Writing Exercise: The Photograph

By Ashieda McKoy

Recently, I found that I was having a hard time finding inspiration (or time) to write. I tried going to all of my favorite places. I tried listening to some good music, taking a walk. Nothing. I was rummaging through some closets at my father’s house and found a few old photos. One photo in particular, a picture of my mother on a swing, left me itching to write.

But it wasn’t the go-to exercise, “write about what’s happening in the photograph,” that got me started, it was the idea of writing what was going on outside of the photograph – the periphery.

The photo had my mother dead center and waist up, smile and tight afro gleaming. I wrote a poem about what I couldn’t see – what was happening waist down and out of frame – newly discovered womanhood, brothers and sisters more distant than close, a segregated rural city.

This exercise makes us think about what is not immediately in front of us – what is not the easy fruit.  It’s usually the stuff that makes us dig a little deeper and feel a little harder that ends up being the best material for our work. So, I challenge y’all to write about a photograph or a moment or event, but not the immediate details, write about something that sidelines us, something we don’t see coming.


Ashieda McKoy is in her final year of Virginia Tech’s MFA program. She is poetry co-editor for the minnesota review and has won national awards for her poetry, teaching, and service.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s