Literature and Pensées: A New Writing Exercise

Brian Russsell

I recently read “How To Write Like A Writer” by Thomas C. Foster and among the many things and improvements to my own writing I took away from the book, there had been a sort of exercise that stuck out to me - he mentions several times over his incorporation of “Pensées” into his more creative writing. To my understanding these can be small or large entries, even essays at times, of observations regarding the natural world around us condensed down and packed with sensory details into pseudo-journal entries.

Foster uses his own example in the book to describe a moment of a hawk attacking a squirrel and him sitting behind the windshield of his car looking at the grisly encounter (feathers and fur flying everywhere) as if watching from a seat in a movie theater, his windshield being the screen. The use of details enraptures and is utilized to flow to a creative method in vivid, refined style, yet it consists of only a paragraph or two.

Pensées, “Thoughts,” as according to wikipedia is the posthumous name given to the writings of 17th century philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal. His works were made as an “apology for Christianity,” a manuscript which he never finished. It looks to be an actual audiobook somewhere on the internet, which I find interesting.

In this scholastic article reviewing the book by Pascal (analyzed by Westmont Magazine) there is commentary on the interpretation of the Pensées as a piece of literature as well as a conversation on naturalistic observation of the world. These writings detail a few of the many characteristics of humanity (defining that which encompasses human emotion, and the human condition, among other things.).

The interpretation of the Pensées by Foster into a means to write about the world seems apt from the purposes Pascal originally intended in his writing. Foster, I believe, makes a whole notebook dedicated to these observations. Acting as both a reflective resource and also a means to practice awareness and writing technique (with inclusivity to the senses, the natural world, and the ongoings in nature).

I took this information and started an old journal dedicated to writing my own Pensées, mainly just “thoughts” given a bit of direction in observation, made in order to practice and to hone the many details keen and well written prose utilizes. I might add, with no affiliation to the interpretation or apologies for any religion which, to my understanding, had been the purpose of the original “Pensées.”

As this is a blog and not an academic review, I will say, I don’t quite personally observe enough. Maybe any other writers can relate. I write and interpret what I have seen, but it is different from say an artist painting a still life, of course it is, but the wholistic observation of nature and what is directly in front of you is a skill I practice seldom little. I believe doing so can only aid my writing and create a wonderful book of observations by the end of its final pages.

In my last blog entry I wrote a list of things I wished to read. (In: “My Project Needs Character Development” - bottom.) So far, I have read several pieces of literary criticism and other works which I desperately want to write about in separate posts, they are as follows:

Thank you for reading and maybe this inspires someone into starting their own journal of thoughts!

PS: Alexander Pope: An Essay on Criticism is really good. I liked it a lot. It made me start writing poetry again and verse with paper and pencil. 9/10 would recommend (read slowly).

← Back to Blog