Writing

Experience: Morning Writing Session

As I sit in the park working on Solidity, just north of a hedge separating the grass from the graveyard, no less than 6 crows pecked their way through the dappled shadows, calling out and back to their companions amongst the headstones. It seems fitting as I write a scene from a story about ghosts, graveyards and ravens. Would it be creepy to move my camp into the cemetery? This morning has a vibe. #inspirationiseverywhere

© Katie Rene Johnson 2015 © Katie Rene Johnson 2015 © Katie Rene Johnson 2015 © Katie Rene Johnson 2015

Monday Inspiration

What is on my inspiration list today?

1. Adele: Set Fire to the Rain

I was driving around yesterday and heard this song for the first time. It immediately had me thinking of moments when a character would fit into this song. Those thoughts landed on a character I thought of recently who is obsessed with EKG’s and the idea of each heart having it’s own path and signature. I am excited to flesh this character out in further detail. And also do some research on EKG’s and polygraphs: two very different ways of recording transmissions from the body.

2. Photography

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014

There is something fascinating about old places. This building replaced the original cabin used a school house in 1901 and had a whole 45 students at its peak. Now it serves as a small community center sits empty most of the time. I have driven by this building a hundred times and finally stopped to take some photos.

3. Abandoned Places

I came across this image of a car graveyard near Chatillon, Belgium in a random Facebook post. My first thought was, I have to go there. So, I started looking up more about it, and it turns out the cars were removed in 2010. Initially, I was completely bummed, because holy cow was this place cool and I would never have the chance to visit it personally. Regardless, I was completely fascinated that such a place would have even existed in the first place. These cars spent 70 years in the forest, leaving an incredibly post-apocalyptic type scene for photographers to capture. You would think it was something out of a movie.

Inspiration: Photography

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014

Photographs can be powerful tools for inspiration. For many years, I carried a camera around with me whenever I went somewhere new or even well known so that I could take pictures to go along with my writing. Initially, it was on hiking or camping trips to find hidden locations that would fit into the setting of Kingdom Burning. They were never great pictures, not even something to hang on the wall, but they gave me tactile imagery to help build the fantasy world around my characters. Montana is a great place for mystical forests.

Nearing high school graduation, I decided to go to college for photography rather than English. The decision still baffles me a little bit, as at that point photography was a fairly new passion where I had been writing since I was a kid. I think the decision came from teenage close-mindedness and the absolute loathing at the time of literary and poetry analysis, which when going over course options was a large part of an English degree. And, I didn’t want to be a teacher, which was the most prominent thing to do with an English degree at the time. Point being, I went to college for photography – just a two year degree, but that was enough to help hone my skills. I have dabbled in portrait photography ever since, until last year when I started my own business. I also photograph coins for a living, a job I never would have looked into had it not been for my degree.

I shoot with a DSLR, which is a big clunky thing that is hard to carry around all the time for the chance of finding something interesting to photograph. But I ALWAYS have my phone on me. It has a decent camera and over the last few years I have collected over a thousand pictures, probably a third of which are of my cats. The rest, however, are of the things I see during the day as I walk around downtown, the things I find when I go on a road trip, the experiences that I am obsessed with documenting. When I photograph people, I am in control of the situation. I tell them where to stand, how to pose, where to look, whether or not to smile. It is a calculated process, aimed at giving a client the perfect image to remember that moment in their life. Children are a little less planned – I dare to to try and pose a two year old – but as I approach the subject there is still a goal in mind. I arrive at a location knowing what types of photographs I am going to be taking.

The images that I take on my phone are the complete opposite. I am in a constant mode of observation, even when I am walking the same three blocks back to my car after work. I look to the windows of the buildings around me, I watch the cracks on the sidewalk, I make a point of noticing things. There is always something seemingly insignificant that can catch my eye. I consider these moments found images. There is no posing involved, no placing of an object to get the right perspective. I move around the subject, chose my angle, frame the image to give it my perspective.

A while back I asked myself, what am I doing with all of these pictures? Even as I sorted through them and delete the pointless or repetitive ones, there are others that I just can’t get rid of. They speak to me, they are each a moment that has been frozen in time. I realized they are another outlet for the creative nature of my imagination. Without even realizing it, I began creating my own form of visual art. And I am in love with it. I can’t wait for the next moment that will catch my eye. I can’t wait to take that image and turn it into something more.

That moment when the sun sets and road seems endless and free:

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014

The moment when the light from the window highlights peace and affection:

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014

The moment of infinity on the ocean shore:

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014

 

Beauty surrounds us, and just as the characters  in my imagination walk beside me every day, these beats of time inspire me to keep creating and living in the moment. It keeps my heart content.

 

View more images here: Moments Urban Landscapes

The Process: 10 Years vs 9 Months

The creative process is a funny thing. Before college, the only piece I worked on was a medieval fantasy that I started as a sophomore in high school. Because it was medieval and a fantasy, there was little in the world around me that I could pull into the story. It came from the depths of my imagination influenced by movies and other stories that I have seen or read in the same genre. I loved that story – I still do – but I haven’t picked it up in a long time. I kept hitting wall after wall, not sure how to describe a scene or interaction, how to define the magic system, how to lose myself into the political turmoil that is the basis for the story. As much as I love the story, there was very little in it that I could relate to, aside from wanting to run around in castles and wilderness with a bow or sword wearing practical dresses with a cloak – definitely a cloak. If nothing else, at least a cloak. I am not even ashamed to say I have a cloak hanging in my closet. Right. Now.

But, that is besides the point. I have been working on this story, Kingdom Burning, for somewhere around 10 years. Right now it sits around 20,000 words, which equals somewhere around 60 pages – in 10 years. Granted, the amount actually written is much more than that if you count the innumerable rewrites that have taken place along the way. In comparison, Better To Pretend, which I started this last January sits at just under 40,000 words or 120 pages – in less than a year. It is probably more than half done.

So, what is the difference? Why has it only taken 9 months to double the amount of work accomplished compared to a piece in progress for 10 years?

Two things come to mind:

  1.  Better to Pretend began as a short story written in college. I KNOW the story. It has already once come full circle, even to the point of publication. I know where the relationships go, what parts of the plot are essential to the story, the climax, and particularly the ending. Everything was already laid out in short form. The original piece relied heavily on narrative, skipping gaps of time and dropping into current events only when essential. I had already laid the groundwork.
  2. Better to Pretend is all around me. It is in the music I listen to, the people I see walking down the street, the stores I visit. If Elbin were not a made up town, I could literally get in my car and drive there. It takes place today. The main characters read Harry Potter, drink espresso, listen to modern music. They go to high school: cliques, bullies, crappy classes and all. Most importantly, they are a part of me. Each character, the main three in particular, are influenced by experiences in my life.

Kingdom Burning is a world I dream of living in. Better to Pretend is the world I live in now.

As I started building the world around Better to Pretend, filling in the missing details that would give the characters and setting depth, I realized how easily these details appeared. The Merc, The Bookshelf, Jenna’s attic bedroom: all came from something I had seen or experienced in my life. And for the first time since I started writing seriously I was okay with it. At some point I transitioned from wanting to only write in a fantasy world that nobody could judge or compare to something real to writing what I know. Which is really no different, if you really think about. Someone can always look at a piece of writing regardless of the where it is set and find something wrong with it or compare it to another work of the same genre. But for some reason it was a hang up for me.

In regards to writing I have always heard the phrase, “Write what you know. If you don’t know it research it until you do.” Maybe it is the whole write what you know bit that held me up. I felt like I knew my fantasy world because I created it. I names the kingdom, the villages, the mountains, the forests. It was completely mine and people could not know that world until they stepped into my story. Of course it could be compared to any other medieval work out there, but you would most likely not find another far off town by the name of Glynn in the kingdom of Reseda ruled by the evil king Roen. In working on Kingdom Burning, I found that I had to research everything. How long does it take for a horse to travel 50 miles? What kind of food would you find in a wayward tavern? What type of clothes would a woman wear? Was it strange for a young woman who works in a tavern to trade her busty dress for a tunic and breeches? I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted things to look, but I also wanted to make it realistic. It seems far more likely that it might take two days for a rider to travel 50 miles at a decent speed that make it that far in a couple of hours. You have to account for that.

The strange thing is, writing in the modern world really isn’t that different. Elbin doesn’t exist. I made it up. The instructor of the class I wrote the original piece for actually looked it up because he wanted to know, both if it was real and also if that name held any significance. It doesn’t really, just something that popped into my head. I have heard of a town called Elgin, which is probably as close to Elbin you could get, but I have never even looked Elgin up to see what it is like. I don’t care because Elbin is it’s own special brand of town. If I want to to say that Elbin is 200 miles from Jenna’s hometown, Gainsburg, I can justify that by car, driving around 70 miles an hour, it would take almost three hours to drive the distance. We are all familiar with traveling by car, so it isn’t as hard to determine that bit of information. On the other hand, the attic room that Jenna stays in at her aunt’s house is almost a direct interpretation of a room I stayed in for a while at my own grandmother’s house when I was in middle school. Right down to the magazines and random junk piled along one side of the stairs. There were only two windows and the eves had been converted into storage. There was a couch and a bed and a shelf filled with old Reader’s digest novels. Each of those details was placed directly into Jenna’s story. It just seemed to work for her character, which the further I have progressed, the more I realized she is a lot like me.

Obviously I can’t write every character that ever comes to mind from my memories. My life really isn’t exciting enough to build entire novels about. But it is a good place to start. It has allowed me to get back into writing in a way I wasn’t sure would ever happen after I stepped away from Kingdom Burning for so long. Every time I would sit down to work on that piece and would start writing and become immediately discouraged because I felt out of practice. That is actually a thing, by the way, being out of practice at writing. It is amazing how you have to readjust your brain to sit down and write a story when you haven’t done it for a while. The more you do it the better you get at it and the easier it comes.

The point is, by allowing myself to get lost in this modern world, it has launched my imagination into overdrive. Everywhere I go I see things that draw images in my mind. I wonder if that person walking the other direction down the sidewalk might be someone my character would run into. Is that store somewhere they would spend a lot of there time? Even something as ridiculous as doodling a line in beat to a song can spark an idea for a character (which totally happened this week by the way). I have even started a notebook just for observations I make during the day.

This week:

~a girl walking into the grocery store in sweats and a ratty t-shirt with perfectly styled hair and flawless makeup, a strange combination for going to town (I was on my way into the store – just going about my day)

~a couple at the bar in a breakfast restaurant-heads together, ear to ear looking at something on a phone. oblivious to the world around them. subtle touches and body language of being in tune with one another. they forgot to look at their menus. (I was picking up lunch for the office)

~a girl waiting to cross the road on her bicycle – the classic cruiser style, blue with wire baskets on the handlebars and back fender. girl wearing yoga pants and a sweater with blue sneakers sucking on a blue sucker. (I was waiting at the stoplight on my way home)

~ bearded man with dark glasses sitting in his convertible parked on main street. recognize him as the one who sits on the benches downtown almost daily strumming his guitar through a battery powered amp in a plucky style, visiting with anyone who wants to chat while still playing his music. totally content to just hang out and play music for the passers-by. always has a cross attached to his guitar case, open just in case someone wants to drop a buck. (On my way to the hardware store.)

Inspiration is everywhere. I know that I will return to Kingdom Burning. I still think about the story pretty regularly. But right now, I want to write Jenna’s story. I want to write about these people that I see walking down the street, these characters that walk in my shadow every day, co-pilots to my life. For the first time I feel like the end to a piece I have started to write is actually in sight. Not that I don’t have challenges to face in finishing it – difficult scenes that I know have to happen but will also be very hard to write. Better to Pretend is the first piece that has ever had me so emotionally charged by a scene that my insides get all fuzzy and I feel anger or sadness at what is going on. It is the most amazing feeling in the world. It really doesn’t matter if it takes 10 years of 1 to finish a story. The process is half the fun.

~Katie