Using a Photo for Writing Inspiration
What’s That, You’ve Got Writer’s Block????
A week does not go by that I don’t see an article or a forum where someone is talking about the crushing weight of writer’s block. Their brains are drier than the Sahara. Their creativity caught a bus and slinked out of town in the middle of the night. They begin to write something only to have their muse laugh at them and then sprint for the door.
I honestly don’t understand and I try to be a compassionate and empathetic man.
I don’t get it!
I’ve been writing full-time now for four years, and I mean writing full-time. In that time I’ve written three novels and over 3,000 articles. I have another novel in the final draft stage. I have so many ideas that my mind, at times, feels like it will explode from overload. Hey, that rhymed. Cool!
About a month ago I suffered a burnout period. I had been writing too much and my brain went on strike. I had ideas but everything I wrote sounded like blah, blah and more blah. So I took a break and worked on outside chores, but even when I wasn’t writing articles I was writing down titles of articles I wanted to write once I had rested and started writing again.
So, I’m trying to be understanding regarding writer’s block, but I’m grasping at straws in doing so.
All I can do, then, is share with you one tool I use often to inspire me and help kick-start several articles.
The tool is the simple photograph.
Rather than tell you about it, let me show you. I’m going to share three photos with you and then I’ll share my ideas regarding those photos. In other words, I’m going to let you rummage around inside my mind where you can meet my muse.
Have a safe trip!
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First Photo…. a Freelancers Treasure Chest
This picture was taken down at Percival Landing in downtown Olympia. It looks south toward the capitol building, and in the foreground are many of the boats moored at the marina. Are there any articles in this picture for a freelance writer trying to make some money? Let’s see.
- What current legislation is the legislature working on that could be controversial?
- What’s it like living on a houseboat?
- How polluted is Budd Inlet where Percival Landing is located?
- Are salmon spawning numbers up or down lately?
- There have been whale sightings of late. Is there an increase in the large mammals coming this far south in the Puget Sound?
- What are the concerns of business owners who border Percival Landing?
- How has homelessness hurt the downtown area?
- What’s being done to help the homeless?
And on and on we go. Every idea is a potential article and every article is a potential sale to a magazine or local newspaper.
Second Photo…. for Creative Writers Everywhere
This photo was taken overlooking Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. We are looking northeast from a bluff one-hundred feet above the valley on a warm July afternoon. Just out of range of this shot there is a herd of bison grazing on the long grass.
What do I see?
- What must it have been like for a fur trapper upon seeing this valley for the first time? What would it be like to live there in a cabin during the winter with ten feet of snow on the ground and temps at minus twenty?
- I see a children’s book about a baby bison growing up with the herd.
- With my mind’s eye I see a couple hiking along a trail encountering a grizzly bear.
- I see a homesteader in the 1860s staking a claim and trying to make it as a rancher.
- I see two teens making a raft and going on the adventure of a lifetime.
- I see metaphors like the winding trails of life and what we encounter around each bend in the trail.
- I think of Garth Brooks song “The River” and contemplate myself as the vessel taking a sixty-seven year journey.
Do you see it? Can you imagine? What about your senses? What do you see? What do you smell? What do you taste? What do you feel? What do you hear? The screech of a hawk riding the thermals high above the valley…the smell of wildflowers….the damp grass under bare feet…it’s all there for the writer to experience.
Third Photo…..let Your Imagination Run Free
This photo was taken at a neighborhood street fair a couple years ago in Olympia, Washington. It is a late-August afternoon and as I recall a very warm day. I love this photo for the people-watching value. If you have a hard time describing characters in your short stories or novels, this exercise is great. There are several people in this one shot who have appeared in my stories and novels.
- The girl in the blue dress sitting on the hay bale….I just love this woman. I have another picture of her smiling and she has the greatest smile, a truly happy person, “home, Mom and apple pie” simplicity in her, a person who, I believe, will age gracefully and still be lovely thirty years from today. She was the inspiration for a character in my novel “Resurrecting Tobias.”
- The guy tugging a suitcase along….he was a small-time villain in a story I wrote.
- Look at the variety of body shapes in this one photo. We have people in great shape and people woefully out of shape.
- Pay attention to the apparel they all are wearing. Some look quite comfortable in their clothes. Others look like they are miserable and hot. For some, the clothes are an extension of their personalities. For others, the clothes are simply used to provide cover and protection.
The lesson here is to not re-invent the wheel. Character descriptions in stories and novels are as simple as taking a picture in a public place.
See How Easy That Was?
Three photos, and from those three photos I came up with fifteen story or article ideas and about ten character descriptions, and all of that took me about thirty minutes.
I think sometimes, writer’s block is a matter of trying too hard. I think the brain freezes up when we strain it. Articles and story ideas are all around us. We simply have to turn our muse loose and not shackle her with bothersome restrictions. She works best when she is flowing freely like the Yellowstone River in that photo above.
Now It’s Your Turn
This is an interactive article, so now I’m calling on each of you to share one more idea from these photos. In the comment section below share that idea. I’ll be by the time we are all done we’ll have a veritable treasure chest of writing ideas, enough to keep all of you free of writer’s block for at least a week.
So let’s do it! Share one idea below and then borrow any you like and use it at a later time in one of your articles or stories.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”