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How To Cure Writer’s Block Using Photos


by Jennifer on April 25, 2013

Staring at a blank white screen can make a writer, or any person for that matter, go entirely mad. The pressure to fill the empty document with letters and characters that combine to form insightful words and witty dialogue, makes me stray from my writing, pushing it to the side as I waste time on Tumblr, Facebook or other semi-mindless social networks.

I’ve recently come across a way to calm the nerves that come with an empty document —pictures.

Everyone knows the saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but have you ever tried to write those thousand words? Pictures can be a great jumping off point for a story or a novel.

In fact, the highly acclaimed author, Junot Diaz, uses lots of photos as inspiration. In a New York Times article, he shared that he found inspiration for his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” in a picture of his father dressed in a fascists uniform.

How The Picture to Inspiration Process Works

So here is what I do when I’m devoid of writing inspiration and motivation, in three simple steps:

1. Find Some Photos to Look At 

I start by searching through my friend’s photos on Facebook.

Remember though, you don’t have to start on Facebook, because there are plenty of great sites to search for photos, like:

  •  PinterestAside from craft ideas, ways to paint your fingernails and recipes, you can find some interesting visuals, from fashion magazine spreads to vibrant graphics, and pictures of amazing buildings with unusual shaped rooms.
  •  FlickrYou probably know this site as a place to upload your photos online, but it also serves as a gallery of all flickr users photos. All you have to do is click “Explore” and you can browse a never-ending gallery of beautiful and diverse images.
  •  Life MagazineIf you are looking to write about history or a different time, Life Magazine has a plethora of their photo archives online. Here you can find amazing black and white images of things ranging from the first Super Bowl to photographs of fish skeletons. It’s an amazing resource.

2. Transfer the Photo(s) to Your Document

Once you’ve gone through and found a picture that really captures your imagination, you can choose to save the image privately in a document. Just right click on the image, and copy it onto the top of your document. This way it’s always on your document, and it takes your attention away from that blank page anxiety.

If you do decide to copy the photo onto your document, be sure to link the image to the URL where it came from (or keep track of the URL somehow), that way you can give proper credit to the person who owns it.

Alternatively, you could also create a bookmark folder on your browser for “Inspiring Images.”

3. Start Writing

Now you write.

I can’t help you develop a story—that’s on you—but sometimes it’s nice to just try stream of consciousness and write whatever pops into your head when staring at the picture. It also works if you take one specific element from a picture and use it to inspire you.

For instance, I recently found one of my friend’s pictures from her cruise to Barbados.  I imagined the sunset as a scene in a fantasy story, where the sun never completely sets and there is always an intense orange glow in the sky.

If you are already working hard on a piece, a photo can work just as well to rev your writing engine. You can find inspiration in pictures for a plot twist, or a new character development, or perhaps an ominous dream.

Have you used photos as inspiration? Do you have any tips?

About the Author: Karolina Shenton is a cruise consultant at The Cruise Web. The Cruise Web is a travel agency that specializes in cruising. The expert cruise consultants focus on providing travelers with the best value for their time and money in finding and booking a cruise vacation! Check out our site for the best deals for cruises to the Caribbean, cruises to Alaska and much more. 

Image courtesy of The Cruise Web.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Holly May 1, 2013 at 5:03 am

Love this! My first published poem was based on a picture!

2 Jennifer May 1, 2013 at 8:24 am

@Holly Nice! So I guess that means this exercise works.

3 Tammy Grande May 20, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Pictures say a thousand words, and inspire many writers as they do painters.

4 Phil Parker May 23, 2013 at 5:52 am

I write for “how to” articles for model making magazines and find that if I have my photos in order for the piece, the words flow. Trying to do things the other way around never, ever works.

Sadly, there are no photos for my novel, so I have different problems

5 Lee Thomas May 25, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Jennifer, May I purchase this photograph for my living room wall? Lee Thomas

6 Jennifer May 27, 2013 at 10:47 pm

@Lee I’m not sure. You probably need to contact the article’s author or the person who took the photo.

7 Maris June 20, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Now I have a reason to spend so much time on Pinterest! Seriously, though, this is a good idea. I’ll have to try it next time I’m suffering from writer’s block.

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