic much more soon, but for now say these three words to yourself enough times until you begin to believe it.

“I am creative.”

Yes you are. Welcome to the club.