Swapping Fish Tales

Posted on Oct 19, 2016

Workshop attendees learning together

Three great catches from Ruralite’s 2016 workshop, Reel in Your Readers

As the Deschutes River streamed by, Ruralite workshop participants played a game of catch and release: learning valuable writing and photography tips, and giving their peers helpful hints to keep their creative nets cast and stay ahead of deadline currents.

Thirty-four utility communicators and freelance writers met for three days in Bend, Oregon, for Ruralite’s biennial writing and photography workshop. For a behind the scenes look, check out workshop moments on Facebook. Here are three handy tips from the workshop.

First Catch: Aim for the Stars

David LaBelle, a photography instructor, encouraged students to aim for stars in their images—not the celestial kind, but elements that help pictures shine.

“If you see something, identify why you are drawn to it,” he advised. “What stands out?”

A picture can have more than one star, but each image should shine with at least one of these core elements:

  • Light
  • Composition
  • Capturing a Moment
  • Subject

He shared examples of star elements from his 40-year career portfolio, and spoke on the power of pictures to connect readers to people and events.


Second Catch: Strike a Balance

Ideally, a story is not told only with a picture or words. Let them work together to pull a reader into a story.

“Words are not the same on their own,” LaBelle shared. “We need visuals. It’s part of who we are.”

LaBelle reminded students that pictures should not be thought of as filler for pages. Instead, they are a critical communication tool. Readers process pictures twenty times faster than words. A picture can be filled with clues about a story.

The most powerful pictures have a face to engage the reader. Capturing details is also important, especially if you have a large amount of copy.

“Detail pictures provide important information, and they are wonderful graphic tools, too,” LaBelle said.


Third Catch: Step Away from the Story

Much of this year’s workshop focused on photography, but writers got a skills boost, too. Freelance writer Lori Russell worked with attendees to fight writer’s block.

“Writer’s block isn’t something you have to break through or write around,” Russell explained. “Invite it in. The block might be trying to tell you something.”

Often writers hit a block when working on a subject they are not comfortable with. Russell encouraged writers to name the fear behind the block. Listen to it, acknowledge it and use it.

For example, if you fear nobody cares about the subject, find out what the interest of the story is from the consumers’ perspective. Write from that angle.

Other common strategies for fighting writer’s block:

  • Walk away for a few minutes (or days).
  • Outline the story first.
  • Warm up your writing with easier tasks (social media posts, emails) before tackling stories.
  • Write the last line first.


Share Your Favorite Catch!
Highlights from the photography and writing sessions will be shared in future blog posts and the fall issue of OnLine. What was your favorite lesson from the workshop? Share it by commenting on this blog post.

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