Writing is a Sensory Affair

The Writer's Cage
“The Writer’s Cage” by Florence Ma

Writing is painless. Said no one ever.

More often than not, words take a little coaxing to get past your reeling thoughts and onto the page. Sometimes, you have everything planned out in your head, and know exactly what you want to write- but your fingers remain frozen over the keys, refusing to cooperate with your train of thought. Other times, you’re raring to go, and ready to string sparkling, eloquent sentences out onto the blank page- but you have nothing to write about, and zero inspiration. Basically,

A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.

– Sidney Sheldon

Never fear, my fellow scribes, for you’re not alone in this plight. I used to be a “wait till inspiration strikes” kind of writer. Sometimes I’d go for weeks without writing a single word, and when I did sit myself down to write, I’d spew out a few pitiful sentences and then be on my way. I told myself that writing without motivation wouldn’t produce results, or at least not ones that I’d be satisfied with. I told myself this, and I never wrote anything. Don’t wait around for inspiration; go hunt it down and tear its guts out.

Everyone knows that incorporating the senses into your writing is essential to crafting a story that comes to life on the page. But what about using the senses as inspiration for your writing? I used to write my stories and poetry while sitting at a hard desk with nothing but the sound of a humming fan for company. Not exactly the most stimulating writing environment. I learned from my slump, though, and discovered a few things that you can do to heighten your senses during writing.


Sound is probably one of the biggest inciters of inspiration in my writing, and perhaps one of the most accepted on this list. Music elicits the emotion within us; it immerses us in a world that is all our own, one where the outside is nothing and it’s just you and your thoughts. Compiling and listening to a soundtrack that fits with the project you’re working on is a creative and fun way to further delve into the minds of your characters, the world your story takes place in, and the bigger ideas you’re trying to get across. 

There are an endless amount of resources and online radios that supply music playlists, but the one that I’ve found the most satisfying is 8tracks.com. It has amazing playlists in every genre imaginable, about every topic imaginable. Whether you want to listen to movie soundtracks, instrumental pieces, emotional piano ballads, indie rock…you name it, they’ve got it. You can check out my account for a few of my playlists, or go exploring on your own. For example, search the explore section for “epic + battle” and you’ll be supplied with an endless list of playlists that will set you in the perfect mood for writing a war scene. 

If you’re a pluviophile like me, the sound of rain immediately places you in a peaceful frame of mind. Rainy Mood is perfect for those days when the sky is clear, and paired with the perfect playlist, sets the mood for a writing session. Other synthetic auditory sites that I recommend include Soundrown and A Soft Murmur.


I’m a visual person. I like to map out scenes by illustrating settings and develop characters by painting their portraits. Obviously not everyone is going to opt for this, but you can’t deny that writing is a visual affair. When you write, you want to be able to picture the scene in its entirety, from the colors to the shading to the smallest details and nuances. Seeing is believing, even if you’re only seeing it in your mind.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am very passionate about colors. Yes, colors. Colors are what breathe life into the world around us. They set up the mood for a scene, an idea, or an emotion. I could probably go on and on about my deep devotion for striking colors, and how they inspired my last book, but perhaps I’ll save that for another post.

I’ve found that picture prompts are innovative ways to generate that “spark”. I suggest browsing sites like DeviantART where endless archives of artwork are just waiting to kindle the inner workings of your mind, or checking out Flickr for a vast selection of photography and multimedia art. The tumblr Write World, which posts daily picture prompts, is another great resource for writers.


Scent as a stimulus isn’t exactly what comes to mind when you think about writing, but in truth, it adds a whole new dimension to creating the ideal mood. Aromatic tea and scented candles are surefire ways to get me in the writing mode. If you really want to get into it, try these author scented candles. Ever wondered what Charles Dickens’ candle would smell like? Apparently tangerine, juniper, and clove.


I don’t know if this is just me, but I feel like every writer has their special “writing” food. For me, its trail mix and tea…and when it’s really, really late- coffee. Yes, I know that stuffing your mouth with food every time you write is not the healthiest of habits, but sometimes, when you need a little extra energy, the right snack can be the difference between a blank page and a paragraph.


Touch is perhaps one of the hardest senses to pin on writing. I mean, writing is all conceptual. There’s nothing to touch, so how can it influence your writing? Sometimes just placing yourself in the right setting is all it takes to give birth to a brainchild that will grow up to be your story. Really, it’s all about being relaxed. Situate yourself in your most comfortable desk chair or couch, make sure the temperature is just right, and dress for comfort!

All in all, don’t shy away from writing because of a fear of the mediocre. Embrace your mediocrity! Because without it, you’ll never get any better.

If you are a genius, you’ll make your own rules, but if not–and the odds are against it–go to your desk, no matter what your mood, face the icy challenge of the paper–write.

-J.B. Priestly

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