How Writing Helps Us See (and Photos of Fall in Boston)

I’m in Boston now and the trees are changing colors.  I love fall colors, especially as someone who grew up in a place where the use of the words “colors” and “fall” in the same sentence usually referred to a spectrum of ephemeral yellow hues sprinkled among forests of green cedar trees and darker green live oaks.  When I was in New England this time two years ago I was dazzled by the reds and yellows and oranges, the hills aflame, and the leaves that danced in the air on cold winds from the north as I rode the commuter train into Boston.  But this time, I’ve hardly taken note.  Why?  Because I lost the habit.  It happens that quickly.  I wrote hardly a word for two months and I forgot how to see.  Writing puts me in the habit of looking for what stands out in this world, or striving to see what’s beautiful and unusual in the ordinary things that surround me.  When I don’t write, I forget to notice the details.

Sailing on the Charles River

Since I stopped blogging a couple of months ago, I’ve come to realize the ways in which blogging changes how I think, what I attend to, and how I decide what to write about.  Take my post on Monday, about pain.  I don’t think I would have written that after having blogged for a month, because by then I would have returned to my old habit of trying to lace my writing with optimism and hope.  I would be thinking about how others would receive my words and not just about how I felt, and it would occur to me that maybe nobody wants to hear about pain and other such matters that have no simple resolution.  Maybe I would be wrong to make such assumptions, but I fall easily into the habit of obsessing over what I think other people would want to read.

Boston Public Garden

Is it OK to think about “audience”?  I think so.  It’s import to think about what other people would want to read, how they’ll react, whether my writing will brighten their day or trouble them—because if I think that the people who read my writing want to be happy, then I’ll try to make them happy, and in the process I’ll lift my own spirits.  If I think that they want inspiration, I’ll try to inspire them and so inspire myself.  If I think that they want to contemplate, then I’ll have to contemplate, too.  So yes, audience matters.  Thinking about audience helps me focus my thoughts and senses, to winnow the chaos that sometimes besieges me.

Writing begins with the meticulous gathering and cataloging of the world’s oddities.  In this sense, all writers are collectors—of thoughts, feelings, experiences, memories.  Their function, more than to write, is to see what most of us don’t have time to see and to tell us about it.  Nothing helps me to see better than to think about the people with whom I want to share my tiny collection of oddities.

Boston Public Garden

The Old Trinity Church at Copley Square, Boston

Boston Public Garden

Along the Charles River, Boston

Along the Charles River, Boston. Who doesn't like ducks?

ALSO along the Charles River, Boston

*All pictures are from Fall 2009.


About atomsofthought
Photographer. Traveler. Writer. Reader.

34 Responses to How Writing Helps Us See (and Photos of Fall in Boston)

  1. wittybizgal says:

    So beautiful, thanks for sharing these! I’m in Florida, although originally from Tennessee, so I am really missing those gorgeous changes.

  2. lovethybike says:

    Makes me want to kick about in the leaves! thanks for sharing!

  3. I’m sharing this! Great thoughts and stunning photos.

  4. chasing now says:

    You know I’m enjoying the photos and sentiments, considering where I’m located, and hoping we get some reds and oranges by, oh, maybe Thanksgiving. Boston is one of my favorite cities. Hope you’re enjoying it.

  5. Pamanner says:

    Oh wow, I’m in awe! Such beautiful colors, skies, and angles! I hope to visit someday! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Anonymous says:

    What a gift you gave me–pictures of my old haunts in one of the more beautiful seasons. I lived in Cambridge and worked in Boston for many years. I also like what you say about writing helping one “see.”

  7. Beautiful photos and beautiful words. I totally agree – writing about the world does make you see it from a different perspective. And I find it also helps me to clarify my own thoughts about things. Keep on collecting! 🙂


  8. Lovely photos; the first one is stunning. It seems your sight has been reawakened!

    It is really good to see your posts again.

  9. I like all the words and photos, but I especially like (love) the first one. It’s perfect in so many ways.

    I’m glad you’re back. You always inspire me.

    I think a lot about audience, too. I smiled as I read you and your thoughts on that. But I think sometimes we need to take breaks from writing… or other things we love. We take those things and their healing, positive powers for granted. Or at least *I* do.

    It’s nice to read posts about writing from a fellow writer. It’s such a solitary, and in many ways, a lonely occupation. It’s rewarding to hear my own thoughts about writing being validated by writers whose way with words I admire.


    • Hey Christine! I agree wholeheartedly that we need to take breaks for writing. At least, I do. Writing is often stressful for me. Yes, it can help me work through confusion and challenges, but I’m so obsessive about getting things right that I can’t help but pressure myself when I write. And it sure can be lonely.

  10. The first picture is beautiful, and then the second took my breath away…I just want to climb into it. All of the photos are beautiful.

    I agree about the audience being important, and I struggle with that as a concern and consideration. It has also been important for me to force myself to write things that have meaning for me, that will help me, etc. – despite my fear of how others will perceive it. Some of those posts have received the most comment, mostly encouraging me, but sometimes saying that it’s something they needed to hear. Either way, it was always worth it.

    It’s true for me, too, that blogging has made me pay more attention – gathering stories.

    • I agree with you and my friend, Nicholas. It’s good to think about audience, but it’s also important to focus on themes that may at first seem self-indulgent. I think Montaigne probably felt pretty self-indulgent when he “invented” the personal essay, and here we are reading him centuries later because what he wrote about himself speaks to us.

  11. Pingback: Responding to Writing and Pain | The Chapel

  12. Painter Lady says:

    I’ve responded to your last few posts on my blog because I’ve just found your writing so powerful. Thank you.

  13. The Urchins says:

    Good to see you’re writing again! I’ve always been told that writers/artists look at the world through child eyes – seeing everything as though for the first time. It’s so easy to look at things cynically or jaded, but that, I’ve always noticed, is when my writing suffers. It’s interesting that you look at this the other way around! I’ve always forced myself to look at things through child eyes in order to help my writing… never thought about writing in order to see the world through child eyes! Wonderful post! And beautiful pictures! I love fall – we had beautiful golden Aspens here in the Rockies… which are quickly becoming covered in snow right now!

    – Margaret

    • “It’s so easy to look at things cynically or jaded, but that, I’ve always noticed, is when my writing suffers.” So true! You hear so often that much good art derives from pain and suffering. I have no doubt about that, but I think that good art also (usually) requires a dose of irrational (or childlike) optimism and obstinacy. Dostoyevsky’s novels grew out of pain and misery, but the act of writing them was hopeful. If he had been jaded and cynical through and through, I can’t imagine that we would have his works to admire today. I may be wrong, but I imagine that in every era there must be thousands of people smart enough and experienced enough to produce lasting works of art. I think the ones who succeed benefit from luck, perseverence, and a bit of foolishness necessary to take on apparently impossible tasks that aren’t likely to bring any reward even when they’re completed.

      I’m jealous of you and your Rockies fall! I love those Aspens. I hear the snow is falling hard lately

  14. magicofmine says:

    Glad to see you writing again! I’ve just nominated you for The Seven Links Award. If you haven’t heard of it before, take a look at to find out what it’s all about. Looking forward to reading your Seven of the best!

  15. Excellent essay. It’s interesting how writing helps bring order to one’s thoughts and shapes what one thinks. Glad you’re blogging again!

  16. pattisj says:

    Beautiful pictures! I’ve never been to New England, but would love to go there in the fall. I appreciate your words and observations on the penning of words. You nailed it when you touched on why we write, and the effects on both the writer and the reader.

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