The Writing Life: Travel, or Why Travel is Good for Your Writing

800px-HollywoodSignAs I mentioned in my previous post, I'm in LA, actually Pasadena, visiting my dear friend Suzanne.  I'm working a lot while here, but no matter, I'm somewhere other than my usual here.  Last week I was at the Oregon Coast.  Now, neither of these short vacations are trips to exotic locales.  But they are trips.  And they are reminding me why travel of any kind, near or far, for a short or long time, is such a valuable activity for writers.

One reason is because you see the world through other's eyes.  For instance, last week we stayed with old family friends, a large rowdy bunch from Denver who I adore.  And they do things differently than me, particularly in food choices, opting for standard mainstream brands and products.  This week, in LA, its a whole different story when it comes to food.  Suzanne is an advocate of a real food lifestyle, which means consuming fresh and fermented foods such as yogurt and kefir made from raw milk, kombucha, and cultured vegetables (think kraut).  Two different sets of people, two different viewpoints of the world.

The characters who populate our novels and memoirs and non-fiction books all have unique viewpoints, too, with very specific ways of looking at the world.  Travel introduces me to people who think differently than me.  It pops me out of my bubble and forces me to live according to a different schedule than I usually do.  So here are some guidelines for getting the most benefit to your creativity from travel:

Be Open to Anything.  Another way to put this would be to say yes to any experience that presents itself.  Be willing to go with the flow and see what happens.  Here's an example: Suzanne had an appointment with an acting coach and I tagged along.  We thought it was a private appointment.  Wrong.  It was a class.  And I got pressed into service to run lines.  Now, let me be very clear here: I speak in public all the time, and it doesn't scare me, because I'm talking about my passion, writing.  But acting?  This is a whole different thing we're talking about and it terrifies me. 

SunsetblvdnearvineBut there wasn't much I could do.  And I figured, what the hell?  I'm in a building on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood with people I'll never see again.  So I might as well go for it.  And I did, even when I found out I was going to be taped and had to watch the playback.  It was a lot of fun when I allowed myself to just be open to it.  The next day the coach called Suzanne and told her I should look for commercial acting jobs in Portland.  When I pulled myself together after the laughing fit that ensued, I actually thought about it.

Because in being open to acting, I've realized how similar it is to writing.  How you have to parse out the scene, go deep into it and figure out the character's motivation.  How you have to allow the character to inhabit you as you say his or her words, just like you do when you're writing in a character's viewpoint.  I may not actively study acting because of this, but you can be damn sure I'll find some books about it in order to enhance my ability to understand my characters.  And none of this would have happened if I hadn't been open.

Soak It In.  To really get the benefit of travel, you've got to have your eyes wide open, be present, and soak it all in.  You've committed to being open to whatever comes your way, right?  So while experiencing different activities, be present.  Watch, listen, smell, pay attention, be alert.  Notice things so you can use them later.  And along the same lines….

Take Notes.  I'm filling my Moleskine journal, sadly neglected over the last month while my spiritual community went through some uproar, with notes and ideas and plans for my next novel.   Because I also remembered to…

Plan Ahead.  The first five chapters of my new novel are set in southern California, specifically, Malibu.  I asked Suzanne if she'd drive me over there if I bought her a tank of gas.  And so we spent a wonderfully cool afternoon while the rest of SoCal baked in record temperatures, exploring locales in and around Malibu that I planned to use for my novel.  Already, I've decided to make some crucial changes in these scenes, the result of being on-site and seeing how things really are.  (The real world is sometimes so inconvenient.)

Be Grateful.  I love being here.  I loved being at the beach last week.  I can't wait until I travel to Nashville in September.  I feel lucky and blessed that I get to travel to places near and far.  Suzanne and I sit outside in the morning and the evenings and planes fly overhead after taking off from the Burbank airport.  They are high enough up that I start to imagine, that plane is going to India.  Or, that plane is going to New York.  And I want to go, too!  I'm grateful these last two weeks have reawakened my love of travel, and it's all good for my writing.

And now, excuse me, but I'm going to go learn how to make raw milk yogurt.

Where have you traveled recently, near or far?  How has it impacted your writing?

**Need a boost for your writing?  There's still time to sign up for my novel writing teleclass, which starts next week.  Check out the page, it's going to be a lot of fun!

Photos from Wikimedia Commons.


, , , , , ,

18 Responses to The Writing Life: Travel, or Why Travel is Good for Your Writing

  1. Melissa Marsh 08/09/2012 at 13:39 #

    I am in desperate need of travel. I haven’t been anywhere since March before my hysterectomy. I’m planning a trip in September, though, and I can’t wait to “get out of Dodge” for awhile. It always helps me to regain my balance in life.

  2. Zan Marie 08/09/2012 at 13:55 #

    Travel!?! I’d love to, but current responsibilities with John’s mother has made that an impossiblity. I’ll just have to do it vicariously with you. ; )

  3. Carole Jane Treggett 08/09/2012 at 14:26 #

    I love this post, Charlotte! So very cool to read how your experiences are great fuel and inspiration for your novel, and for your writer’s heart, mind and soul :)

    My hubby and I just returned from a three-day trip to Toronto to celebrate his birthday and had a great time, especially finding a few wonderful restaurants in Chinatown. What I especially liked was discovering places where I’m convinced we were the only tourists. Love when I get rewarded for not just visiting the places listed in travel reviews, but exploring and getting a taste of living like a true local.

  4. Charlotte Dixon 08/09/2012 at 15:00 #

    Melissa, I actually hadn't been anywhere in a year, so this has really been a treat.  Enjoy your travel in September!

  5. Charlotte Dixon 08/09/2012 at 15:01 #

    You're welcome to travel vicariously with me any time you like, Zan Marie!

  6. Charlotte Dixon 08/09/2012 at 15:02 #

    Oh, finding places that are devoid of tourists is the best!  Sounds like you had a wonderful time.  I've always wanted to visit Toronto, I hear its a great city.

  7. Cheryl Reifsnyder 08/09/2012 at 15:17 #

    Hi, there! Thanks for a terrific post on how travel can impact us as writers. I just returned from a month-long trip to the East coast (I’m in CO) and have been thinking about how it affects my writing. I haven’t had any *time* to write (hence my poor, abandoned blog!) but I feel steeped in insight and inspiration. Now if I can just get caught up in the rest of life, I can get back to writing again!

  8. Charlotte Dixon 08/09/2012 at 15:18 #

    Ooh, a month-long trip sounds wonderful.  And now I know what happened with your blog.  I look forward to seeing how that inspiration manifests.  Very cool!

  9. Christine Eubanks 08/10/2012 at 00:18 #

    “Suzanne is an advocate of a real food lifestyle, which means consuming fresh and fermented foods such as yogurt and kefir made from raw milk, kombucha, and cultured vegetables (think kraut).”

    Yes, I also read in this article ( that fermented foods are really healthy and it works like probiotics in guts.

  10. Charlotte Dixon 08/10/2012 at 09:45 #

    It is really good for you!  A whole new world for me, but I'm fascinated.  I'm sure it will turn up in my writing at some point!

  11. Fear of Writing 08/10/2012 at 14:03 #

    This is such a cool post, I’m jealous I didn’t write this. ;~)

    What an amazing thing about how you were terrified to run lines for an acting class (I would be too) but when they taped you the advice was for you to look for local acting opportunities. I love that! Just goes to show how much our ungrounded and illogical fears block us from having new adventures. Good for you for just diving in! I’ll look forward to hearing about your further adventures and/or research on that.

    I love that feeling of when even a trip we label as “minor” (anything less than cross-country or world travel) stimulates our desire for more travel. I felt that yesterday just going up to Akron – about 75 minutes from where I live – to visit a friend. It opened up my world in amazing ways, and it was virtually just down the road from my house.

  12. Charlotte Dixon 08/10/2012 at 14:19 #

    That's the highest compliment one writer can give another–that they wish they'd written the piece, so thank you!  And I totally agree that a short trip can have the exact same effect of blowing open your mind and your world.  I forget that all the time, and convince myself I can't have adventure for a variety of reasons.  This trip has reminded me that's not true!

  13. Fear of Writing 08/10/2012 at 14:26 #

    I love your willingness to jump on any offer of adventure. Such as this very moment, where I’m looking at your tweet in another screen, accepting my offer to write for my travel blog. Yippee!

    I’m planning to take myself on a couple of short, rural trips over the next few weeks (hubby is away in NJ for business for 2 weeks) and then write about them on my blog. Instead of being the usual hermit when I’m home alone and not going anywhere just because I don’t have a companion. There’s an animal park about 30 minutes down the road – and an old-fashioned general store off in another direction. Both will make wonderful, country-quaint stories. And they’re just down the road a ways, ripe for the pickin’!

  14. Charlotte Dixon 08/10/2012 at 14:33 #

    Both of your mini-trips sound like a lot of fun.  I can't wait to read about them.  And I'm excited to write a post for your travel blog.

  15. Jenni Gainsborough 08/13/2012 at 11:13 #

    I have been a little behind with my blog reading so only found this post today — while flying at 35,000 ft on my way to Atlanta. This is the first of several trips that I have coming up over the next couple of months (Atlanta, Boston, London, Edinburgh) so I really appreciate the timely reminder that this could all be good for my writing and not an interruption as I was feeling. I need to get that journal started!

  16. Charlotte Dixon 08/13/2012 at 17:49 #

    I'm so pleased that you're reading my blog high up in the stratosphere!  And yes, get that journal out, you're going amazing places.  Have a wonderful trip!

  17. Debbie Maxwell Allen 08/15/2012 at 18:12 #

    So true. Travel always jumpstarts my creativity.


  18. Charlotte Dixon 08/16/2012 at 08:04 #

    Something about being in motion….

Leave a Reply