Visual Inspiration, by Michele Weber Hurwitz

There was an old abandoned barn near my house that fascinated me. It was on the route of my usual afternoon walks so I passed it often. It had once been part of a farm no doubt, but now it was the only structure remaining amidst an empty, overgrown plot of land full of tall weeds and discarded items. I loved its worn gray siding and the way it stood a bit lopsided, but mostly, I couldn't help but imagine the life that was once was a part of it.   
Outside the door was a mud-stained baseball. A tangled red ribbon. A smashed plastic milk jug. There was a clear and present sign not to trespass on the property so I didn't go close, but I often stopped on the road just to look. And imagine. There's a story here, I would always think. What happened to the people? Where are they now? Did they have to leave quickly for some reason, so fast that a boy forgot his baseball and the ribbon loosened and fell from a girl's ponytail? What did the area look like when it was all farms? Filled with their neighbors. Their friends.

Soon after I discovered the barn and took this picture, it was torn down, and in its place -- what else -- brand new row houses were being built. I cried a little at the sight of bulldozers and torn-up earth. The baseball and ribbon were gone.

Like many writers, I think visually. When I see something like the barn and it sticks in my mind so strongly, it helps me create settings and scenes. For my new middle grade novel releasing in May, Hello from Renn Lake, I had such a vivid visual scene for the opening chapter. One moonless night, a baby girl is abandoned near the back garden of a store in a small Wisconsin town, and the ancient lake across the street is the only witness. I could see the garden, its flowers and long grasses bending in the slow summer breeze. I saw the lake, as still and dark as the black sky. I saw a figure holding a baby wrapped in a blanket, one tiny hand poking out.

Sometimes, I'm so immersed in the visual world I'm creating while I write, I feel like it's a real place and I'm there. I have literally jumped when the doorbell rings (just FedX delivering a package, because who else would it be in this day and age). Everywhere, there are sights to be found that can help writers visualize and create. Be on the lookout! And when you see something that sparks your soul, stop and imagine.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of five middle grade novels, from Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. Find her online at


  1. Love this "stop and smell the roses" kind of moment when you had the foresight to preserves this beautiful spot in a photo. With all the Fixer Upper shows on TV, wouldn't it be great to imagine a whole new life for such a structure? Thanks for sharing this Michele.

  2. That's a fascinating statement about writers thinking visually!


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