I have always been a tactile person. I walk into clothing stores and feel my way through them. I stand entranced in front of bins of yarn, moving along inch by inch as I stroke each skein. Flower shops require comparisons of petal textures, thickness, scent, and (very rarely, but sometimes) taste.
I used to think I was relatively fluent in the language of sensualism (pertaining to the senses—not necessarily of certain appetites), until I came across a book that said that the world should be a giant cornucopia of sensual exploration for writers. How will we know what aspects of reality we need to bring to a scene if we haven’t explored every part of our reality to the fullest?
Instead of doing endless writing prompts to tweak our writing into shape, it recommended that we grab a lemon and cut it open. Look at it. Taste it. Use as many words as we could to describe that lemon. Break out our similes. (The lemon slice sat on my plate like a ray of misplaced sunshine). Pile on the metaphors. (I bit into the ray of sunshine that had been winking at me from my plate.) Explore analogies. (The tart lemon juice made me shudder as if I had been caught out in a blizzard without coat or shoes). Write, write, write, then go through the lines of material (giving ourselves liberty to be absolutely silly, stupid, or brilliant—and, hopefully, know which was which) and tweak them, merge them, mix and match them until we had the perfect feel/mood/context/setting for what we wanted to say.
From there, it recommended that we move on to other objects. Anything. Everything. Look under the bed. Go outside. Scan the sky. Study people. Crack the world open to see what pours out, and use it to scramble, fry, poach, bake the perfect sentence/paragraph/scene. (See, another metaphor.)
The book gave me permission to dive into the person that I felt the dictates of society restrained me from being. I’ve discovered more passions since I admitted to being a writer. Cheese? Yes, please. Scent? Oh, my, indeed! Staring out the window on a gray day so I can enjoy the shifting colors of the autumn leaves? But of course! We need to visit a fabric store? I’m already there! You want to sit at a mall just so we can watch people? Why didn’t you say so an hour ago?
I’ve often been accused of running (sometimes not so quiet) monologues in my head as I watch movies. The more I've allowed myself to explore and write about those explorations, the more my monologues move into every-day life. I burn my tongue on homemade mac and cheese, and I can “waste” five minutes figuring out the best way to describe how the pain and the rising blisters feel.
At first, even after being a self-admitted sensualist, I felt silly breaking apart so many life scenes and trying to tweak them. But, the more I did so, I began to see a transition in my writing. Mixing and matching a feeling I wanted for a chapter came more easily. Describing people (without using The Dreaded clichés) felt more honest and real. Scene progressions didn’t have as many awkward breaking points.
Writing prompts can be very helpful. If that’s your cup of tea (I couldn’t resist throwing that in there), there’s probably no harm in continuing with that. But, if you find yourself stagnating with your writing and don’t exactly know why, or if you feel like you haven’t been diving below the surface in your scenes, or if you are itching to simply let your words loose, I challenge you to become a sensualist. Explore the world. Take time to feel the grass between your toes. Sniff flowers at a farmer’s market. Buy that pair of satin pillowcases, just because. Stroke some yarn. Let ice cubes stick to your fingers for a minute.
Then write about it, and let the world come alive in and around you.