One of my favorite activities on how to revise comes from Discovering the Writer Within by Bruce Ballenger and Barry Lane. It’s called “20 Ways to See an Elm Tree.” This revision exercise is the next step after going out and taking pictures of an object for the “Breaking Habits of Seeing” exercise.
So in order to attempt today’s writing exercise you need some pictures. My example photos will only focus on 12 of the numerous shots that I took on a spectacular spring day at the Wilson Ponds in Nampa, Idaho. My husband got some fishing in and I had a blast playing with the camera.
How to Revise: What Photography Can Reveal About Writing
Lay all your pictures out whether on your desk or on your computer screen. Discard pictures that show obvious technical issues.
Now move your images around from left to right so they are ranked favorite to least favorite.
Do a five minute freewrite about what made you choose your favorite photograph. Be specific.
Re-order your photos and this time start with the ones that seem to show your subject in the least obvious way. Consider angle, distance, and lighting.
Were your two arrangements markedly similar or different? Which particular photos inspired you to see your subject in a new way? Was it relatively easy or difficult for you to take so many pictures of the same thing? Could you take even more pictures of the same thing? Why or why not?
The ability to play with words is often what draws us to the writing process, but it can also become what repels us when we allow various factors to close us off to that gift. The same can be said of imagery. We are surrounded by images and too often fail to appreciate the craft of manipulation that is required to arrive at truly unique and great work.
How to Revise: Follow Through
Much like writing often leads to more writing in order to better communicate what you are trying to say, photography (and many other creative endeavors) also go the same route. So get your camera out again. Return to your subject. Snap more pictures that begin to get at what the imagery is unlocking. Challenge yourself to narrow your efforts to just one image that will express something deeper without the need for you to describe its significance.
Like arresting images that make us pause and ponder, so too should good writing.
Please visit Revision Project: Ways of Seeing for even more ideas of how to use photography to inspire and challenge you as a writer.
Do you think you’d like to try this exercise? What do you think you would take pictures of? [signoff][/signoff]