How to Write While Traveling (Or Otherwise Distracted): 7 Strategies

JournalAugust2015

The best travel journal ever

I am distracted. My thoughts, I will admit, are on Europe these days.  Because, I WILL BE THERE IN LESS THAN TWO WEEKS.  So I am distracted.  And when I am there I will be distracted.  (Because, Barcelona, people.  Paris.  Collioure.)  

And yet, I am still doing my best to write regularly. Why? Because I am a masochist.  No, really, its because I feel weird when I'm not writing.  Antsy.  A little anxious.  Like something is missing in my life.  Like my best friend is gone. (I felt this way for a year after I quit smoking but that's another story.)

I just feel better when I am writing, period.

You may be distracted, too.  By summertime travel.  Or small children (as I used to be 24-7 for what seemed an eternity and now am again whenever my beloved grown children can cajole me to babysit their children, which is, ahem, often). Or those pesky day jobs.  Or caring for an aging parent.  Or any number of the things that we deal with in life.

I know plenty of people who just set their writing aside when they get overwhelmed with distraction. But I'm here to advocate that you do not do this.  Because time is precious, and short. Because if you set your writing project aside, when you return to it, you'll have to spend lots of that precious time getting yourself up to speed.  And because, writers write.  Period.

So how shall we manage when the baby wakes up at 3 AM crying, or the hospital calls to tell you your mother has just arrived in the ER again, or you have to stay at work until 11 to finish something? Or you just might get to go to an exotic foreign land?  Here's how:

Use what you've got in front of you.  When you're traveling, this is obvious.  Everything is bright and shiny and new and different and it is relatively easy to write about it.  But it might not be so evident with the less positive distractions in your life.  So, write about how exhausted you are as the mother of a newborn, how worried you are about your parent, how much you loathe your job.  Of such conflicts many books have been born.

Take advantage of odd bits of time. Because, they may be all you have.  So maybe you've got a chunk of time while you are riding the high-speed train from Paris to Perpignan but you fall asleep because you're so jet-lagged so you only end up having twenty minutes.  Or you have fifteen minutes in the morning when you wake up before the rest of the house.  I know it doesn't seem like much, but let me share a little secret: I get more done with I have less time.  On the days when I have all day to write I fart around.  I tell myself I've got plenty of time to get to it and so I don't.  But if I know I only have thirty minutes, chop chop, I'm at the page.

Carry pen and paper with you everywhere.  Because you never know when you'll have a window of opportunity open up.  (Get a load of my adorable new carry-around-in-my-travel-bag journal above.)  Maybe there will be a bit of time when you arrive to pick your daughter up from soccer practice early.  (I knew a woman who wrote a novel this way.) Whip out your pen and paper.   You know the drill.  But it is worth reminding you because recently I found myself without a pen, which was a shocking state of affairs.

Remind yourself why you love writing.  And why it is important to you.  And thus why you are going to take just a few–a very few minutes–out of the 1440 we have every day to engage in it.  I can't answer this for you, but you can.  And while you are busy doing so, you might also write about–or ponder–why you love the project you're working on.

Quit worrying about not writing.  Because, what you resist, persists.  What you focus on grows. So stop worrying about not writing and use that energy to write.  A brief story: when my son, now a strapping man with a great job and the most adorable little girl in the whole history of the world, was a child, he used to complain and moan about cleaning his room.  And I always told him that if he just put the energy he was using to whine into cleaning, his room would be finished in a jiffy.  I think a lot of us are like that.  We spend so much time thinking about why we're not doing something, we forget we could be using that time to do it.

Just take notes.  Or make lists of things you want to remember.  Years ago, on a trip to Mexico, I made lists of the things I wanted to remember: the way the jungle pressed in on the resort, the flamingoes in the pool by the lobby bar (where they made the good, strong drinks), the terror I felt as I tried paragliding.  I didn't have time to journal, but I took good notes.  And came home and wrote a story about it, which you can actually read here.

If all else fails, have yourself a good think.  You're gazing out the window of the plane.  Think about your plot.  You're rocking the baby in the middle of the night.  Figure out your main character's backstory.  You're sitting by a hospital bed.  Ponder deep themes.  I believe that thinking is highly underrated for writers.  But the trick is to keep your brain on the plot, not the glass of wine and delicious dinner you're going to have when you get to Paris.

Those are my suggestions.  What about you?  How do you deal with distractions?  Leave a comment!

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15 Comments on "How to Write While Traveling (Or Otherwise Distracted): 7 Strategies"

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J.D.
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J.D.

Distractions? I often give in to them. If they weren’t interesting, I wouldn’t be distracted. Even with my brain dwelling on something else, I have to find the wherewithall to put butt in chair.

Dyoung
Guest

Thanks for all the great reminders and things to ponder! I TOTALLY get what you mean about getting more done in less time. It’s crazy how much we can produce under more pressure. Love the read, Char- you keep us motivated!

Maureen Lee
Guest

Thanks for the suggestions, Charlotte. A timely post, as hubs and I will be on the road for the next week. Your post reminded me to pack a journal – or two! – and take advantage of the voice record app on my phone (which I rarely remember to do). Also, I’ve given myself permission to keep a record of sensory details, something I usually resist. All in all, I’m glad you posted this now!

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

Oh look, J.D., bright shiny object! And wait, there’s another one. Sigh. Story of my life.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

I’m so glad I’m helping to keep you motivated! But, remember, you’re the one putting your butt in the chair and doing the work!

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

Have a great trip, Maureen, and happy recording of sensory details. I hope the idea of just making a simple list helps–it really can be useful.

J.D.
Guest
J.D.

I don’t know about a travel journal. I like making notes if I see or hear something, but I do all the time. I don’t see myself putting together a travel article or journal. Though this post help me discover something: travel articles offer another view of your setting. That’s helpful, even if you know the place to the bone. If it were the right trip and the right situation, I could write a story, just not a travel journal. Anyway, Vivian Swift writes the best travel journals in the world, it’s just they’re not exactly about travel.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

Not familiar with Vivian Swift, can you post links?  I'm intrigued.

J.D.
Guest
J.D.

The book,Le Road Trip, is on Amazon. I wouldn’t buy it seeking info about what to do in France, though there is a smattering of that in the pages. It is just a beautiful book, full of reminiscing, a dash of advice, and a ton of watercolors she painted. Her blog, The Marmalade Gypsy, which I’d never seen before you asked this question, is here: http://bit.ly/1JmVTRY . She hasn’t posted in a year but I’d still recommend a visit.

J.D.
Guest
J.D.

Vivian and I are not acquainted. I happened to be hanging out in Betsy Lerner’s blog when Le Road Trip hit the market. Ms. Lerner may have been her agent; I’m not certain of that. I submitted once to Ms. Lerner’s agency and was quickly shown the door lol. Betsy is very knowledgeable, and though she tries to act the slob, very sophisticated in all things book.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

I've read Betsy's book and I liked it.  I do think you should be submitting to more agents, but that's just me.  🙂  

Bethany House
Guest

Great journal!! I completely understand the antsy feeling when not writing; and I have the same trouble when I have all day to write. A time crunch makes me so much more productive.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

We humans are so funny sometimes, aren't we?  And writers are the funniest.  Geesh.

Kayla Dawn Thomas
Guest
Great post! I journaled a lot this summer. More than I had in the last year. I was busy with my daughter, and we traveled a lot. Just getting words onto paper, even if they weren’t a specific project, eased my writer’s soul. That worked when we were settled somewhere, but when out and about and on the go, I make notes in Evernote on my iphone. I carry a very small purse, so there’s not room for a notebook. I tell writers to write using the tools that are most convenient for them because if it’s not handy, you… Read more »
Charlotte Dixon
Guest

Excellent advice.  And yes, getting words on any kind down on the page ease a writer's soul for sure!

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