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Jamie Jo Hoang - Author & World Traveler

Tag: inspire a spark of creativity

South Park, James Cameron, and Writing

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last 5 years you’ve probably seen this video South Park made of James Cameron. They’re clearly making fun of the fact that he has to actually “do” the things he makes movies about and that he, in fact, does everything. Cameron has a thirst for adventure like no one else and the end result of that curiosity are his incredible movies.

My dad rarely ever goes to see a movie. Mostly because his grasp of the English language isn’t good enough for him to understand or catch all of the subtext or innuendo’s. But when I took him to see Avatar, he totally got it. Moreover, he really enjoyed the visuals. I think for someone who has known poverty, and lived through a war, he was blown away by the magic on screen. Afterwards, he kept asking me, “How do people get ideas to come up with things like that?” My snarky response was, “I don’t know Dad, if I did do you think I’d still be living here? Nope I’d be a millionaire exploring the seven seas on my yacht.” “What’s a yat?” he asked. I sighed, “A boat. I’d be on my own boat.” “Oh,” he says, “Well hurry up and figure it out.” Thanks Dad.

His question did pique my curiosity though and when I googled James Cameron I found that it wasn’t just that he had a more vivid imagination that I did, it was that he had explored so much more of the world than I had. In my quick google search of “James Cameron” I found the TED Talk he gave below. In his 17-minute talk I learned that he convinced the studios to make Titanic because he wanted to go deep sea diving. The love story and box office millions were an aside. As a diver myself, his exploration of the deep sea hit a nerve with me.

As writers, we create worlds that other’s get to live in, but our creative minds need fuel. A car doesn’t run without gasoline and we can’t write without inspiration. This is the fun part of our jobs! Yet, we’re made to feel like we’re undeserving of the “fun research” because what we do for research is what other people call “entertainment” or “vacation.” But here’s the thing. James Cameron could never have made Titanic the way he did without that deep sea dive. Nor do I think Avatar would have existed without his incessant need to explore the world.

Exploring the things that draw on our senses is what opens our imagination to creating worlds beyond what anyone thought possible. I think there’s a reason writers are usually slightly ahead of our technological time. We not only see things, we want to experience them for ourselves. I personally am fascinated with the passage of time. The lifespan of a seed becoming a flower is immensely interesting to me, and the details people seem to love so much in my writing comes from caring–albeit, a ridiculous amount–about the process.

So, I hereby give all writers–ok, you don’t have to be a writer–permission to: eat at that expensive restaurant, travel to an exotic location, zip-line through the Amazon, climb to the highest peak, dive to the deepest part of the ocean, and just do whatever. Say yes to everything and see where it takes you!

Overpasses

One minute over the 5

Photo taken by Chris Collins

I hate to run, but I love to walk. The sheer thought of walking sends calm, reassuring messages to my normally anxious body. If I’m walking, even with no particular destination in mind, I can convince myself I am accomplishing something with that time. The same cannot be said for running on a treadmill or any other likewise piece of gym equipment.

So the other day, as I was wandering toward downtown Burbank, I came across a freeway overpass. It was late, maybe 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., so the sky was a dark blue and the cars whizzing by were nothing more than streaks of light. As I stood there watching the world speed past, I felt hypnotized. The universe had somehow found a way to show me what I had been feeling for so many months.

As writers, we dive into story so deep sometimes that we forget we still have to live in the realm of reality. Sometimes when I’m able to venture so far into the minds of my characters–think Being John Malkovich–that I get lost in my story, I may not speak to anyone for 48 hours. Tapping into that inner creativity is like being on some sort of drug: it’s addictive because it’s euphoric. But the feeling doesn’t last long; in fact, most days are plagued with “writer’s block”, which is like a mental prison without a judicial system or public defender to bail me out.

Those moments, the ones where I feel like I’m stuck in a kind of purgatory of thought, are like standing on that freeway overpass. Everyone below seems to be going somewhere–home from work, to a movie, out to dinner–and their lives are shifting so fast that by the time I register their existence, they’ve already vanished into a streak of red taillights.

I’ve spent two years on this book idly paying attention to the events happening around me (marriage, babies, graduate school, job promotions). Life seemed to move at the same speed as my fictional characters. Both seemed to develop and move forward, while I stood in-between the two worlds, unable to fully join either side. This is what being a novice writer feels like (and maybe a professional too, but I cannot vouch for them), and it’s terrifying.

But as I stood on that freeway overpass looking down on hundreds of cars as they flashed by, I realized I felt fortunate to be not moving, at least for the moment. I got be the girl standing at the top of that overpass, concocting theories about the lives they led in funny and interesting ways. I might even be the story someone re-told later that day. Someone below, for example, might see me and be inspired to write a thriller about a kick-ass girl getting ready to leap over the overpass railing and onto a moving car. To inspire a spark of creativity simply by being part of the world is the kind of cosmic karma that we both put out and wait to receive. Writing is about standing still as much as it is about chasing a story. Because we writer’s are the mere vessels through which creativity passes and sometimes not moving is how we find the great narratives.

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