Musings on Photography

Writing it Down

Posted in process by Paul Butzi on June 2, 2008

A friend of mine once claimed that there are are two kinds of thinking and that most people pretty much only use one. One kind of thinking he called ‘grinding’ – where you work toward the goal in very small increments, step by step. The other kind he called ‘leaping’ – where progress is made in big intuitive leaps, and then you go back and fill in the details. I am, for whatever it’s worth, a leaper. I work on a problem by working on something else, and some part of my brain works things out, and then all of a sudden I get the entire picture in one great flash. I’ve absolutely no ability to figure out how I’ve gotten from one point to another; introspection of the process just isn’t possible. I have to go back and fill the blank by grinding toward the intuitive solution.

And now I can hear everyone thinking “Yes, Paul, that’s all very nice and perhaps even vaguely interesting, but what the heck does it have to do with photography?” The answer is that, if you happen to be a leaper, and you happen to be a photographer, you might find that blogging is a good way to fill in the gaps. It’s even a pretty good way of provoking a leap.

I don’t know what it is about writing things down, but it’s an act of enormous impact for me. There’s something about the act of trying to get an idea into words and then get all the words to stand up straight and mean only one thing that helps me sort things out in my own head. It’s often the case that I sit down to write about something on this blog, and just as I start to get to the end, I realize that I’ve changed my mind, and I go back and rewrite it all over. Writing orders and clarifies.

I have no idea if that’s true for everyone. But it’s yet another reason that, validation aside, blogging about photography might be something you want to try.

[side note: if you want to know if you’re a grinder or a leaper, or you want to know what it’s like to be a leaper, go to for this book, and use the ‘search inside’ feature to search for ‘sailboat’, and click on the link for page 142. Read that chapter; it’s only three pages. If, when you read that, you understand exactly the experience of the protagonist, you’re most definitely a leaper.]

4 Responses

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  1. Paul said, on June 2, 2008 at 11:57 am

    Man, this type of thing has happened to me on several occasions. I now know not to grind on a problem, but to simply ‘let it be’ and let the solution come to me.

    One particular instance comes to mind, though it’s not related to photography. I had a very difficult software problem to solve. I had been told that had been tried many times before and that everyone had failed, but if I wanted to try, to ‘go for it’. After about 6 weeks of grinding, I had no solution. Finally, I let it go.

    One day, a couple of weeks later, on the way to work, the solution just appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. I got to work, solved the problem, and was given many accolades. I do believe in the power of the subconscious.

    I think that that happens, for me, in photography, when I just start seeing things without trying. When I ‘try’, I usually fail.

  2. Martin Doonan said, on June 2, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    That is scarily like my experience. I have to have notepads handy for just such revelations. Happens all the time at work.
    I’m not so sure my photography is quite like that, though. Blogging helps with the steps but I wonder if it fills in the gaps or helps me grind it out. I don’t seem to have eureka moments with it.
    Is it possible for such behaviour to vary between artistic and scientific endeavours?

  3. Robert Hoehne said, on June 2, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    Whether you are interested in drawing or not a great book to read is Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain by Betty Edwards. It explains where these sudden thoughts come from and what state of mind helps bring these revelations to surface.
    Another wonderful book that helps let you unleash that right brain thinking is The Artist’s Way at Work.

  4. Ann said, on June 3, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    You’ll see this as serial vs intuitive in the Myers-Briggs parlance. My husband is a grinder (linear thinker is a more domestically harmonious term) famous in his profession for incremental parametric studies that yielded thorough and significant results. One serial experiement at a time.

    I am a leaper. The only phrase I’ve come up with to explain to him how my mentation works is “cloud thinking,” as in my mind roams through a vast fog waiting for lightning to illuminate. Sometimes it can be dark and lonely waiting for the lightning to strike. Blogging afterwards helps me explain the connections (sometimes it feels like I’m ghost-writing a James Burke column) but not as triggers. Maybe I’m not honest enough about my open questions. In the event, a shower, walk, cooking work as rainmakers.

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