Inspiration

How it’s supposed to work: I visit a scenic place and watch diverse wildlife and take field notes and photos; I return to my writing desk, where the muse arrives on schedule; I produce a first draft that is musical, informative and evocative.

How it often does work: Once I get home, the list of things to do presses in. Time passes. Months might go by before I start working on that first draft. By then, my memory has grown foggy.

How do I retrieve clear memories and impressions so I can convey a sense of that place and my experiences there to my reader?

My friend Carol Lynde, supervising video producer at Arizona Game and Fish, faces the same conundrum in her work. She goes into the field and shoots, and then a month or three might pass before she can sit down to produce a script and edit raw footage into a story. After all that time has passed, how does she do it so well?

It turns out we both use images to solve this problem of a lag time between experiencing an event and turning that event into a story. For Carol, it’s her video; for me, it’s my photos. Yes, I’m a word person. But when I’m trying to recall a long-ago scene, scent, or species, it’s not my notes that save me. Even the best field notes sometimes omit details that would be helpful, later. Photos can bridge those mental gaps.

I open the folder of photos, start a slideshow, and watch the story unfold onscreen. Afterward, I set fingers to keyboard and let the words fly. Images are an invitation to the muse to come and play with me. They are my best link with how it felt to be there.

I used this process last week to produce the first draft of a story about visiting Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area. I’ve posted some of the images that sparked my creativity on Flickr.

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