Stop and Smell the World

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:


A fellow writer challenged me recently to engage more of my senses in what I write. She commented that I draw a lot on the seen world, but not much on the other senses.

I read over some of what I’ve written, especially the pieces she is familiar with, and realized that she is absolutely right.

So I spent the day today trying to use my sense of smell more. I inhaled subtle odours more deeply and endured the discomfort of noxious ones more readily, convincing myself that I was suffering for the sake of my art.

I thought about how nothing brings back memories as easily as smells do. Like those moments when a heavily perfumed elderly lady walks by and all you can think of is Aunt Ethel grabbing your eight year old cheeks. Or how the aroma of shortbread cookies in the oven takes you back to that Christmas you were finally old enough to help with the baking for the family get-together.

Today was perhaps the first time I ever regretted that I don’t cook. I miss out on regularly experiencing the waft of cilantro simmering in curry, and the sweetness of caramelizing onions. There’s nothing quite like the smell of home cooking- take-out and Ichiban don’t quite have the same effect.

As I focused on experiencing life more fully from a sense I usually don’t pay much attention to, I gained a stronger appreciation for the richness constantly around me and hope this will infuse my writing with an increasingly pleasant aroma.

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer  

The Nose

I must have watched some low-budget horror film sometime in my formative years and blocked it from my conscious memory. My subconscious won’t let it go.

The nightmare recurs every few days, each time with a new scene, but always with that same hideous thing in it. Sometimes it’s in a park, or a school, other times a tropical island or vast pasture. I’ll be settling in nicely to the fictional escape, when all of a sudden, a giant nose will appear and crush the school, or decimate the island as if it were a gargantuan Godzilla foot.  

This is the point at which I jolt upright in a cold sweat, yanking the covers over my head.  

One of these nights I’m going to be brave and bring a Zombie with me into the scene and watch it devour The Nose so I can be rid of it once and for all.

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Filed under Creativity, Writing

23 responses to “Stop and Smell the World

  1. Brilliant – both parts of the post!
    I think it’s very easy to slip into what we can see and how we feel when writing and forgetting about the other senses. Sometimes the seen is the most important thing, of course, but there are definitely times when it helps a narrative to become real to have flavour or smell or sounds or texture.
    The last bit says so much about the nature of dreams.

    • It’s about making a conscious choice to take in the world a bit differently, isn’t it. It’s so easy to just keep doing things the way we have- focus on how we feel and what we see when we write, as you say. As long as we keep searching out new angles and ways of observing, our writing will stay fresh and we’ll keep learning.

  2. Your writing is already powerful . I can’t wait to read your work even more sensory rich.

  3. Lovely post, Zoe, thank you. Smell’s a special sense. It has a short-circuit to our emotions. Daniel Goleman writes about it really well…I am a bit of a sensory seeker in the smell department.

    • For me paying attention to the smells around me is a bit of a stretch as I’m not so sensitive to them. Maybe I did some damage once when I inhaled some bleach crystals. That was not a fun experience!

  4. Ah, yes, Zoe. You picked great examples of odors that prompt powerful association. Seeing portrayed the odoriferous sock, I thought of a precious loved one whose socks, clean at the start of each day, had to be buried until laundry day to protect the innocent. My heart leaped with laughter remembering how gingerly I grabbed the edges the offending socks to carry them away. When you brought to my mind my own aunt, I could almost smell the irritating fragrance of her cheap perfume. Elderly as she was, she no longer possessed functioning olfactory nerves that would have warned her of air contamination. I miss her. And cooking odors. My mother worked outside the home long hours. Only at Christmas time did she engage in baking. She died at an early age. The memory of her came back to me in a different dimension at the mention of the aroma of her shortbread Christmas cookies wafting in the air. Thank you for a sweet-smelling journey down memory lane. Blessings to you…

    • The post may have been written just for you without my even knowing it 🙂
      The smell of cookies baking in the oven is one that takes me back to walking into the house as a child and feeling a sense of comfort- and, of course, anticipation as I eagerly awaited the cookies being done. Then again, I always preferred eating cookie dough to eating the finished product…

  5. Chloe

    Hi Zoe 😀 A great post – and an interesting point for all of us writers to think about – engaging all the senses when we write to more fully involve our readers.

    And..the dream of the huge nose – well, it’s very Monthy Python! lol 😉

    Hope you’re having a WONDERFUL week xx

  6. “Today was perhaps the first time I ever regretted that I don’t cook. I miss out on regularly experiencing the waft of cilantro simmering in curry, and the sweetness of caramelizing onions.”

    Life is too short for regrets. If you want to engage your senses, go buy a couple of onions, and saute them up. Make a pot of onion soup. 🙂

    Mmm . . . that SMELLS delicious. 😀

  7. I associate so many great memories/people with scents. My sister and I both find a particular lotion or fragrance we like, that we save for our next beach holiday. Each time we smell it after the trip, it will forever remind us of that time. I still have clothes belonging to a dear family member that has passed away because the faint scent in the fabric comforts me. Thanks Zoe.

  8. Mmmm, the smell of coffee in the morning makes getting out of bed easier. The smell in a hospital hallway makes me feel anxious even if I am not visiting a patient. The smell of the furnace kicking in reminds me of getting ready for school on cold, dark winter mornings as a child. Smell is indeed very powerful. I will be paying more attention to it today. Thanks!

    • Maybe I should put some sort of smell on a timer so that it starts wafting just before my alarm clock goes off. That would help me get up in the morning. I would choose something chocolatey. Now there’s an invention that could make some coin!

  9. V

    It makes me sad for those who cannot smell ……

    I love using my nose .. I smell my son everyday, on purpose. I think subconsciously I never want to forget these moments of him being such a little person, that I smell him every minute I can; his hair, his breath, his clothes, even his little feet! I love it.

  10. Excellent.
    I like your story.
    The giant nose. awesome.
    Interesting theme to write about too. there are so many ways it can be translated

    • Funny how we take in the world through our senses and then interpret them in such subjective ways so often. We have knee-jerk reactions to smells, sights, sounds based on our personal histories. Two people can take in the exact same sensory information and have radically different reactions.
      Thanks for your comment.

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