— Jenny Neill

What is Your Question?

I left this blog-writing process behind a few months ago knowing that one day I would return to it. For a few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out what to say. Do I tell you what’s been happening in my life while I was away? Do I explain the conclusion I’ve reached about myself when trying to answer the “Am I a blogger or am I a writer?” question.

Question Mark

Photo courtesy of Nicholas Noyes. Some rights reserved.

I toyed with writing a semi-autobiographical, semi-fictional, tongue-in-cheek piece about how I descended into a place called Decision Land. It’s a story that features plot twists and character developments far more interesting than the reality I’ve been off living in the real world. A tale that mirrors the ups and downs and all-arounds that have been happening in my life.

I almost started to write that story this morning. It may have been all sorts of fun to write, and maybe even to read. Or, just as likely, it would have become another of the blog fragments I’ve started and not finished this year. (Blog drafts in WordPress = 9. Completed posts since March = 2. But who is counting, right?)

Just as I was about to settle down to this task, I noticed a new blog post from a friend. It struck a nerve because I’ve been grappling with a similar sort of navel-gazing about where to go next with my freelance life. Even the thought of writing about that seems boring to me. I talk enough about it with my partner, my colleagues, and my friends. Why rehash all that here?

This friend, a photographer, has recently returned to calling himself an amateur. Ever since, his less frequent missives have exposed his creative quest. (See, he too went to Decision Land and is seeking a new path where GPS and maps can’t help. Maybe that story still needs to be written, just not today.)

In his most recent post, he asks “…what’s your question? What do you want to know about the world? If you’re an artist, what compels you to paint, sculpt, cut paper, write a poem, take the lens cap off your camera?”

This is my first instinct response: Where is the order in this chaos?

I have not explored this question through a camera lens in an artistic way. Yet. Not how most photographers, amateur or professional, do.

Before I answer this further, I confess that most of the time I don’t consider myself to be a “creative.” I ask questions. I research. I talk to people. I collect facts and opinions. I sift through it all, string it onto an outline designed to say something real to a readership seeking something: information, education, entertainment, or some of all of that.

Critical thinking is something I pride myself on in my work. Yet, to make it all fit, to shape it into a composition that fits the assignment, there is a creative aspect to my process. So, maybe I should try on that label a little bit more. Not just as an adjective, but also as a noun.

How do I answer this question: “Where is the order in this chaos?”

I work it out by scribbling words on stickies and scraps of paper, by connecting phrases and numbers in diagrams drawn on whiteboards, by taking notes on paper in pen and pencil or electronically. I use color and font styles as I find my way through it all. I use cameras in my work as a writer. I capture “establishing shots” at times when taking notes would take too long or to record my first, second, umpteenth attempts to organize my data collection into a narrative.

I request photos from PR and marketing representatives (mostly because some editors expect it). Even then, I choose which ones add something to the story: visuals that show some details or evoke some emotion that I don’t have the word count to tell.

No matter the subject I write about, at some point I face it. My question. Where is the order in this chaos?

Going off on a hunt for more details, noting new questions that come up along the way and trying to answer them too. Some must get set aside for another story to be written on another day. Some turn the assignment in hand in a new direction, leading to a conclusion that the original thesis might not have predicted. It is these surprises that keep the process of answering it invigorating to me.

So, that, Brian Neely, is my question.