Worth 1000 Words
I look at it this way. They say a picture is worth a 1000 words. A good post can be as short as 400. One picture could help A LOT.
I like to have illustration with what I write. Pictures add reader support and interest. I’ve said that before, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I often use visuals as a way of reverse engineering. Photos, clip art, line art, fine art, and objects in the real world are all great sources for ideas. Of them all, rights-free photos and clipart work double time. You can use them to get ideas; then use them to illustrate the idea after it’s written. For this conversation I’m going to use the words photo and image to suggest any form of visual or illustration you might use.
The reason images make great idea starters is that they access the right brain–the place where words don’t usually hang out. Images get you thinking in a new way about things–connecting thoughts that don’t usually get connected, triggering memories. Images involve your eyes in the process of bringing in information. You don’t have the problems of words tripping over each other or of your left brain trying to edit your thoughts when all you want to do is get to an idea.
Folders, Envelopes, & Boxes of Ideas
Ever sit at someone’s house when the scrapbooks come out when you hardly know a person in the pictures? Isn’t it strange how if you’re friends with the person who owns the album, the pictures can get you involved in telling stories anyway?
I collect images. I use them for fodder–stuff to look at when I need ideas. They’re in several beat-up old folders, a couple of 9×12 envelopes, and a box or two. Some are at my friend, Peg’s house. I also have about 23 photo and art sites bookmarked on my computer–that doesn’t count the museums and art galleries which might be 20 or so more. I don’t put much effort into the collection, and I get a wealth of ideas from having it. The images come from a variety of places.
- Photos and greeting cards from daily life. I keep cool old photos and greeting cards with weird cartoons on them. The gating factor for keeping them is Will I want to tell a story about this? Could this prompt a story in anyway? When I add one, I always look for one I no longer need.
- If, for some strange reason, I find myself at a flea market where they’re selling old photos or calendars, I might look through the really old ones to find something that triggers an idea or two.
- When I’m driving I notice things that would make a good picture–that guy who was walking a Dalmatian in front of the brownstones on Roscoe St, looked like Fagin from Oliver Twist. I write down a mini-description of what I saw when I stop.
- Sometimes, I take a shot with my camera phone, but I only do that for really weird things, not usually people.
- I look at the pictures in magazines and catalogues for ideas to write about. At last, I’ve found a use for my time when sitting in waiting rooms with all of those boring magazines.
I read billboards and check out window displays too. Even the ads on buses have pictures that might trigger an idea about a subject that I write about. Those notes and pictures go into the folders, envelopes, and boxes.
I only do this kind of idea hunting when I’m alone. I don’t want to turn into one of those people who lives their blog the way some folks live their jobs. . . . But then I’m alone a lot.
Setting Up A Photo Idea Directory
I’ll often go to my favorite rights-free photos sites when I have down time to browse for photos that capture my imagination. It’s a great way to get the words out of my head and relax at the same time. I save photos I find into a Photo Idea Directory.
These points will help you to set-up a directory. This will start you out organized and give you a process that handles photos properly and saves you time when you look for ideas and find a photo you want to use.
- Open a parent folder to be the Photo Idea Directory.
- Organize that folder with subfolders by source–in case you need to download or access an item again for another reason. Don’t try topics at this level. Topics are like tags, just too nebulous to keep track of. Name the photos by topic/content not the folder.
- Always check rights restrictions before you download a photo.
- Download as close to the size you will use–or slightly larger–to save space.
- If the photographer has been named, write a quick e-mail such as this:
I’m using your work (name of item here) on my blog for (purpose here). Thank you for your generosity and for your beautiful image. If you’d like to see it, you’ll find it at (permalink here).
Give the email a subject line of I’m using your (name of image).
Save the email into a drafts folder until you use the photo. When you want to use the image, the email is ready; hit send.
- Keep your eye out for photos on subjects you write about to add to the file.
- Visit the Directory when you need inspiration. You might be surprised how it works. The thumbnail makes it easy to see what you’ve got to choose from.
Often when I’m away from home, waiting for something, I’ll mentally go through my photo file and one or two photos will come to mind for me to play with. Some of my best writing ideas have started that way. I think of the images in that file and connect one to some topic that I’ve been wanting to talk about. It’s as if the photos are waiting for me to tell their stories–I just have to figure out what those stories are.
Get the Picture?
Using your eyes to find ideas can get your right brain working for you. As you do what you do, you can be collecting images that hang out in a box or on your computer waiting for you to decide what their story is.
Try a little reverse engineering the next time you need an idea. Pick up a magazine, visit an online gallery, or browse your favorite photo site. Let your imagination do the rest for you. Suddenly you’ll find that you’re not stuck using the same images over and over again. What’s cool about photos is that they change in small ways to match what you’re looking to find in them.
Images will not only get you started, but also help you dress up and promote your final written work. Build a great image for your brand and your business by putting images to behind your ideas from the start. Get the picture?
How might reverse engineering with images add appeal and depth to your writing?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
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