Remember when you could read a story and get lost in the words in front of you?
For Katelyn Smith, a Troy alumna from Andalusia, Alabama, this is still her reality.
As an adjunct instructor in Troy’s English department currently working toward her Masters in Liberal Arts through both Troy and Auburn University at Montgomery, Smith has been writing almost her entire life.
“I started when I was in elementary school,” Smith said. “For me, it was just like – I’d read a book that I didn’t like the ending of, so I’d change it.
“Eventually, I realized I could write my own stories and I just haven’t stopped since.”
Writing is not only a way to get the endings she wanted, but she also writes as a form of stress relief and therapy. One of her favorite genres to write is the short story.
“Short fiction is my favorite,” Smith said. “I really enjoy writing about the South in a way that depicts scenes of the modern South and how things have changed.
“You know, we don’t drive horses and buggies anymore, but we still milk cows – how the South is progressing. Hopefully in better ways than before.”
One of Smith’s first inspirations was S.E. Hinton, author of “The Outsiders.”
“I remember reading that book in middle school and thinking ‘this is it,’” Smith said. “‘This is the epitome of writing – this is as good as it gets.
“Now you have so much to read – so many geniuses writing short stories that are able to grab you and be relatable.”
Attention grabbing and relatable are two things Smith is trying to instill in her own writing.
“I hope that when people read my work, they want to read and write more, you know,” Smith said. “Nothing feels better than finishing something and being able to now have your own inspiration.
“I want people to be able to read my work and feel like they can do the same thing – that they can create art by just reading and regurgitating their view of what I or someone else has written.”
Smith’s writing process often begins with an “out-of-sorts” image and varies in time with each new story.
“(My process) changes constantly,” Smith said. “It always starts with an image that’s a little out of the ordinary and then it starts manifesting.
“You kind of just have to poke around until you find the pulse in it, and then once you find that, you can follow it.”
Smith explained that one time an idea came to her when she saw a light pole with a bunch of staples and thumbtacks in it, which led her to think of all the different lost pets and yard sales that had been posted there.
“Sometimes it’s a complex image, but sometimes it’s just a song that’s been stuck in your head for weeks that you can’t get out until you do something about it,” Smith said. “Something that’s just a little odd and won’t leave you alone until you write it down.”
As far as the writing process after the initial idea, Smith said she reads and writes as often as she can and often revisits stories that have been sitting for a while.
“I’ve had some stories that I thought were OK that only took me a few days,” Smith explained. “But a story I’m working on now, I’ve been working on for a year, and I still only have one page completed.
“Oddly, the ones I think are going to be genius end up falling flat, and the ones I don’t give much thought to, turn out to be some of my best works later on.”
Smith shared that creative processes are not always about being proud of everything you’ve written, it’s also about finding the motivation to work on and appreciate the stuff you’re not so proud of.
“There’s a story I wrote about two years ago for a creative writing class that had to be based on a dystopian future,” Smith said. “What I ended up writing was based on this tragic thing that had happened to me as a child. and in writing it down, I was able to work through this massive block in my life.
“I felt amazing after I wrote it and was very proud of it, not necessarily because the work was good, but because of what it meant to me.
“I have very mixed emotions on the story I’m least proud of. My class had to find a balance between love and death, so I wrote this short story (and I’m still working on it) that is a romantic comedy set in a funeral home where this lady falls in love with a mortician.”
Smith said though the latter story was fun, it’s not something she would want to be known for.
Improving her skills is something Smith is always trying to work on, and she is hoping to experiment in new genres as she progresses, but in her fear of “overdoing” things, she often holds back which affects her writing.
“Within the next few years, I’d like to just finish more stories and meet more deadlines to send more of my work out to different places to get published,” Smith said. “I’d love to see myself become a more confident writer.
“I’d also love to try out writing like Hemmingway or Fitzgerald – this lost generation where they go to a different country and write an American point of view in a different place. I’ve always thought that was really interesting.”
After taking part in last year’s Troy Summer Arts Academy in Pietrasanta, Italy, Smith said the group was encouraged to write as if they were one of those “lost generation” writers.
Now that she has that experience under her belt, she is trying to find a way to tell a story in a totally different setting and hopes to “play around” with those ideas more in the future.
“You know, I imagined myself in a much more ‘metro’ area than in Andalusia or Troy, but I really enjoy teaching,” Smith said. “I think within the next few years, I’d love to move somewhere a bit busier and somewhere more up North and keep doing what I’m doing now – teach and write.”
She also stressed how important it was for a writer not only to get their personal work seen, but also their scholarly work.
“Going to conferences and submitting papers is a great way to get your scholarly work out there,” Smith said. “It’s scary but so much fun, and I definitely want to do more of that in the future.”
Wanting to help out novice writers, Smith gave one piece of advice, “Read – read anything you can,” she said. “Read books, menus, the backs of shampoo bottles – whatever it is.
“You need as many voices as possible in your mind when you start writing. Then keep writing and don’t stop – it’s an exercise, it’s an everyday thing.
Read and write as much as you can and some of it is bound to take off.”
If you want to view some of Smith’s undergraduate works, you can find them in issues of the Rubicon at http://spectrum.troy.edu/rubicon/