Writing Props – Journals and Photos

When I travel, even on short trips not too far from home, I keep a journal and/or take photos. It’s not that I think I’ll forget everything so I have to write it down, or that I need the proof the camera will provide. I started doing this way back when I was much younger, before I realized that I might, indeed, forget some of the details of my travels.

I’ve kept journals fairly diligently for the past 37 years. At first it was “just for the record,” but then the journal became useful for reminding me of places to return to – or not. Notes like “Pilot gas station at XXXX, California – High prices, terrible service, no room to turn with a trailer. Do not go back!” have come in very handy on a return trip.

Here are some of my journals. As you can see, any kind of notebook will do the job. Many have several trips recorded in them. I use them until the pages are full.


Photos are not as useful for travel guides but they bring back memories that may not even be on the picture. Amazing how the mind makes connections from triggers.

In my novel, Orion’s Gift, I made great use of my journals and photos from trips my husband and I had made to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Places we stopped for the night became places where my characters, Sylvia and Kevin, stayed overnight as they lived out their adventures in Baja. Photos of the towns, beaches, countryside, and people of Baja twigged memories of events and places I was able to use in the novel. We know that it doesn’t take a page of description to paint the picture for the reader. A few well-placed choice words will do the trick.

And so the journals and photos have become invaluable to me for use as writing props. Now I document my trips with a view to using some of the content in future novels. You just never know when some scene calls for details that are recorded in the journals or photos.

Example: The scene about going to the spring in the desert came from my notes and photos.

desert flowers

Excerpt from Orion’s Gift

“How far is the spring?” I adjusted my pack.

“About 45 minutes each way,” Bill said.

I looked around. Rocks, sand, cholla, ocotillo, and cardón cacti, and palo verde trees. Beautiful, yet unending and without distinguishing landmarks, and no ocean in sight. I didn’t like it. Oh, it was scenic enough, but heading out into the unknown, so late in the day, putting all my trust in people I had just met—it didn’t sit right with me. “Did anyone bring a compass?”

Sharon laughed. “We know the way. You follow the dry riverbed and watch for the little rock monuments.” To my way of thinking she seemed a bit over-confident in the insubstantial. Sharon was assuming these rock piles would always be there. What if they were knocked over by people or animals? What if there was a flash flood? And besides, rocks had a way of looking alike. And even if the rocks were still there, what if we got separated and she and Bill were the only ones who knew the way?

“Who built them?” Sylvia asked. She didn’t seem to be worried. Maybe I was overreacting.


Do you use your journals or photos for writing? Do you have writing props of some other sort that you can tell us about? Why not share your thoughts?





8 thoughts on “Writing Props – Journals and Photos

  1. I’ve never been a journal writer and I’m not a great picture taker, but lately I’ve found old pictures prompt memories that I then write about in my blogs. Journals certainly would have helped with the details of those stories.


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