Guest Post, Kaitlin Johnson: Road Trips and Writing

Road TripWe’ve all been there. Sitting at the computer desk or lying in bed with a laptop opened to a blank Word document. The cursor flashing, taunting you just like that cheesecake at last night’s party that you refused to eat because you want to lose five pounds. It’s the dreaded writer’s block. Flash, flash, flash. But nothing comes.

There are plenty of distractions. You open Facebook because you need inspiration from others around you, or you open up your favorite YouTube video to get in a humorous mood. Soon the seconds turn into minutes, minutes to hours, and the next thing you know you’re on your boyfriend’s uncle’s niece’s twitter account looking at grumpy cat memes. No closer to writing than when you began. You convince yourself that you’ll come back to it tomorrow with fresh eyes. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I’ve found that I do my best writing when I’m not thinking about anything. My best ideas come to me while I’m driving. I especially love long, monotonous road trips. Roads that I’ve become familiar with the twists and curves, the potholes and the speed limits. I don’t have to think about driving; I can allow my mind to wander.

Of course this poses a question. What happens when I have a brilliant idea and cannot write it down until I stop at a gas station to refuel on my second (or third) cup of coffee?  I used to use small post it notes–simple little reminders of an idea I had 150 miles prior. The thing is, I often could not rekindle the thought. What once seemed like a beacon of enlightenment now seemed like a two year old telling an incomprehensible story.

“How toaster relates to life, always popping up when we least expect.”

“Simile of rooster and ex-boyfriends.”

“Television show where the family only eats cheese but no one talks about it.”

Although I’m still slightly convinced some of these ideas may go somewhere, I finally found the perfect solution: voice recordings. They’re perfect for on-the-go storytelling. And thankfully, cell phones have them built in so you don’t have to carry around a tape recorder in your pocket or purse. Unless you’re into that I’m-a-spy-and-I-have-important-things-to-document thing, then good for you!

Sure, it’s a little awkward when you finally do stop to write down your ideas. Hearing yourself blabber on for twenty minutes about a love story that hasn’t been perfected yet probably isn’t the most normal thing, but it works. When you finally sit down at your laptop you have an idea. You can finally mold the world and the characters. You can go anywhere from there.

Sometimes all it takes is a starting point. Sometimes all it takes is a break away from the flashing cursor.

2 thoughts on “Guest Post, Kaitlin Johnson: Road Trips and Writing

  • March 20, 2014 at 1:12 pm
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    I really agree with your point here and have experienced both the difficulty in capturing an idea and finding the time to focus that you discuss. I guess that it has a lot to do with that stagnant “anything but writing” feeling that I and potentially many others get, where actually creating something out of your own experience can feel like the least approachable and most confounding act. I connected especially with what you said about long, monotonous road trips giving your mind the space to think. I experience the same freedom from distraction in the shower (I have the opportunity for long drives much less often). It sounds crass, but the truth is that it really is the one place that is mostly devoid of technology! (Unless you manage to find something waterproof…but that’s just desperation). Anyways, my point is that I find much solidarity in your thoughts on how to give yourself the space to think and how to capture those thoughts.

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  • March 21, 2014 at 2:47 pm
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    I do this when I’m writing a song. I may get just a riff stuck in my head, or a great line, or even just a song title. I have tiny little recorder that lives in the cupholder of my truck. It’s always fun to go back later, because I have some of those “What was I thinking?” moments.

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