For the longest time, I’ve blogged about how paying attention to the small things in life is what truly matters. Especially when it comes to novelists and memoirists.
In fact, pretty much all kinds of writers.
Now I’ve learned there’s actually a term I can use to refer to these small things.
It’s called “attention collections“, or as I prefer to call it, “attention collectibles.” (Just because “collectibles” sounds way more fun!)
But let’s start by paying attention to… well… “Attention”!
First off, let’s get on the same page when it comes to the word ‘attention’, shall we?
To be sure, it’s not a big or difficult word. But it is a pretty big deal in today’s world. A world now way past “sensory overload” (more Tiktok reels, Insta feeds, push notifications ad nauseam, anyone?).
We used to hear people talk about how the global economy is really the knowledge economy. That the ownership of knowledge is what drives economies around the world.
Well, today it’s all about grabbing attention. It’s what drives all social media platforms and those little algorithm pixies. They will do whatever it takes 24/7 to wrestle our attention from whatever we’re doing.
As the late economist and Nobel Laureate Herbert A. Simon would surely agree, attention has definitely supplanted knowledge as the most precious commodity for trading in this day and age.
After all, he famously coined the phrase “attention economy” and noted that “a wealth of information (knowledge) creates a poverty of attention.”
Consider the recent tragic earthquake in Turkey and Syria. And just before that, the Russian-Ukraine War (still ongoing unfortunately) and the Covid pandemic (still ongoing too, but relegated now to the status of the common cold thank goodness).
All these grab attention on a global scale that’s both unrelenting and unending. Like the bomb-laden bus in the 1994 film Speed actress Sandra Bullock’s character must drive non-stop, to ensure everyone on board stays alive (the bomb will be triggered if the bus stops).
But nowadays, these and other ongoing world events easily “disappear from our radar” as unrelenting and unending data flood our consciousness every nanosecond. Leading to an attention deficit as we leap from one trending topic to the next.
This is why it’s so important we writers must recognize this and avoid losing attention at all costs!
But what should grab our attention as writers?
As writers, we have to resist the urge to get swept up daily by distractions.
Instead, we need to intentionally carve out time in our daily routine away from the hustle and bustle of life.
Be it a whole morning or even just 15 minutes, we must deliberately pause and do what actress Julia Roberts did in the 2003 film Mona Lisa Smile. In one scene, Roberts’ character (an art teacher) brought her class to a warehouse to “consider” a wall-to-wall size painting — their only lesson task for the day.
Not to copy, review, memorize, or research the work.
That involves stopping everything else and freezing time so we can ponder. Observe. Watch. Absorb. Pause.
But to do that, Roberts needed to give her students something tangible — a grand artistic masterpiece — to consider. And she did just that in that scene by having her students view the now-famous Jackson Pollack piece Lavender Mist.
And here’s where I bring in the idea of “attention collectibles.”
What are “attention collectibles”?
They could be any of the following:
- Nursery rhymes from childhood.
- Hymns we hum.
- Verses from your religious book.
- Essays, op-eds, or commentaries that moved us.
- Scenes from shows we love (like the two I mentioned earlier).
- Pages from our favorite books.
- Pictures of our kids in their onesies.
- Holiday memorabilia and souvenirs.
- Tunes that take our breath away.
- Snippets of conversations that surprise with depth/implication upon careful consideration.
This list is clearly non-exhaustive and if you drew up your own, it might very well look entirely different.
No matter. The key is that any one of these should evoke feelings of joie de vivre that are critical to getting our creative writing juices flowing.
And just as no two days look exactly the same, no single item on the list can do it for us every time.
Hence the need for having a mixed bag containing all of them. A bag of “attention collectibles” to dig into every day. To pick and choose what stirs us at any given moment.
In my next post, I’ll share my “attention collectibles” and how I use them to inspire my writing.
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