Margin Notes

The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker


Since reading The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday by Rob Walker, I have found myself approaching my environment and regular routines differently. My trip to Costco last weekend became a The Art of Noticingwriting opportunity as I found myself taking Walker’s advice and mentally creating a “Field Guide to Cart Behaviors at Costco.”

Walker explains that “paying attention, making a habit of noticing, helps cultivate an original perspective, a distinct point of view.” But paying attention isn’t easy. To help us develop a habit of noticing, The Art of Noticing offers 131 “opportunities for joyous exploration in all it’s dimensions,” rated by degree of difficulty from “So Easy—Anybody can do this right now,” to “Advanced—Noticing has become an adventure.”

The exercises are grouped into five categories: Looking, Sensing, Going Places, Connecting with Others, and Being Alone. They are designed to “serve that spirit of curiosity and joy, whether it’s in the service of productive aims or leisure.” Many of the exercises have been inspired by the works of writers, artists, filmmakers, researchers, and Walker’s own students. For example, “Start a Collection” is based on a poetry collection by Rob Forbes, the founder or Design Within Reach, and “Take a Scent Walk” is modeled after smellwalks organized by urban planner and writer Victoria Henshaw. Links to many of the works referenced are available on At the end of the book, Walker invites readers to invent their own exercise in noticing and share it with him on his website.

This morning I challenged myself to try out “Find Something You Weren’t Looking For” as I walked a common route in the neighborhood where I have lived for almost twenty years. At a house I have passed almost daily on my walks, I noticed three small brass horse figurines perched in a window. Not only had I never noticed them, I spent the rest of my walk wondering about them. Were they a gift? Something purchased as a keepsake on a trip? Were they placed there so the owner or the public could better admire them, or both? That led me to pay more attention to other items decorating window ledges and soon enough I found two white ceramic cats looking out at me.

The Art of Noticing is a unique and fascinating book. Readers can dip into it for a few pages or read it cover-to-cover.  Many of the noticing exercises would work well with writer’s notebooks to encourage writers to be more curious about possibilities for writing in the world around them. If I can find writing inspiration at Costco, I can assure you that The Art of Noticing will help you engage with your surroundings on a more creative level.

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