Images as Stimulus

Posted by Katie L. Carroll on May 1, 2011 in Art, Conferences, Writing |

At the 2011 SCBWI Poconos conference, the session called “Writing Not Waiting” was taught by editor Robert Agis. He started us with some writing exercises, which I actually participated in whole-heartedly (sometimes I don’t connect with the writing exercises in these types of workshops and can’t really get into them). He gave us a line that we were to use as a catalyst to write. It didn’t matter what we wrote, just that we wrote something.

It was surprisingly freeing. I haven’t just sat and written without a defined purpose for a long time. I always feel guitly about doing that because I think I should be spending time on my current project or my blog or revising or creating freelance puzzles. These exercises reminded me that sometimes you need to sit and write freely and that it is not a waste. It will actually allow you to work on your own writing without the pressure of making things perfect (which is impossible anyway…perfection, that is).

That’s one of the things I’ve been struggling with lately and relates to the whole getting-back-to-my-true-self goal. I haven’t felt free while writing. I keep getting caught up in all the things I don’t know about my characters and the setting or all the things I haven’t researched yet. And my obsessive need to explore all these aspects of the story ad infinitum is holding me back from discovering the very things I’ve been obsessing over (and sucks all of the fun out of writing). Writing without judgement or too much thought may be just what I need to discover more about my story.

So in my ever-growing effort to be a better person/writer, I took some advice from Robert. He talked about using images as a stimulus for writing. He recommended taking stock images from websites and doing Internet searches to find photographs that represent characters or settings in your story. They can be there to act as “can openers” for your writing. Here’s the can opener I created for my mermaid story.

Some of these are from my own photos from Tahiti (where the story takes place), others are Internet images and ones from magazines. The ones with writing on the bottom are English/French/Tahitian translations of popular words and phrases. The other writings are about black-pearl farming (which is the future trade of one of the main characters).

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  • shelley says:

    I love your post and so identify with it–Love the can opener idea- I'm going to give it a try! For me it's a love/hate relationship with me and my work. And it keeps me from getting back into the writing, though I think about it all the time. Anyway, thanks for the good post and thoughts.

  • Corvus says:

    Hmmm, this reminds me of author/writing teacher Lynda Barry's suggestion to write the alphabet or actually draw for a while to free yourself up before getting back to your creative writing projects. Have you been using the can-opener method at home?

    Also, did you just say that perfection is impossible? Damnation!

  • Kelly Hashway says:

    Hi, Katie! It was nice to see you at the Pocono Retreat. Thanks for posting about this workshop. It's great to hear about other workshops I didn't get to attend during the Retreat. I'm definitely going to try this.

  • Katie L. Carroll (KT) says:

    Thanks for stopping by Shelley. Love (which is how I sometimes feel about my work) or hate (which is how I most often feel about my work) your own work, I hope you find your own "can openers" to keep you inspired. And sometimes just thinking about your work is a kind of writing.

    Corvus, alas I have found that perfection is a fickle little beast that always eludes me. I've just started to use the can-opener method and it seems to be working.

    Hi, Kelly! The Poconos conference was so great and it was nice to see you there. I hope I get to go next year.

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