Day 2: Advice from a Palmist

Last month, on a whim, I went to see a palm reader who told me that I should use photographs as an aid to my writing.  At the time, I thought he was crazy (I’m a writer.  I imagine things, why would I need a camera?), but yesterday, I gave it a try.  Here’s what happened:

After two hours of writing, I found myself at a stalemate.  Only Day One of this writer’s march and already I’m in trouble.  The problem: I was writing about San Francisco, a city I lived in several years ago, and I couldn’t remember what the houses looked like in the Outer Sunset District.  And how were they differed from the houses in the Mission?  And could my character feasibly walk through Golden Gate Park on her way to work?  And if I wanted her to walk passed the buffalo, what would her route be?   I wanted to walk around the park myself, but obviously (as I’m in New Mexico), I couldn’t.  So I thought of the palmist.

And I have three words for you:  Thank you, Google.

I used my last hour to do some research (because that’s “writing” too at least as far as I’m concerned).  I got onto Google Images and I typed in “houses outer sunset San Francisco” and then “houses Mission District” and “San Francisco ginko trees” And here’s some of the images I found:

When I saw this image, I thought, perhaps my character can see these houses as she walks to work (or perhaps not).

And perhaps this is the view outside her window...

And this one (not sure which) is the apartment she used to live in. She misses it.

And outside they had a ginko tree that is a bit out of control like this one.

And during the fall, the leaves change color. Like this. (I had no idea it was so beautiful. But she would)

Anyway, it helped me understand the scene I was writing better by better understanding my character’s sense of place.  Not sure yet how it will translate to the page, but it gave me a better sense of confidence in what I was writing (and isn’t much of our work about believing we can do it?) Plus, it also stirred up some old memories I had of walking through this very neighborhood after the Bay to Breakers race I had mentioned in my initial post.  Turns out I remember that area much better than I had previously thought.

So here’s a task for you if you find yourself stuck.  Call it a writing exercise or whatever you will:

When you are trying to eek out that last hour (especially you, Jennifer Simpson who is aiming for 5 hours a day!).  Try switching things up a bit and find some images that may help you better see the world you are writing.  Particularly if you are writing from afar like I am.  And if you aren’t, then maybe go out into the world and try looking at it through the point of view of your character instead.  Either way, find 3-5 images (maybe they are even old snapshots) and give them each a handful of sentences.

Then–and this is the most important part–take it back to the page.  Don’t try to describe everything in the picture.  And don’t get so wrapped up online that you waste your good writing energy (if you have that tendency, set a timer.  Give yourself only 15-30 minutes to tool around). Remember, keep the task simple.  Let the images percolate like old school coffee.  Then maybe let us know what you’ve brewed up.

On another note entirely, last night I created the Challengers page.  If you want to see the current list of participating writers & their goals for the month, check it out.  Also, if you want your name added (or removed), send an email to (or leave a comment here), and I’ll add you to the list.  Oh, and if you have a picture of your writing space, send that over as well!.

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