Writers, Time to get visual.

camera typewriterAs writers, we are – let’s face it – pretty obsessed with words. We get geeky about grammar, excited about syntax, and delirious over great dialog. We have strong opinions about the Oxford comma, have been known to swoon slightly over a perfect turn of phrase, and can debate the merits of different POVs for days.

You know who doesn’t do any of this? Normal human beings. Non-writers care very little about the nuances of language or the underlying structure of story. They are not concerned with finding le mot juste. They do not understand why anyone could agonize over a single sentence for hours. And, they often judge books by their covers.

Normal People do not succumb to the allure of words the way we do. Their attention is much more likely to be caught by an image than by a beautifully crafted sentence. Especially in this fast-moving, clickety-click digital world, The Visual rules a disproportionally large share of the collective mindshare. The vast majority of our popular media channels are highly visual: television news, online “magazines,” Facebook, Google+ and so forth. Even Twitter has become more visual with in-line pictures now showing up front-and-center in the Twitter timeline. And then there are the purely visual platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, and Vine. Even LinkedIn is now incorporating Facebook-like visual features to highlight member-published articles.

Words may be your stock in trade, but if you want to stand out amidst the virtual avalanche of information and noise on the web, images can give you a valuable advantage.

Are there writers who make do without images? Of course there are. Several of my favorite bloggers rarely, if ever, use images in their posts. But these folks are already well established, and I am (as I’ve already admitted) a word nerd, so they don’t necessarily need pretty pictures to reel me in. I’m a sucker for the words, plain and simple. Most people are not.

If you are not already using imagery to complement your writing and – hopefully – capture the fickle attention of visually-oriented folks, here are a few ideas to get you started:

First – where do you find great images?

Gorgeous image by Mario Calvo as featured on Unsplash

Gorgeous image by Mario Calvo as featured on Unsplash

My favorite source for free, Creative Commons (CC) images is Compfight, a third-party search for the massive image database, Flickr. You can set your preferences so that Compfight will only provide you with images that are under the CC license, and they also provide a handy bit of code that includes the proper attribution (“Photo by …”) so you can just cut and paste that into your post and not worry about copyright infringement.

I have also used various paid stock photography from time to time, iStockPhoto has some good images at low cost. But, I do like free photos better. Unsplash has some beautiful images, though they are not always as easy to categorize by theme. The Morgue File has a decent search capability, though the images are not as high a quality. Free Digital Photos has better quality images and an easy search functionality. I also like Death to the Stock Photo (partly because their name makes me laugh). They are a subscription service that emails you a new batch of beautiful images each month for free. For $10 a month, you can get access to additional photos, plus online downloads for all past photos.

Author Edit – 9/11/14: 

I just stumbled across another great blog post that includes a great list of additional sources for stock imagery. I haven’t explored them fully, but if the samples the blogger included in the post are any indication, these are some quality collections. You can find the post on the visual.ly blog, aptly titled Where to Find the Best Stock Images.

You can also create your own photos. I am an Instagram addict and often use my own images in my posts. If you have a smartphone, you can download all kinds of photo editing apps to add special effects to your snapshots. My favorite editing app is Snapseed, but I also like to play around with ColorSplash, iDarkroom, and LensLight. Another handy app is Over. Over is great for adding text to images. You know all those visual quotes you see around the web? Over is an app that can help you create your very own versions of these hyper popular images.

Bonus Tip:

snagitMy favorite app for clipping photos off the web is called SnagIt. This is one of my must-have apps. I use it multiple times each day. Couldn’t do without it. Clipping an image is super simple, and the app also includes some basic editing features. I think the updated version may even have some pretty sophisticated ones. (I’ve been meaning to upgrade …)

Second – how do you use these images?

Use images in your blog posts: Adding images to your blog posts helps them stand out when they are shared (via Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and also in various readers and even in email. I typically use at least one “hero” image in each post, and I will often include additional “accent” images as well. I also always include my (tiny) head shot in my byline bio at the bottom of the post. (It’s great to give your readers a face to associate with your name.) I won’t lie, sometimes it feels like I spend more time finding the perfect image for a post than it took me to write the post, but I always feel like the final product is more “complete” (and universally appealing) after I’ve added the image.

Use images in your social media posts: Ever notice how text-only posts on Facebook tend to seem a little lost in the Newsfeed among all those splashy, image-based posts? When people are quickly scanning through the Newsfeed, their eyes are most likely to be caught by a great image. If you can find one to include in your status update, you’ll increase your chances of being seen and read. The same applies to Google+ and even Twitter.

Experiment with visual platforms: Just because you are a writer doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun with image-based social media.

instagram iconAs I already admitted, I am an Instagram addict. I love the creative outlet Instagram provides, and I love looking at the beautiful images people post from all around the world. (Talk about getting story ideas by the handful!) Instagram has a number of simple filtering and other editing tools included in the app, but the real power of Instagram is in the community.

pinterestPinterest is another goldmine for story ideas. It’s also a great way to share images that reflect the themes in your work and your personal interests and philosophies. Many writers keep Pinterest “boards” (collections of images) about stories they have in development, particular characters, settings, etc. You can also create private boards that no one can see except for you – a handy visual reference to help inspire you. (Please feel free to visit my Pinterest boards.)

vineVine is a six-second video app that my ten year-old daughter loves. To be honest, though I made a valiant effort to “get” Vine when it originally launched, I just can’t get my head around how to create videos for this particular platform. I guess video just isn’t really my thing, but some people have had amazing, breakout success with these super-short clips. I’ve seen a number of “Vine Stars” make appearances on national morning news shows, the Ellen show, and other major media outlets. So, I guess you never know.

As writers, we may not always believe that a picture is worth a thousand words; but, in today’s digital world, a picture might be just the thing to get someone to actually read your thousand words.

Think about it, and then go have some fun with pictures.

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Camera & Typewriter Photo Credit: Olivander via Compfight cc

A picture for a thousand words

Today’s post will be short on words, but hopefully still big on inspiration.

As a writer, words are my palette. I work with their color and texture in the same way a painter uses paints. I savor their taste the same way an artisan baker savors the raw ingredients of her edible art. They are to my work as light is to the photographer’s.

… which brings me to the bit about a picture for a thousand words.

My creative life has been “compressed” lately – taking a back seat the the bill-paying work that allows me to keep a roof over my head. I’ve been frustrated at how little time I’ve had to work on my fiction and other creative projects. When I’m severed from this personal work, I tend to start feeling “dried up” and uninspired. As any other artist will tell you, the work feeds the work.

Enter Instagram.

For those of you who don’t already know, I’m an iPhone junkie. It was my first ever apple product and proved to be the gateway drug which led to my recent purchase of my first MacBook. I’m in love. (R.I.P. Steve Jobs. You are already missed.) All that technophile stuff aside, my most recent app addiction is a little number called Instagram. It’s a tool for taking and editing photographs using a series of filter effects that can transform even the most banal photo into a work of art. I have become fascinated with creating my own photos (a happy activity that gives wing to my otherwise grounded creative urges), but have also loved seeing the photos of people from around the world – Thailand, Vietnam, New Zealand, Oslo, London, Ontario – everywhere.

As a writer, I am often struck by the story potential an image holds. One Instagram artist has particularly captured my imagination. His “handle” is tonydetroit and his work is dark and moody – full of over-saturated colors, tempestuous skies, and the odd, out-of-place character. Each of his pictures leaps off the screen for me – giving me snippets of story ideas – scenes, characters, plot twists.

Have you ever used images as story prompts? Do you use them to help keep you inspired as you work through a story? Whether this practice is new to you or old hat, I highly recommend a trip around the Instagram world. The images you’ll find there are so diverse, there’s something for everyone.

Here are a few streams to start with:

  • Mine (just in case you’re curious)
  • Tonydetroit’s
  • dan Cristea (aka “konstruktivist”) (You can only view his work through the app, but it’s worth it – Euro-style, black & white, portraits (often from the streets) – FULL of narrative possibilities!)

Image Credit: From the Instagram stream of tonydetroit