Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Creative Exercises: The Image Journal

She filled her bag with stones, each shining and bright like pieces of starlight fallen from the sky.

I've complained previously (see: Killing the Muse: College Writing Classes) about the last fiction writing class I took in college. (My Muses have mostly recovered since then. Though they still have the occasional moment of diaspora where they would seem to be better suited writing a term paper than a short story.)
Writing is a lot like a muscle. The more you use it, the easier it gets.
Daily calisthenics work wonders. Image via Flickr

In the post, I mentioned the image notebook/journal.

This was probably the most useful thing to come of that class.

The image journal is exactly what it sounds like. A journal full of images. Written images, in the writer's case.

Underneath the clean smell of the rain lay something darker. Headier. A fetid odor. Green earth and bones bearing strips of skin gone to rot.

The image journal is an ongoing creative calisthenic. Its purpose isn't just to keep you writing, but to keep you thinking about writing.

The idea is to write in it daily. To take it everywhere you go, so that you're always ready, in a split second, to capture an image (or sound, or odor if you want to get between the lines) in words.

It's helped me to take pause in my life. To stop and look. Listen. Consider the world and the people around me. And commit what my senses capture to memory. And paper.

One thumb hooked under the shoulder strap of his bag, the other pointed back at the road. He crunched gravel under his boots as his stride lengthened; swift and sure, it was the walk of someone who knew they had far to go and didn't care.

I love description. I want to read description in others' works and I want to write it in my own.

The image journal has proven valuable to me as a collection tool; once I've written an image down, it's typically committed to the archive in my brain and I'm able to pull it up again when it's pertinent.

It also serves well as a prompt reservoir. Occasionally, I've flipped through my journal, found myself captured by an image and, before I know it, I'm writing another scrap or story.

And it's helped me--through writing more often--avoid the cliches that we all perpetrate now and again. (See also: "eyes blue as the sky"; "teeth shining like pearls"; "you're as cold as ice...." Sorry Foreigner fans.)

The grey sky reminded her of the beach as the tide recedes, all strange swirling patterns framed by foam white lightning.

My image notebook is a black, faux-leather bound book I bought at the supermarket for less than $10. It's currently filled with neatly captured word-paintings, riotous scrawls done in the moments-in-between, half-lies, partial truths, and incomplete sentences of sights or sounds or scents that I just didn't have the words to finish capturing.

I've stuck completely to words in my book.

But an added challenge might be to include a visual--a photograph you've taken, or a print of a painting you enjoy--and attempt to capture it in unique, non-cliched language. Maybe even limit yourself to a word count.

But if you want to start simply...just look out your window and tell me what you see, in 50 words or less:

Afternoon sunlight, mixed shades of goldenrod and honey particular to mid-August, slithered through the trees, dropped over the retaining wall and splattered bright and hot over the hoods of the cars.


Cindy said...

I took your challenge. The view from my window is kinda boring, so I focused on a couple things in my flowerbed.

The canary-yellow wildflowers spread across the sidewalk in a burst of color, bringing cheer with their bright petals, while tiny purple flowers shifted in the wind, like a crowd of people milling around as they wait for entrance to a Dave Matthews concert.

L. M. Leffew said...

An accepted challenge; awesome.

I like the Dave Matthews concert-bit.

L. M. Leffew said...

Hmm. I noticed I need to clean my windows. There's a grey haze filtering the greens from the ivy and slimy blur to the girls running along the walkway.

I'll have to take a rain-check on the challenge until I can locate the windex.

BTW, great post. I do this daily myself. I'm addicted to the written word and I have tomes of scattered pieces banked for future use.

L. M. Leffew said...

Lately, I'm bad about *not* using my notebook. So, I wind up with slivers of paper running all over the house, bearing random descriptions. I look at it like a treasure hunt.

L. M. Leffew said...

I stumble across your post hours ago and took up your challenge. I like this exercise and will keep it going--thanks.

Thru my window: The magnolia is just in bloom. Its blossoms droop with petals soaked from yesterday’s rain. I see a piece of tape or a bead of silicone hanging loose on the shed in the distance. Later, much later, I see black and hear the ticking of the clock.

L. M. Leffew said...

Since you ask:
The plastic basketball hoop partially obscures my view of the shed. The blue tarp has blown off the tree house again, leaving it roofless, open to the wind. The pine trees and boxwood bushes mock the winter-barren ash, and a February blue sky gives lie to  the season. More than that, though, I identify with that loss of creativity in college. Grad school ate so many things I loved. Bipolar ate even more of them. And there were four years where I simply did not write.

L. M. Leffew said...

 Glad to be of service. :)

And magnolias in rain is a lovely image.

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