How Photography Gives My Neurons a Rest & Infuses My Writing

The Tethered Angel stood in front of a stone tomb in Oakland, California’s Mountain View Cemetery. Her nose and mouth had been worn away and the tip of one wing had been cleanly broken. She wore a long gown, the hem of its top layer gathered in one hand. Her hair fell in one long swirled braid. I photographed her in close-ups and tinted the prints in shades of blue and brown and silver. She seemed haunted by a sense of forever waiting, guarding someone else’s door. How would she look if she could spread her broken wings and fly? Where would she go? Each time I returned, I prayed she’d be gone, free of the real and imagined bonds that tethered her glorious wings. Not long after, I flew off to Paris.

Because writing requires so much mental concentration, after days spent conjuring words on a bright screen, my neurons seem to sputter into silence. “Stop thinking!” they plead.

Craving a visual activity, I signed up for photography classes and eventually ventured to an Oakland, California cemetery to photograph angel statuary for an assignment. One angel captured my imagination and I returned often to photograph her. As noted in the photo and caption (opposite), she became a visual reminder that I needed to untether my soul and follow my dreams—wherever they beckoned me to go.

When my children planted feet on their own paths, I sold my Napa Valley home and spent a year in Paris where I focused solely on reading (such bliss!), writing, and photographing angel statuary and art. Being surrounded by the stimulus of Paris, with its exceptional architecture, art, and ambiance—they adore, admire, and support writers in Paris, for example—felt like heaven. Everywhere I looked, my eye lighted upon something exquisite to photograph, which spurred me to develop further as a visual artist. By the time I came home, my photographic abilities had grown, along with a renewed passion for writing.

These days, in New England, I still photograph, though I focus more on landscapes. I find that the process of framing shots through a viewfinder (or on a small screen) gives my neurons a needed rest, feeds my hunger for visual creativity, and bolsters my ability to focus when writing. Photography has also benefitted my writing by:

  1. Teaching me to look for and think about dramatic images/story lines before I set up the camera/sit down to write.
  2. Learning that taking a moment to think about what interests me and to search for something that illustrates the emotion I want to capture infuses the work with passion and vigor.
  3. Training my “writing eye” to focus on what’s “in view,” what’s most important in a scene, and to screen out what clutters or distracts from the central focus. And:
    1. To notice the small details I want to capture and make sure they’re included.
    2. To balance the image/scene/story, adjusting the “view” to capture the most dramatic aspects of the image/scene/story.
    3. To be aware of the setting, staging, lighting, and how changes affect the final capture.
    4. To experiment and return to the scene if I’ve not captured what I wanted.
    5. To scrupulously edit out anything that didn’t fully work, confident that I’ve grown and will continue to grow through the process.
  4. Helping me do something that stimulates my visual creativity while allowing my mental and verbal creativity to take a badly needed break.
  5. Keeping me centered and happy.

We’re so lucky to love writing as we do. It will give us a passion to ride well into old age, and I’m double lucky that I love photography. If you don’t have a visual passion and your neurons feel spent after writing all day, I find Pinterest a very relaxing visual treat (follow me @Susan Reynolds), and it’s an amazing resource for finding images that spark ideas for characters and setting.

And, if all else fails, there’s always Netflix.

Don’t forget to Fire Up Your Writing Brain by resting your neurons occasionally.

Happy Writing!

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