The Most Important Skill for a Writer

For a writer, the most important skill is observation.

Something has caught your eye, demanded attention. And when you return to your work, so begins the labor—sometimes arduous—to process the fruits of your observations.

It isn’t easy to just observe, simple as it may seem.

A good observer sees things that others fail to notice. He looks on—not as a spy, or a cop, or a twit, even—but at arm’s length, senses engaged. And he learns for his troubles. It’s even possible that, sooner or later, something jumps out at him: the thing that doesn’t fit, the discrepancy, the hole, the dodge, the oddity . . .

Another person may shrug it off, if he notices at all. But the observer, pauses a moment, considers. He wants to understand, and in this innocent desire, perhaps he has also found opportunity. If he follows this thing, this niggling bit of confusion, right to the core, he’s found a story, and maybe one that moves him to think more on the subject.

None of this would happen without observation. All the rest—discernment, compassion, even, whatever you come to believe—comes from this.