Career Authors

Susan Reynolds on The Paris Cure for Writer’s Block

by Susan Reynolds

I’d gone to Paris to photograph angels, a hobby I’d taken up in Northern California when my writing had stalled and I craved another form of creative expression. For a year, I lived in the Latin Quartier and spent each day, every day wandering the streets of Paris searching for the alluring and captivating angels that others might miss—or underappreciate—while scurrying past the stunning Parisian monuments, churches, museums, and cemeteries, many laden with angels.

My first efforts were amateurish and I consoled myself by learning that esteemed photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson had famously said:

Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.

I furiously studied the photography manual I’d brought along, went a little slower in manipulating settings while photographing, contemplated what I wanted to highlight and how best to go about it, experimented with lighting and filters, endured the stares and interruptions from curious passersby who wanted to see what I found so fascinating that I’d spend an hour focused on my subject, to their minds, fiddling with my Nikon. Within a few months, I began accumulating slides and contact sheets that reflected true visual and artistic growth, as well as photography skills acquired through study and practice.

The Artistic Angel featured above was one of the four statues fronting La Opéra Garnier. Although all the statues were beautiful, and designed to reflect art and music, one angel looked particularly stunning at night. I bent down to photograph the wide sweep of her wing, capturing the golden light and the woman who sat just beneath, gazing up in adoration. This angel inspired me to explore my art, looking for fresh ways to view my subjects, revisiting subjects until the lighting was perfect, or finding an angle that would offer a fresh perspective. I owed her such gratitude and would carry her image in my heart for all time.

Not long after, I began to write again, mostly journaling my experiences. Still, when I wrote I felt something that had never been there before—my soul felt untethered. When I wrote something true, I felt a rush of feelings that resonated deeply within, nurturing the inner artist we always want to nurture as writers, or photographers. I had no goals for what I wrote; I just wanted to capture how I felt during those slow-paced, yet remarkable days spent photographing, reading, and writing—a true luxury for someone who’d spent the past twenty-three years focused on a day job and children.

When I returned to America, I was a writer again, one who went on to write, co-write, or edit more than forty-five books in twelve years. Photography not only taught me many things that translate to writing, such as learning your craft, focusing on what’s most important in the work, vigorously and scrupulously editing what doesn’t work, experimenting, and being patient with myself. This all translated to my writing without any conscious recognition. Quite simply, developing my visual creativity had reignited my writing ju ju and bolstered my self-confidence.

I still love the feel of a camera in my hands, the thrill of spotting an imminently photographable subject, the art of creating a visually stunning image, though these days in New England it’s landscape photography. I love it most when I’ve been writing for days or weeks and cannot bear looking at one more word. There’s a peacefulness that comes, along with the blissfulness of not having to think, that completely relaxes me.

And the real beauty is that, my passion restored, I always come back to writing.

My favorite fisherman’s sandals, covered with Picasso’s white dust of Paris, superimposed over a photograph I snapped of the Louvre.

Susan Reynolds is the author of Fire Up Your Writing Brain: How to Use Proven Neuroscience to Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Writer. She also works as an editor and blogs for Psychologytoday.com and Fireupyourwritingbrain.com.

What restores your passion? Tell us on Facebook.