Find Your Writing Inspiration In Winter Photos
by Writing Workshops Org Admin
A year ago
On the way to the weekly writer’s workshop I lead, I stopped and made a snowball. A fresh, two-fisted beauty I packed hard with my gloved hands. But instead of throwing it, I carried it indoors and placed it in the center of the table in a glass where we watched it melt. I had invited the writers to bring something with them to signify the spirit of childhood as a writing prompt. This snowball was my offering.
Here in New England, we’ve got snow, and the landscape from first storms (before the season’s shoveling demands have worn us down) conjures memories and offers abundant sensual delight. The kind of rapture Anne Sexton, a poet who lived not far from where I do, describes in a letter to W. D. Snodgrass: “I am younger each year at the first snow. When I see it, suddenly, in the air, all little and white and moving; then I am in love again and very young and I believe everything.”1
How would you describe your wintry scene, the one you’re living in now? What memories and moods are arising in you? Perhaps you’ve taken a serene photo of your winter garden or a full moon enchanting your unplowed street. Do you have a photo from your childhood, red cheeked and bundled in a snowsuit with your siblings and sleds?
Classic snow scenes, if you unpack them in a photo-inspired prompt, can lead to surprising and fresh insights and satisfying poetry and prose your readers will enjoy. Your wintry photo from childhood might evoke memories of mischief for your lyric prose such as in, Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Or it may bring forth a dramatic, suspense-filled personal essay, such as Annie Dillard’s classic, “The Chase.” Your wintry photo may evoke even further complicated, dramatic emotions.
Whether or not you’re experiencing a snowy winter, it's likely you have a photo, on your photo stream, in an album, or buried in your attic that captures a winter scene. Memories and feelings are tugging at your unconscious—a snow castle you built; a snowball fight you won or lost; a ski trip with your family; or the one and only time you saw real snow.
Your photo, and writing from it, might even transform you. Photo-inspired writing will prompt you to capture a mood and express feelings, probe insights, and acknowledge wishes and realities pictured in your photo, and craft them so that your reader can experience them too. When you have chosen your picture, open your notebook and write. Here are some starting steps:
Look with fresh eyes at your photo. Where is this place? Everything was put in this photo for a reason. Describe each element. Examine the edges and corners for what isn’t obvious.
Imagine being in this scene. Write in the present tense from all your senses. What sounds, smells, tastes emanate from inside this three-dimensional experience?
Describe how this photo makes you feel—physically and emotionally. Is there a conflict in the photo, or in your experience of it?
Describe the action. What’s happening or not happening in this scene?
Give voice to any being or inanimate object. Do this in first person, present tense. Who or what are you? What are you doing? What would you like the writer or reader to know?
Once you’ve written your raw material, circle and underline any fresh figures of speech and zesty language. Look for hot spots—pockets of emotionally charged description that make you feel something. As you shape your writing into prose or poetry, have fun and trust the process. Whether or not it’s ever shared, be aware of how much this writing has already served you.
Kelly DuMar is a poet, playwright and workshop facilitator from the Boston area whose most recent poetry collection, girl in tree bark, was published by Nixes Mate in 2019. Kelly inspires readers of #NewThisDay —her daily photo-inspired blog —with her creative reflections on a writing life as she walks the woods and meadows from her home on the Charles River.