Saturday, September 26, 2015

Guest Post: Kate Padilla

Observation as inspiration
by Kate Padilla
Author: Save Me, San Francisco

I've been meaning to write this post for a while, but I didnt know what to write about. I write book reviews and I've written a collection of short stories. But I still didn't think I had anything to say, at least not in a response- or character-driven format. 

But then one morning earlier this week I was listening to Ryan Adams' album 1989, which is a song-for-song copy of Taylor Swift's most recent album. I haven't listened to her album, in part because it's not available for me on the avenues I use to listen to most of my music. But Adam's version of the album is excellent, and it's obvious he took Swift's album and used it to create his own unique piece.

And there it was: my topic for this post.

I wrote my collection of short stories, Save Me, San Francisco, off of music the band Train has released over the course of their career. Many artists, when asked, will talk about the movies, books, music, or other forms of art that inspired them in their own creations. In some cases indirectly (Stephanie Meyer took a lot of inspiration from Muse's music in writing the Twilight series) and sometimes more directly (E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey in relation to Twilight, or my own book in relation to Train's music). 

Is this okay? Is it shameless stealiing in the name of creativity, or is it focused observation leading to inspiration?

I think it depends on the artist, but I would argue for the latter of the two scenarios. One of the most integral parts of creativity has absolutely nothing to do with creating anything. In order to be creators, we must first be consumers.

This is why anyone worth the words they write will tell any budding author that a good writer is first a good reader. It's why artists listen extensively to others' music. It's why fashion designers can tell the intricacies that make Chanel so expensive.

Inspiration comes from observation. The best artists carry some paper and a pen with them (or have a well-used notebook feature on their phone) to jot down an idea the minute it comes down. Ideas are fleeting, so it's important to get them down in the moment before they are forgotten. Most of them won't turn into anything of substance, but occasionally there's a gem that will turn into something great. That gem makes the entire process worthwhile.

In my own writing, I take a lot of inspiration from the outside world. In my fiction, most of my ideas come from music I listen to. In my non-fiction, most of my writing comes in response to books I read, experiences I have or things I read or hear about in the broader world. Without consciously observing the world around me, I would have nothing to write. And that's not understatement.

Of course, there is more to it than just seeing the world around you, but that's where an artist's mind comes in. We are naturally geared toward reflection. It is in our blood to interpret what goes on in the world around us, and to translate that into art. When we are present in those moments, we hone that skill into something beautiful. 

So the next time you're in a crowded place (a mall, a festival, wherever you are at a given moment) try this exercise. Sit down, pull out your notebook or the note app on your phone, and choose a random stranger in the crowd. That guy in the business suit passing by, he's your next character. Look at his actions and body language. What is he doing? What does he look like? Jot that down. Then, using his behavior, create his story. What is he going through in his life right now? How is that influencing his experience in that moment? 

Maybe you're in a writing slump. Maybe you're searching for your next story. Maybe you desperately want to be a writer but you don't know where to start. Start with whats around youwith the music you listen to, the movies you watch and the books you read. Start with the world you live in right in this moment. You'd be surprised what amazing things can be created.

Save Me, San Francisco is collection of 30 short stories inspired by the music of Train. Each story corresponds to a song Train released over the course of the band's first six albums, from 1998's Train to 2012's California 37. Because the stories are an interpretation of the song, however, the parallels often end at the title.

Her characterisation is excellent and her timing impeccable, the story ends as the music does, often abruptly; this may not be your idea of how the story should be, but it still deserves to be read. Linda, Woman on the Edge of Reality (4/5 stars)

Overall, this anthology will leave you with a good taste in your mouth, and with really pretty cool music on your playlist. Josselyn, Chapter 5 Books Blog (5/5 stars)

Kate Padilla is a journalist, writer, blogger and book reviewer who operates the blog Blondie Marie and writes for the Spencer Daily Reporter in Spencer, Iowa. Save Me, San Francisco is her first novel, though she is tentatively beginning what she hopes will be a novel (also inspired by music). When she's not writing (or reading), she's running, crafting or helping renovate the house she and her husband bought two years ago. She lives in Spencer, Iowa with her husband, their 9-month-old son and two pugs.


Twitter: @katempadilla, @msblondiemarie


  1. I love to hear where authors get their ideas, I think music is always a good source of inspiration. I love Muse and while listening to them you can see why Meyer used their music while writing TWilight

    Anyway, great post

    Ruty @Reading…Dreaming

  2. I plan on sharing this blog post with my students. Excellent thoughts, Kate!


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