(Photo)journaling as inspiration

When I was around thirteen years old, like many teenagers, I went through a period of journal writing. I wasn’t very good at it. I never knew quite what to write, and it went very quickly from something I thought of as fun, to something I considered a chore. If I didn’t write in my journal at least every other night, I considered I was failing at journaling.

I guess I felt like I didn’t have much to say. I wasn’t a typical angst-ridden teen. I had a great life, and I knew it. My biggest complaint was having to do housework on the weekends. I didn’t really like boys at that point, thanks to having two relentless older brothers who teased me mercilessly. Why would I voluntarily add another boy into the mix?

Drawing came much easier to me than writing words. I spent hours in my room, listening to my stereo, sprawled out on the floor with sketchbooks and pencils.


Mostly I used pictures in books or on album covers as my inspiration. I drew Dennis DeYoung, Linda Ronstadt, George Michael, Frank Sinatra. I copied an album cover onto the back of my brother’s denim jacket, and painted it (New Riders of the Purple Sage). I drew my feet, my hands, my dog, a self-portrait.

Drawing is a great hobby for a writer. It forces you to really observe. I soon went from drawing in my room, to getting outside and drawing from nature. It’s amazing what you see when you lie on your stomach in the grass. There’s a whole new world down there. Once I turned seventeen and got my driver’s license, I headed down to the beach, sketching everything from lighthouses, to fishermen baiting hooks, to windsurfers preparing to hop on their boards. The Jersey Shore has its own culture, and it has always fascinated me.

It was about that time that I became friends with a guy I worked with. Tony Gonzalez was (and still is) a photographer (see http://tonygonzalezartist.com), and I soon added photography to my list of journaling tools. Tony and I would head down to Long Branch and shoot under the boardwalks, using black and white film.




I love the nuances in grey scale. It makes the subject’s details obvious to the eye, adding light and shade, highlight and depth, texture and mood. Take, for example, this photo of an ant on a daisy.


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The color photo’s story is cheerful, a happy little ant tooling along on a daisy stem, the yellow of the daisy’s center like a ray of sunshine. The black and white photo, however, tells a different story. The wilted flower now looks harshly dead, and the ant appears more sinister. It’s as if he sucked the life out of the flower, and is marching on to attack his next victim.

Whoever said “A picture is worth a thousand words” was a wise person, indeed. Not only do my photos remind me of details upon which I can draw in my writing, they are also the jumping-off points for stories. Take this photo of the Duomo in Milan.


If you don’t know the Duomo, it is the second largest Catholic cathedral in the world, and it took nearly four hundred years to complete. That last fact, alone, is fodder for a writer. Imagine the lives of the cathedral builders, artisans, craftspeople! In fact, Ken Follett did, in his amazing novel, The Pillars of the Earth.

I love to take photos of people, as well as places. Aren’t you just dying to know the story behind this violin player on the streets of Rome? Or to make one up for him?002


Is he really a poor man looking to make a few euros to get him through the day? Or is he laughing behind that big smile, rolling in dough and just enjoying his retirement, playing a part? Is he married? How many children does he have? Grandchildren? What is his house like? Since my stories always start from the human element, often my photos give me ideas for stories I want to write in the future.

Whenever I travel, my camera goes with me, along with a little notebook to record details about certain photos, or tactile experiences. What was the air like on that day when the mist hung over the water? Did my skin taste salty after walking in the fog at the shore? Did I twist my ankle walking down that winding cobblestone road in Orvieto? How cool was it to use only a golf cart for transportation in Costa Rica?

If my pictures are good enough, every little detail of my experiences, including tactile ones, can be recorded with a click of a button, to use at a later date when I’m back in the confines of my office, working on my next story. They help flesh out the people, places and things. For me, characters and settings rich in details are what make a story worth reading.

Do you journal, with words or pictures? What do you get out of it? Dish with me.  🙂




Leave a comment


  1. Wow, Jaye, I had to look at your post several times. The photos and your drawing are beautiful!!! I love the topic, too. Photo(journaling). Isn’t that what we do as writers, take snapshots of moments in our heads and transfer them into words to paint a picture? It’s neat how memories, too, come into play while writing. Best, Michele

    • Jaye Marie Rome

       /  June 30, 2014

      Aww, thanks, Michele! I wish I could be a travel photographer full-time. Thank God for digital cameras. I used to carry fifteen or twenty rolls of film with me whenever I got on a plane. That’s a lot of money in developing!

      I hope I never lose my memory…there are so many interesting places and people tucked away in there. 😉

  2. Wow, I love this idea! I never tried photo journaling myself, but now I’m thinking I should! One way I have been getting inspiration lately is on Pinterest which isn’t nearly as cool because I’m not taking my own photos. It’s a really fun space though to organize ideas for settings, characters, etc. 🙂

    • Jaye Marie Rome

       /  July 1, 2014

      Michelle, thanks for sharing your idea. I have to say, I’ve been avoiding Pinterest. The idea is intriguing, but social networking takes up so much time already. It’s really a balance, isn’t it? If you have a digital camera, photo journaling is a lot easier, because you can file everything right on your computer, with labels you choose. And it’s easy to move the pics around into other folders if you are using them for inspiration for a story. I have a really great camera, but you don’t need a fancy (or expensive) one. Sometimes I use my daughter’s point-and-shoot because it’s easier to carry around. Let me know if you give it a shot!


      • Thank you, I will. 🙂 Funnily enough, I feel like Pinterest saves me times because I don’t need to go out in the real world to snap pictures (though maybe that’s not such a good thing!)–everything I need is there already plus images I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. I don’t really socialize on it either because I agree–this stuff takes too much time already!

  3. I love all these photos! I am a horrible photographer and wish I had the skills you possess. Thank goodness for digital, right? No more carrying rolls of film!

    • Jaye Marie Rome

       /  July 1, 2014

      Hah, Joanna! There are two things I pay attention to…composition, and lighting. It pays to have a good camera, because it does most of the work for you!

      And yes, digital rocks. Although I do still have my film camera, too.


  4. I love your pictures too! Especially the one of the Duomo! I could write an entire story just looking at that photo. I know authors who storyboard, but I haven’t tried it yet. Your post inspires me.

    • Jaye Marie Rome

       /  July 1, 2014

      Tina, I could walk around the Duomo all day, looking at the statues on the exterior (there are 3200 of them!). It’s fun to try to guess who they all depict. I found Adam and Eve flanking one of the stained glass windows.

      You can climb to the top and walk on the rooftop, with an amazing view of all of Milan spread out around you. Breathtaking!

  5. nessa1313

     /  July 3, 2014

    Great pictures. I love taking photos. I like to use them as illustrations for stories and poems.

    I just read an article recently that writing in a journal once a week is best for you psychologically. That helped remove some guilt. 🙂

    • Jaye Marie Rome

       /  July 5, 2014

      Nessa…I’d be interested in reading that article. Best psychologically, because it helps you get your angst out so you don’t bottle it up inside? If you have that link, please share it!


  6. Hi Jaye. I knew there was a reason why you took such a wonderful photo of me for my website. I can’t draw to save my life and my husband makes fun of my pictures because usually it’s tilted like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I used to journal as a kid. Not everyday, but whenever I needed to get something off my chest. I put my thoughts down in words and even some poetry. Thanks for sharing a piece of yourself with us!

    • Jaye Marie Rome

       /  July 8, 2014

      Maria, do you ever go back and read your journals and poetry? I think that would be really cool.

      I can picture you diligently putting down thoughts in your journal. I bet you were really good at it.

  7. Jenna Blue

     /  July 7, 2014

    Jaye, this is so cool. I had no idea you could draw, and though I knew you were a photographer, I didn’t realize you were a PHOTOGRAPHER! : ) So cool. Like you, I always wonder about the personal stories of the people you see. It’s fab that you have your photojournaling references to go back to. Great post, and amazing pictures!

    • Jaye Marie Rome

       /  July 8, 2014

      Thanks, Jenna! Seems to me I remember some pretty cool framed photos in your house, too! The funny thing is, I never enlarge mine and use them as art at home. I really should. I have a lot that I love…like that violin player. Maybe I’ll get off my butt and finally do something about them!

  8. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  July 8, 2014

    Hi Jaye! I can’t tell you how much I loved reading this post. You are a multi talented person. I love that your art takes on more forms than just the written word.

    I too tried to journal when I was younger, and I also felt like I was a failure when I didn’t meet my own daily challenges.

    Photos are a great source of inspiration. While I’m by no means a photographer, when I fall in love with an area, I can’t seem to stop taking photos and then I look back on them to spark the creative flow.

    • Jaye Marie Rome

       /  July 8, 2014

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, RoseAnn. I think you and I are very similar in that we have really high expectations of ourselves, and are probably harder on ourselves than anyone, which is why we beat ourselves up when we don’t “perform” the way we think we should. This post helped me realize that we all have our individual tools that work for us, when others don’t.


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