Writer's Block Is the Worst

How contemplating images can bring creative breakthrough.

Where are the Words?

If you’ve been reading along or listening to “A Drink With a Friend,” you know I recently lost a friend to suicide. An Easter month meant for dogwood blossoms, pascal candles, and pastels has somehow turned bleak as the midwinter. The result—I cannot seem to find my words. A season of writer’s block has set in.

I’ve spent more time contemplating photographs these days, particular my own archives. I cannot say why, but the images seem to draw out the words that mark the moment, words I couldn’t seem to locate in a vacuum. The photos are the stones anchoring my memorials. They’ve given place for my words. And this is why I believe every writer (which is to say every human) ought to snap a few more photos of everyday living.

Need some examples? Consider these images and the words they inspired. (All photos in this post are my own.)

1. The Old Church (an excerpt):

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I’ve learned a thing or two about life and faith and human existence, and it rings true for this body. I need the nostalgia, the old stories, the old church houses. Perfect? Nah. We all know the demons that play among people. Still, the memories keep my eyes fixed on a history bigger than my ego, my influence. Maybe this is something like the work of God?

My histories: the Religious might call it idolatry, the deconstructionist the propping up of best fictions. I suppose that’s a take. Another is this: my best attempts to deconstruct granny’s best intentions toward God, her Sunday baby and bath water, are revisions I’m not equipped to make.

2. The Old Windmill (a poem):

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Age taught me to remember⁣
there are still beautiful things. ⁣
Some were spoken into existence ⁣
before the age of our ancestors, ⁣
the objects of their adoration. ⁣
Some were built by our fathers,
meant to harness the wind. 
These icons remind us
of brevity and eternity,
the ouroboros eating itself,
we riding on top. 

3. Mary (an excerpt):

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For 23 years, Griffin’s “Mary” has haunted me, and over these last few years, it haunts even harder. After consecration, after feast, during prayer, I watch the priest cleaning the cup, the saucer, the table. As I do, Griffin’s lament comes to mind, “Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place.” The priest, the lay people, all of us left behind, all of us trying our best to clean up the place. 

Sure, I know the temporary absence of God was mitigated by Pentecost. I understand the theological implications of the Great Slide By Kiss. Still, sitting in this momentary absence every week does something in me. And I’m grateful for it. 

The Importance of Images

According to French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, “Photography is an immediate reaction, drawing is a meditation.” This, I think, is why photographs provide such a rich landscape for any sort of writing, whether for public consumption or personal pleasure. Though a photograph captures a singular moment, a millisecond that can never be recreated, writing about that photograph draws us into meditation and contemplation that is more eternal (perhaps even quantum). It forces us to spend time asking, What is this photograph trying to say to me in this very moment, maybe ages after it was taken?

You might not consider yourself a Writer in the classical sense of the word. You may not have penned a novel, had a poem published, or submitted an article to The Sun. Still, if you’re reading this newsletter, if you love good words, there’s a high likelihood that you put pen to paper from time to time. Maybe you journal or capture loose phrases of poems on sticky notes. Perhaps you’re a voracious letter writer. Maybe you’ve been researching, recording, and writing out your family history. Whatever the case may be, I suspect there’s a writer hidden in you somewhere. And that being the case, you've likely felt the lack of inspiration creep up from time to time. Break the rut through the contemplation and meditation on images. See what happens.

Play With Images (A Little Practice)

Today, scroll through photographs you’ve taken over the last month. Contemplate and meditate on those moments. Then ask yourself:

  • What do I feel?

  • What does the scene evoke in my imagination?

  • What story do I tell about the moment captured?

In response to these questions, write. Even if it’s just a sentence or two. And if you can’t find an inspiring photo, feel free to use a few of the following images.

A post shared by @sethhaines
A post shared by @sethhaines
A post shared by @sethhaines

This week, contemplate and meditate on the anchoring images of the world around you. Spend time with them. Contemplate them. Allow them to move you. Record your thoughts, and at the end of the week, see what truth you’ve uncovered.

The Final Ask

If you enjoy this newsletter, follow me on Instagram. There, you’ll find more photos, more words, and hopefully a little inspiration.

Thanks for reading along. You are my people, and I appreciate you.