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Combining photography and writing can be a great way to shake up your writing process, so I am reposting this writing exercise from five years ago. One of my favorite exercises in terms of driving home the power of revision comes from Discovering the Writer Within by Bruce Ballenger and Barry Lane, and it’s called “20 Ways to See an Elm Tree.” This activity is the next step after going out and taking pictures of an object for the “Breaking Habits of Seeing” exercise. I used this exercise many times in my teaching career at both the high school and college levels. Plus, it’s a tried-and-true method I use often when I need a creative boost.

Writing Exercise: Photography and Writing

My example photos will only focus on twelve of the numerous shots that I took on a spectacular spring day at the Wilson Ponds in Nampa, Idaho.

Picture of ducks swimming on pond for writing and photography exercise.

The link between photography and writing lends itself to a better understanding of the revision process. 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.

Picture of ducks for writing and photography exercise

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.

Picture of least to most obvious for writing and photography exercise.

Write for five more minutes and explore your answer to this prompt: How did my experience with the process of taking these photographs seem similar to the process of writing?

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.

Photography and Writing: 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.

Picture of duck wing reflected on water for writing and photography exercise.

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 yourself as a writer.

Would you like to try this writing and photography exercise? What might you take pictures of?

Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2018.