What Inspires You To Write? by Johanna Harness

27 Apr

Last winter I started the first of two photography classes taught by Vivienne McMaster.  The focus of both classes:  self-portraiture!  It was the new year and I decided learning to take pictures of myself would be a good and daring challenge.  Readers want to see authors and get a sense of the writer behind the pages and I knew I needed to get over this fear.  So I held my breath and signed up.

What I found surprised me.  The assignments were playful and fun and the class members created a rich and supportive environment for one another. I enjoyed myself so much I signed up for a second class after the first one was over—and not because I thought it would be good for me.  I actually enjoyed it!

Not only did the daily photography work give me another creative outlet, but it challenged me to think of my creator-self in new ways.  Just when I was comfortable with my writing voice, I had someone asking me to describe my visual voice in photography!  We talked about how people move in the world and how we could capture those sensations in photographs and I started thinking about how I could describe many of those same things in my writing.  By observing my photographer self emerging, I learned things about my writer self.

One of Vivienne’s first assignments was the photo walk.  Today in Vivienne’s blog she describes working with a new class of students on that same assignment and she posts a photo walk of her own.

I had something else planned for this blog entry but, as soon as I saw Vivienne’s blog, I knew I had to post a photo walk here. As an Idaho writer, my surroundings influence every word I choose, every metaphor, every local phrase.  I cannot imagine a richer place to begin and end my writing days.

Today I went on a photo walk with all of you in mind.  It was a typical spring day in Southwest Idaho, storms rolling in one minute and blue skies the next.  Here’s what you find just outside my door if you wander around for an hour or so.  These things inspire me to write.  What inspires you?


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26 responses to “What Inspires You To Write? by Johanna Harness

  1. Meg Medina

    April 27, 2011 at 5:29 AM

    Loved the photos outside your door. Also found your photography-writing connection interesting. I like to go to see dance performances when I’m thirsty for inspiration. It taps into the creativity through another channel.

    • Johanna Harness

      April 27, 2011 at 7:53 AM

      Exactly! Live music does it for me too. It fills the well without demanding anything of the verbal part of my spirit.

  2. Julia Karr

    April 27, 2011 at 5:33 AM

    Definitely agree that paying attention (which photography requires) helps in writing, too.
    Love your photos & would be inspired by your locale, too!
    House Lamb is soooo cute!

    • Johanna Harness

      April 27, 2011 at 7:57 AM

      Thanks, Julia! House Lamb is also so spoiled now. He follows the kids everywhere and gets doted on constantly. He is living outside now, despite the fact we keep calling him House Lamb. He spends most of his time on our porch, either sleeping or looking in the window at us.

  3. L. Blankenship

    April 27, 2011 at 6:10 AM

    Lambie! Now you’re inspiring me to knit… 😀

  4. Clarissa Southwick

    April 27, 2011 at 7:25 AM

    What a brilliant idea. The photos are fantastic. I should do this before I start my next set of revisions on my Oregon Trail book. Maybe at the Birds of Prey Canyon. It can’t have changed that much in 150 years. Thanks, Johanna!

    • Johanna Harness

      April 27, 2011 at 8:03 AM

      Last summer we did several day trips with the kids, exploring The Oregon Trail and finding wagon ruts. A lot of the trail through Idaho hasn’t changed much in 150 years.

  5. Janis

    April 27, 2011 at 7:31 AM

    Unfortunately, my inspirations come from “what ifs” and my visual awareness is limited. It is also what I have to overcome in my writing because my descriptions are not as strong as they should be.

    As doctor might say about phantom pain, “It’s all in my head.”

    I’ll now attempt to use visual cues more. Thanks for the very timely article.

    • Johanna Harness

      April 27, 2011 at 8:15 AM

      My visual memory isn’t great, but that’s one way photography has helped me. If I’m toggling between a photo and my manuscript, my descriptions are a lot more clear. My own photos also pull me back into a place so I can remember more clearly what it was like to be there: sounds, physical sensations like sun or wind or mosquitoes biting–smells too. A great camping picture takes me right to the fresh evergreens, sage, campfire smoke, and dutch oven cooking.

  6. Liz Fredericks

    April 27, 2011 at 9:59 AM

    I adore the pictures, Johanna! Thank you for taking us on this walk. You’ve inspired me to get back on track with writing – had a little GH fugue. What camera do you use? I use my cell phone (how tacky, I know), but the quality of your artistic eye and equipment – wow.

    • Johanna Harness

      April 27, 2011 at 10:22 AM

      One great thing I learned in Vivienne’s photography course is that the equipment doesn’t matter as much as we think it does. The playfulness of the photographer matters more than the camera.

      With digital photography, we can do such fun processing of images—and it’s really not technical or scary like I thought it would be. is a great site for this and very easy to use.

      All of my photos are taken with a point & click camera, although I did upgrade to a nicer point & click as I learned to use more camera settings. I have a Canon SX30 IS now, but I still use some of my camera pictures, especially for landscapes.

  7. Jen Blood

    April 27, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    Lovely and inspiring post, and such great pics! One of the things that always taps into my inner writer is actually taking time away from writing for other pursuits – photography, hikes, theatre, even a good movie. It seems sometimes that all it takes to revivify stale prose and get my pen moving again is giving my overused brain something different to write about.

    • johannaharness

      April 27, 2011 at 3:29 PM

      This makes perfect sense to me, Jen. I love that sense of the inner writer. 🙂

  8. Jessica Rosen

    April 27, 2011 at 10:59 AM

    Johanna, your posts always make me smile. As so often happens, your words gently nudge me, reminding me of important life lessons. The photos are splendid accompaniment. Thank you.

    Take care,

    • johannaharness

      April 27, 2011 at 3:33 PM

      Thank you, Jess. You always inspire me too. Writer friends are the best. 🙂

  9. maryvine

    April 27, 2011 at 1:31 PM

    Nature inspires me to regroup and determine new goals. Music inspires my writing lately-a phrase or the sound of a voice.

    • johannaharness

      April 27, 2011 at 3:34 PM

      Mary–you have me thinking about what inspires me to regroup and set goals. Certainly chaos motivates me, but what inspires me? I’m going to have to give this some thought.

  10. lynn mapp

    April 27, 2011 at 4:08 PM

    Wow, I loved your photos. You’d mentioned sheep in an eariler post, but this brought an impact for me. You’ve also made me think about the connections for creativity, using one form to release another. I’ve got some thinking to do.

    • johannaharness

      April 28, 2011 at 5:43 AM

      Yes. Sometimes I can capture something with a photo that I don’t understand well enough for words. Sometimes I use the photo to help me write and sometimes I just need the creative outlet so I can write about something else. As with writing, similar themes show up in the photos I’m inspired to take. it’s a fascinating process.

  11. suejeff

    April 27, 2011 at 8:42 PM

    Love the photos Johanna. I go to an art class once a week and I also cook just for pleasure sometimes and find these things help with my writing.

    • johannaharness

      April 28, 2011 at 5:47 AM

      Art class sounds wonderful. I’ve started doing some sketching in the notebook I carry everywhere–even though I know I have very little talent where sketching is concerned. I’m not sure why it took me so long to realize I could sketch for myself, for my own reasons. It’s a great way to focus on details.

  12. Carley Ash

    April 28, 2011 at 12:43 AM

    Beautiful photos. Thanks for posting them.

  13. Peggy Staggs

    April 28, 2011 at 8:43 AM

    Great pictures. I love walking in the Idaho countryside. There’s always something to stir the imagination.


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