Words by Day, Images at Night

I want to take a moment to note one of the intriguing things I have noticed over the years about working with words and images.  It comes down to this: I do much better writing with words in the morning, and much better in working with images at night. I can remember this split being the case since I started taking journalism courses lo those many decades ago. I always preferred writing in the morning, working in the darkroom or with layout at night (not that I was always given a choice.)

Now, even as I’ve moved from typewriters and film to computers and video, I still find myself working this way. I find that writing comes to me more easily, and that I think I produce better quality work, when I get down to it just as I hit my second cup of coffee. When I try to write in the late afternoon, it’s more of a struggle. By nightfall, forget it. I can’t even compose a decent email by late evening.

When it comes to working with images or video or design, however, I feel much more comfortable with the media and the work as the day moves on. Again, I can work on a video in the morning, but I feel clumsy and the indecisive. By late in the evening, though, I’m charged up and eager to go. And, again, I think I make better choices, produce better multimodal texts later in the day. This is most pronounced with video and images, but works still with design of web sites.

The thing I’ve been puzzling over is why I have this split in how I work with different texts depending on the medium and mode. It could, of course, be that I just got started working this way many years ago and have just convinced myself of something that is really nothing more than an unexamined habit.  But it doesn’t feel like that. I have no idea whether there is any research on cognition that would come anywhere close to explaining this, but I rather doubt it. And I certainly don’t expect that my individual experience is in any way generalizable. Yet I have to remain curious why I feel such a split in when I best write  in print and write with images. I do wonder if, in the morning, the kind of linear, word-based thinking comes more easily because my mind isn’t so cluttered with all the other words I’ll be encountering in the rest of the day, in reading and in conversation (since that is mostly what I do all day). I know that part of my trouble writing later in the day is getting focused on a writing project when my mind is still writing emails and talking with students and reading papers, and so on. So, by late afternoon and evening, the associative work of composing with images and design moves me out of words into new media that feel fresh and unexplored. If this is part of the reason for the split, I might feel differently if I spent the day editing video. Writing print in the evening might be a welcome change.

And it leaves me wondering if others feel this way? And, ever the teacher, is there something here that I can communicate to students that will help them move among composing in different modes and media? For now, that’s some words for this morning.

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