Archive | Travel

Home at Last: What’s Going On

Pont du Diable, in my beloved Ceret, where I just spent two weeks.

Pont du Diable, in my beloved Ceret, where I just spent two weeks.

After three weeks in France, I’m home again. Even though the Google and my phone still feed me the occasional search result or ad in French, it is nice to be able to understand the language people are speaking around me. (It’s always a shock to land back in a U.S. airport on the journey home and suddenly realize everyone is speaking English.)  It has been awhile since I blogged, with the exception of the prompt posts, so here’s what’s going on (a sort of Five on Friday on Saturday):

Reading — I’m reading the first book in the Cal Claxton series by Warren Easley. It is set in and around Portland, and I think it’s terrific.  I don’t read mysteries or male authors very often, so that’s saying a lot. By the way, he’s reading at one of my favorite bookstores next weekend–more info here.  I read a light novel by one of my favorite authors, Barbara O’Neal, while in France–she is great for frothy women’s fiction.  This one was called A Piece of Heaven, and is set in Taos, one of my favorite places. I also finished Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo, one of the books we taught at the workshop. It is not a quick read, but I loved it.

Movies — I didn’t watch as many movies on the long plane rides to and from Paris, because I was reading, but on the way I enjoyed the Melissa McCarthy movie The Boss and another one I can’t remember. Which says a lot about it, right?  On the way home I watched Me Before You. We taught this book two years ago and I’d loved it and the sequel and really wanted to see the movie. And I did. And I liked it.  A lot.

Writing — I’ve decided to do Nanowrimo. Want to do it with me? C’mon, it will be fun. I have an idea for a romance that I want to get out. Between now and then, I’ll be doing some prep work, and also taking the time to finish a novella I started this summer.  And maybe try to figure out how to rewrite the novel I finished a first draft of last year. That ought to keep me busy for a bit.  And by the way, my Bonne Chance bakery novel is in the hands of an editor, so think good thoughts, please.

Cooking — I woke to rain this morning, yay. I love the rain and I’ve been so looking forward to the return of fall weather.  “Live starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” F. Scott Fitzgerald.  This turn in the weather coincided with the arrival of a new cookbook yesterday.  Called 30-Minute One-Pot Meals, it is full of things to cook now that it’s cooler out. (We mostly grill all summer.) You know how some cookbooks you get and there’s some stuff you like, but tons of stuff you’d never consider making? In this cookbook, there’s like two things, period, that I can’t imagine cooking. Score!

Fiber — I carefully toted my knitting with me to France, because I found the year before that it calmed me in times of anxiety (like when I had to mail a package at the post office).  But this year I didn’t pull it out as much.  Now that I’m home, I’m back at it.  I’m actually going back to the basics and trying to re-learns some things. I’ve knitted all my life, but first learned from my 4-H teacher and then taught myself stuff, which has meant picking up bad habits and missing a lot along the way. So I’m following the simple patterns on this site and I’ve already learned some cool new things.  There’s a lot to be said for the beginner’s mind.

And that’s it, that’s all I’ve got, except for this: Debbie and I are meeting on Monday to begin planning our 2017 writing workshop in France. We already know where it will bee–Collioure, where we stayed last year, a wonderful seaside resort town full of picturesque scenery, cute shops and fabulous restaurants.  Leave a comment or pop me a line if you’re interested and I’ll put you on the list.

What is going on with you? Do tell. I’ve missed you.

2

Preparation is Three-Quarters of the Battle

Tour_Eiffel_Wikimedia_Commons_(cropped)I’m leaving for France (Paris and Ceret) soon. I’m not one of those people who pack and repack a week ahead. No, you’ll find me throwing clothes in the suitcase the night before.

But, and this is a big but—when the time comes for me to commence said throwing, I will know exactly what I’m going to take. (Okay, because I’m a terrible packer and a confirmed right-brainer, there will be last minute changes and additions.) Because I’ve been thinking about what I need to take clothes-wise, book-wise, and technology-wise all month.

Chance favors the prepared mind.  And the prepared packer. And the prepared writer.

At least I think so.

I know there’s an endless debate between pantsers and plotters.  (For the record, a pantser is one who flies by the seat of his pants when writing, and a plotter is one who plans everything out.)  And, seeing as how I have a completely somewhat loose approach to organization and house cleaning and the like, you would think I would fall down on the side of pantsing.

But I have learned through many years of experience that when I pants, I get into trouble. Not that I don’t love it, because I do. What could be better than allowing your mind and fingers to ramble down shady lanes and sunny byways in strange worlds? But the key word here is ramble, because that’s exactly what I do. Ramble along with no worry for the strictures of plot or character. Or showing a cohesive setting. Or anything but my rambles.

And one cannot write a novel without worrying about plot or character or setting.  Or one can, but one will need to do a lot of rewriting when one is done.  I do love rewriting—but not when I have to figure out how to make a shapeless lump into a story.

So, I plot. And write up character dossiers. And draw maps of locations and diagrams of houses and offices.  I call all of this prep work and I actually enjoy it. Sometimes I think I enjoy it too much, as I can get so engrossed in it that I never quite get to the writing of the novel.

It occurred to me, as I pondered what clothing I should take to Europe, that it might be helpful to share what I consider to be the bare minimum of novel prep work, because it’s been awhile since we discussed this.  So here you go (and remember this is a minimum. You can do a lot more if you wish):

Character Dossiers.  I fill them out for all of my main characters and do at least the rudiments (appearance, personal traits) for the minor ones.  Because all story starts with character, this is time well spent and often helps me come up with plot ideas as well.  It is also helpful to know who is going to tell the story and if it will be in first person or third.

Setting Sketches. I need to be able to see where my character lives and works.  This goes for big setting, such as the overall city she lives in, and small setting, such as her home and office.

A Loose Outline. And by loose, I mean loose. I’m not one of those people who plans out every single beat and action and character thought. I do like to leave some room for surprises.  A simple list of potential happenings will do.

Really that’s it. I know, you don’t see research on the list. That’s because, like technology, I’m on a need-to-know basis with it.  When I don’t know how to do something on my computer, ask the Google How do I do _______________ ? I always get a quick answer.  Same thing with research.  At least for the first draft you do not want to get mired in a lot of facts you might not really need. (And if you’re writing an historical, my hat’s off to you. And you’ll need to do a lot more research.)

Since I just finished my rewrite, I’ll be prepping a new novel myself soon. Can’t wait.

While I have you, are you a pantser or a plotter? What do you think are the advantages of your approach?

Photo from Wikipedia.

4

Why Every Writer Should Travel

 20150903_124030I'm just back from three weeks in Europe, one week for leading a writing workshop, and the other two for fun.

However, I am a firm believer that even the two "fun" weeks contributed greatly to my writing career.  Yeah, it might have looked like I was lolling about in the south of France, eating tapas in Barcelona, or wandering the back streets of Montparnasse, but it was all in service to my writing.  Riigght, you are saying, very slowly.  So let me count the ways, and convince you.

1.  Travel inspires me.  Duh.  This is the obvious reason most people travel.  Immersing oneself in different locales and cultures shows us new things, fires new neurons, inspires new ideas.   And, of course, ideas are good.  They are our life blood.  Awriter can never have too many ideas.  Ever.

2.  I'm different when I travel.  I don't know anyone, other than the people I'm traveling with, so all bets are off.  I can drink all night, swing from the rafters act anyway I want–talk to people I meet on the street, stop and stretch in the middle of the sidewalk, gaze with obvious rapture at a medieval cathedral.  Nobody knows me so I'm free.  And isn't this what we long to be on the page?  Once I regularly experience the feeling of freedom in my regular life, it is much easier to translate it to the page. IMG_20150915_161410

3.  Travel sometimes makes me uncomfortable.  Okay, let's face it.  Most of our lives are not hard.  Well, my life, anyway, is not hard.  Mostly I sit at the computer all day long and convince myself, hand on forehead that I'm suffering.  But travel is a different thing.  There are times when I don't know what's happening, or what stop the train just pulled into, or what the person in front of me is trying to say to me.  There are times I've probably embarrassed myself.  But you know what?  This is good, excellent, even.  It is good to feel discomfort once in awhile.  Because, after all, isn't that what we put our characters through? Don't we always say, the more conflict the better? Yes, yes, we do.

4.  Travel is fun.  And I don't care if you're trying to write or become an insurance agent, fun is important.  We get veeeery serious about our lives most of the time.

5.  Travel makes me adventurous.   I've gotten obsessed with reading the blog of Eugene Kaspersky.  He runs some crazy big cyber-security site and spends tons of time traveling, some of it adventuring.  He climbs volcanoes in Kamchatka, treks across snow fields in Iceland, circumnavigates the planet, and so on.  I'm just going to say right now I will do none of these things, ever.  But I love reading about him doing them.  And when I travel in my own tame way, I step out of my comfort zone into my own adventures.  And there are always adventures when you travel.

6.  Travel makes me try new things.  Like the unknown shellfish we tried at a seafood dinner in Port-Vendres, or climbing the side of a mountain (I exaggerate a tiny bit here) to reach the ruin of a castle when my hips were screaming in pain (again, a tad bit of poetic license, but still).  It can be as simple as turning now a new street, or trying a different café–things I don't do often enough here because I so easily get stuck in a rut.  Things that may somehow work their way into your writing.

7.  Travel lets me meet different kinds of people. There aren't a whole lot of French men or British women carousing down my street, for instance.  And it is relatively rare to even hear someone speak in a different tongue in my day to day life.  If there's one thing I love, its meeting people (I confess to a terrible extrovert streak–I'll talk to anybody, anywhere).  And one of the best things about travel is the different people you meet–the couple from Australia in Paris, or the nice lady from London who was toiling up the hill beside me.  Again, who knows what person might spark an idea for a character?

Okay, so I hear you.  You've got a newborn baby, you're in school, you have a demanding career.  And travel to Europe, or anywhere else for that matter, is just not on the horizon.   But, honestly, you can "travel" in your hometown.  Change up your routine, do something different, drive a new way to work.  Do something, anything to shake things up.

Last week, the morning after I got off the plane, my brain as foggy as a morning in November, and inspired by my visit to the Inter-marche Hyper (read=big, very big) supermarket in France, I went to the American version here that I usually avoid.  My shopping took me twice as long as I stumbled through the aisles trying to figure out where things were, but I discovered new products and chatted with an adorable, funny cashier.   One never knows when someone just like him shall appear in a book.

So, how about it?  How about we all spend the last three months of this year devoted to living with a spirit of adventure?  I'm in, are you?

Do you like to travel or hate it? Please leave a comment.

Photos:

Ceiling of the amazing Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Sideways (no matter what I do, Typepad won't let me edit) image of a stone face at the cloister in Elne

(Tons more images of my trip on my Instagram feed.)

8

While She Was Out

PrintshopI grew up partially in my Dad's printing plant.  One of the many things I loved about that was hanging out in the front office, which was cleaner and more organized than the rest of the shop, but not by much.  And one of the best things about the office was the office supplies.  I particularly loved the pads of paper headlined "While You Were Out" with handy pre-printed lines to write the message on. I LOVED those pads.  

Alas, they did not survive.  But check out the photo to the left of some simple scratch pads that did. The business itself did not survive the onset on computerized printing in the eighties, and went bankrupt.  Tough times.  But I digress.

Because the point is that I will be out.  Overseas. Across the pond. Gone fishing.  Whatever.  It is time for the annual Let's Go Write workshop in France, this year in Collioure.  Last year, I think I actually managed to post once or twice, but maybe I just made that up.  It might well happen this year, too.  

But I have also made provisions for while I am out.  I have lined up a couple of fun oldie but goodie posts from the archives, written and scheduled a couple of new ones, and also created a couple of link posts that I think you'll like, drawing on the eight years of content (and 1266 posts) from this blog. So there you have it.  All will not be lost.  There will be a dim shadow of a Charlotte here.

But, alas, I've put the Inventive Writing Prompt blog and weekly posts on hiatus until I get back. But don't despair.  As of this writing, there are 392 prompts there, so that ought to keep you busy for awhile.

One more thing–don't forget that my Get Your Novel Written Now class starts in October, and I've extended the early bird registration until I get back so go SIGN UP NOW.

2

5 Things on Friday: Feeling Frazzled Edition

Paris-parigi-eiffelturm-1577018-lWhy I'm Frazzled: BECAUSE I'M LEAVING FOR EUROPE ON TUESDAY. That's why.

What I'm Reading: Same thing I was reading last week, The Surrender Experiment, by Michael Singer.  I'm about 10 pages from the end, and was going to finish it at lunchtime but then the phone rang and I got distracted.  But, for your curiousity pleasure, here is a list of books I've downloaded to take with me:

The Last Time I Was Me, by Cathy Lamb

My Very Best Friend, by Cathy Lamb

(She's a Portland author and when I learned from a friend at church that she had stayed up until 4 in the morning reading Lamb's most recent book, I decided to check her out.)

Splinters of Light, by Rachael Herron (love her!

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (love me a good science fiction read every so often and this one is loooong–great to take on a long flight)

There's no way I'll get all of those read, especially because last year on the way home from Paris I discovered that watching movies back to back makes the time pass really quickly, and when I'm traveling I don't read as much.  But I like to be prepared.  Because, what if the Iceland volcano blows and we're stuck in Europe? (We should be so lucky.) I will need books to read.

What I Have Left to Do Before I Leave: Host one family dinner, engage in a board of directors bonding outing, attend one birthday party, finish reading one manuscript, exchange one cardigan, write two newsletters, get my hair cut, and pack.  That's not so bad, is it?  Is it?

What I Love This Week: My new phone.  The Samsung Galaxy S4 Note.  It has a stylus!  A freaking stylus!  I went to the AT&T store on Saturday and ordered it.  (Wasn't in stock, small store.) Had great service there.  Went to a different AT&T store on Wednesday where they could do a data transfer and had, um, shall we way, interesting service.  As in, all the worker people telling me, "You're switching from an Iphone to a Galaxy? Girl! You're going to be back in here telling us you want your Iphone back."  Also telling me I have way too many contacts (Is 323 really that many? I didn't think so, either.) And so on.  Hear me now: I WILL NOT BE IN THERE TO SWITCH BACK. Because I'm stubborn that way.  And because I love my new phone.

What Will Happen to This Blog While I'm Gone: Read my post Monday to find out.

Happy weekend! What are you doing this weekend?  Something fun?

Photo by al lannin.

4

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!

15

Are You a Right-Brain or Left-Brain Dominant Writer?

ElliottBayBooks

A Stack 'O Writing Books

I learned a different way of looking at my writing this weekend, a way that I think will help inform how I plan and plot a novel. (One of the things I love best about writing is that there's always something new to learn.  It's impossible to be bored by it.) I'm thinking this thing will help you, too, so let's discuss.  But first, some background.

This past weekend, I went to Seattle with my daughter.  We took the train up and back (the best way to travel), stayed in the Roosevelt Hotel downtown, and reconnected with an old friend and met her new family.  (One of the most adorable two-year-olds on the planet, second only to my own granddaughter.)

One of the best times we had was Saturday afternoon, when we hung out at the new (to us) location of Elliott Bay Books.  The bookstore is dotted with large tables at which you can while away the afternoon.  Which is exactly what we did. It felt like the height of luxury to spend a couple of hours doing nothing but looking at books.  My daughter perused books from the design section, and I pulled out stack after stack of titles from the writing section.  I read through many of them,  took notes from some, and ended up buying two:

Naming the World, and other exercises for the creative writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston.  I remember being at AWP years ago right when this book came out. It is comprised of brief essays and accompanying writing exercises from a wide variety of writers.  I'm always looking for exercises for myself and my students–I'm not sure why I haven't bought this one earlier.  It is excellent.  (I especially love the section of Daily Warm-ups at the back.)

PlotWhispererThe Plot Whisperer, by Martha Alderson.  I've read her blog, but for some reason shied away from the book, which has been out a few years.  I'm only a short way in, but the book is excellent.  And the thing that has grabbed my attention is the distinction she makes between left-brain dominant writers and right-brain dominant writers.  To wit:

The left-brained writer thinks in language more often than images and is quite comfortable with action.  He might also be analytical and detail-oriented.  Alderson says that if you crave action and "spew out dialogue at will" you are a left-brained writer.

The right-brained writer thinks in pictures rather than language and likely starts his writing developing characters or emotional moments in the story.  He takes a more intuitive approach.  If you fall in love with your characters and love to ponder theme and meaning, you are more right-brain oriented.

Raise your hand if you recognize yourself in one of the descriptions above.  Me! Choose me!  I'm a right-brained writer through and through.  I can't think of a novel or story I've written that didn't start with a character, and because of this I also have a few abandoned stories littering my computer, because I didn't know how to develop action for the character.

It doesn't matter which one you are, but it helps to figure that out from the get-go.  Because just as I've struggled with action in my stories, the left-brained writer will struggle with getting character emotion and detail into her work.  And if you know that going in, you'll know where your weaknesses lie and you can figure out how to correct them.

You'll know that if your left brain tends to be more dominant, you'll need to learn to focus on character, imagery, and emotion.  Conversely, if your right brain rules the roost, you'll have to focus on plot and goal and structure.  (There are ways to do this without freaking yourself out.)

Alderson has an interesting offer on her website.  (I'm in no way affiliated with her, just intrigued by the info she's presenting.)  It's called Writing a Story Takes You on an Epic Journey, and since it is in beta, it is really inexpensive (like $14.99, amazing). 

So that's what I learned this weekend.  Does the concept of left-brain dominant and right-brain dominant writers resonate with you?  Which are you? Do discuss in the comments.

All images are by moi.  I've been using Instagram a lot lately.  Come follow me there, why don't you?

13

From Spark to Story Workshop Report

SBCApril2015

Scarritt Bennett Center

I am back from Nashville, y'all.  

I went there to teach a workshop with my good writing friend Terry Price.  We called it From Spark to Story, and planned it to be just that: a journey from gathering inspiration, to getting it onto the page, to shaping it into a story.  

It worked brilliantly.

Well, okay, so maybe I exaggerate just a little.  But the 17 people who were there (20 signed up but several had last minute snafus) seemed to enjoy it and get a lot out of it.  And I know that Terry and I loved teaching it.  Here are some of my main take-aways:

–15 minutes a day is all it takes.  Both Terry and I came to this separately and planned to present it as a method to find your way back to your writing and, just as important, sustain a writing practice. It resonated deeply with the participants, and many of them tweeted and posted on Facebook on Sunday morning that they'd done their 15 minutes.  (We created a hashtag for it if you're so inclined: #15minsday.)

If you were to, starting now, write 15 minutes a day every day you could have a novel written in a year.  Really.  I'm not kidding.  Do the math.  And the other thing is that often when you tell yourself all you have to do is 15 minutes, you get so engrossed that you end up writing longer.  But that's not even necessary.

–Prompts are good.  We worked some with a variety of prompts on Friday night and Saturday morning and our writers found them useful as portals to all kinds of inspiration and epiphanies.  So often writers sniff at prompts as being the province of beginners, but I use them all the time (hence, my prompt blog).  If you've not had luck with them in the past, try again.  Just remember to keep your pen moving across the page.  Its when you stop to ponder and stare out the window that prompts aren't as effective.

–Clustering can unleash you from your left brain.  More often now called mind-mapping (I like clustering better), this technique was popularized by the late Gabriel Rico in her book Writing the Natural Way.  To tell you the truth, I'd forgotten about it, but Terry is a fan and he made people try it.  Since I was icing my foot (I had a terrible attack of plantar fascitis while there) I didn't do it in the workshop, but I've been playing with it since and I can see its value.  Give it a whirl.

–Get thee to a labyrinth.  Scarritt Bennett Center, where I stayed, and where we held the workshop, has a labyrinth modeled on the one at Chartes, France.  It is a marvelous creativity jogger.  You ask a question or think of a problem before you enter, walk to the center, pause to listen, then walk back out again.  Note that a labyrinth is different from a maze.  With a maze, you're trying to find your way out.  With a labyrinth, you're finding your way in.  Take a journal with you because you'll likely have an inspiration or two to write down.  It has never failed me yet.  To find a labyrinth in your area, try Labyrinth Locator.

I'm sure more thoughts will bubble up over the next few days and weeks and I'll report.  For me, it was a rejuvenating experience to be back in Nashville and reconnect with a city I love and so many of the people I know and love who live there.  Southern hospitality truly is the most generous in the world and I've always been welcomed so warmly.

And stay tuned–because we are cooking up a Spark to Story Part Two to be held in the near future!

 

11

Amp Up Your Writing With A Travel Mindset

Nashville_skyline_before_earth_hourI'm in Nashville this week, teaching a workshop called From Spark to Story, with my dear, wonderful friend Terry Price.  I used to come to Nashville at least twice a year, sometimes more often, in order to teach at the Writer's Loft, (now called Write. ) But lately the orientations have fallen at the same time that I'm in France, for my Let's Go Write workshops.  So, um, much as I love Nashville, I chose France.

Wherever I decide to go, I love to travel, and it informs and inspires my writing.  (The idea for my just-about-to-be-submitted-to-publishers novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery, was inspired by one of my trips to France.)  I believe travel opens up my brain to all kinds of new ideas and inspirations that I wouldn't find any other way. However, it has come to my attention that some people really don't like to travel.  They much prefer to stay home.  

I get this.  I really do.  After all, to travel is to catapult yourself into the great unknown.  There's the hassle of airplane travel.  And a hotel or motel that might be iffy at best.  Maybe landing somewhere you don't know the language.  You may will say something wrong.  You'll feel like people are laughing at you. The food will be strange, and God only knows what is actually in that dish of stew. 

In other words, it's scary out there, people!  

But if you are the sort who likes to stay at home but you still want to jazz up your writing, I have a few suggestions on how you can apply a travel mindset to your writing.  

 1.  Seek discomfort.  This is the number one reason people don't travel.  Because, as mentioned above, you will have moments of extreme discomfort.  Plain and simple.  In 2013, the first year I traveled to Europe alone, I was terrified.  When last I'd been to Paris, waiters sneered at my feeble attempts to speak French and everyone was rude.  But once I realized that what I was really afraid of was discomfort, my whole attitude changed (and I actually have found the French to be lovely).  So, quit being so damned self-protective and catapult yourself out of your comfort zone.  Since I don't know what your particular comfort zone is, I can't offer any recommendations.  But you know.  I know you do.

2.  Cultivate a different mindset.  Part of the reason travel is so fun is that your usual boundaries and filters are off.  While you might hesitate to talk to a stranger at home, when traveling you might be forced to ask directions of one.  You become fearless because you have to be. You walk long distances because you get stranded miles away from your hotel and you don't know how to hail a cab.  You stay up late because you're having so much fun.  You eat sweets when you usually don't allow yourself to touch them at home.  And so on.  You can just as easily do this at home, it's just that we forget this and get mired in our regular routine.

3.  Seek out new sights and sounds.  Pretend you're a tourist in your own town and go visit new places.  We've got a fabulous Chinese garden here in Portland, and I'm embarrassed to admit that until I attended a wedding there a couple years ago, I'd never been there.  So visit tourist traps. Take part in corny local festivities. Drive to a different part of town, park the car, and walk. Seek out a new coffee shop.  Go hear a band you've never heard of perform.  Sit in a different part of the sanctuary at church.  Even the smallest change can give you a new viewpoint.

4.  Try different food.  Part of the fun of travel is sampling different foods. Food is a portal to sensory stimulation and sensory stimulation is a portal to inspiration.  Bear in mind, much of my recent overseas travel has been to France, where "different" means chocolate croissants for breakfast, Croque Monsieurs for lunch, and macarons for dessert.  Um, yeah.  But, as noted earlier, eating macarons in Ceret, France inspired a whole novel for me.  And I still recall the lamb dinner I ate at a small cafe on the Boulevard Montparnasse, after walking miles and miles on a sore knee. (The wine was damn good, also.) Surely your town has some wonderful restaurants that feature different cuisines.  Try them out!

5. Take your journal and go sit somewhere and write.  (This works especially well if you tend to stay tied to your desk at home, as I do.)  Record what is going on around you.  Write a description of the barista with purple hair.  Describe the dialogue you can hear at the table next door.  Hell, be really brave and strike up a conversation with the people at the table next door.  One of my fondest memories of being in Paris last year was all the people my husband and I met at bus stops, in our hotel lobby,  and on the street–people from Montreal, from Australia, from London, from all over!  There's no reason you can't do the same without leaving home.

6.  Change up your habits.  This is, in many ways, the easiest way to encourage a travel mindset., because most habits involve relatively small things.  But in some ways, it is the hardest, too. Because even though habits are small, they are deeply ingrained.  Here are a few modest suggestions: Drive a different way to work. Take a shower at night instead of in the morning. (Or don't shower at all!)  Go grocery shopping at 7 AM in the morning.  Drink tea instead of coffee.  Drink beer instead of tea. Drive through McDonald's for a burger instead of eating dinner at that luscious 5 star restaurant. Stay up late! Rise early!  You get the idea.

The point of all this is, of course, to shake up your brain and get some new synopses firing, which in turn should get those words flowing onto the page.

As always, I'd love to hear from you.  Do you like to travel?  Does it inspire your writing?

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Wednesday Again

Plane_random_australia_56977_hIt's Wednesday again, in case you hadn't noticed.  And this is the day I devote to a personal post not related to writing.  Or the day I try to devote to a post not related to writing.  It seems like somehow or another everything links back to writing for me.  But anyway….

At this very moment I am sitting in the Portland airport, waiting for a flight to Burbank.  I'm going to Pasadena to visit my friend Mary-Suzanne.  She and I met many years ago at a Creativity Camp put on by Julia Cameron, and have been good friends ever since.  I'm going to stay with her for a week, hang out, eat the wonderful food Suzanne makes, work on my novel, and see my friend Diana.  Also, I shall bask in the 80 degree heat!

I was calculating earlier, and this is my fifth trip this year.  It's my second to southern California (the first in May for my nephew's graduation from law school and wedding).  I've also been to Kansas City twice, and to France for three weeks.  It's really not a lot of travel by many people's standards, but also more than a lot of people do.  

So, I thought it would be fun to do a list of things I like and don't like about travel.  I was going to do things I like and don't like about L.A. but changed my mind because the "don't like" list would be so much longer than the "like" list.

Things I Like

1.  Meeting people.  When we were in Paris in September, we met people from all over the world. These were brief but fun encounters that ended up being memorable nonetheless.  Who knew how many people came to France from Australia?

2.  Getting a new perspective.  This is especially good for writers.  Travel helps you see things in a different way just because your brain expands to encompass all the new stuff it is absorbing.  Or at least that's my theory.

3.  Being present.  When one travels, particularly in a foreign country, you have to stay present and alert.  In France, I'm always straining to understand what people are saying or figure out how to get somewhere.  Once I'm back home, I get complacent and fall into the old routines.

4.  Place inspires me.  I wrote my MFA critical thesis on landscape as character for goodness sake. Certain places inspire my writing and find their way into my novels.  My hometown of Portland is always a setting, and L.A. seems to appear a lot also.  Sun Valley and Santa Fe are perennial favorites. And yes, Paris is an important location in my next novel.

5.  Discomfort.  Let's face it, we are pampered.  And travel puts you into situations that cant you out of your comfort zone.  This is a good thing, as it stretches you.  (And yet, I think it is also the reason that many people do not like to travel.)

Things I don't like:

1.  Airplane travel.  Enough said.  Those long flights from the West Coast to Paris are killer.  But I did discover the joy of watching a million movies on my last long flight home.

2. Jet lag.  Anybody figured out how to mitigate this?  I tried melatonin with no results.  But this year I didn't suffer too bad on the way. I was not able to sleep, and so by the time I got to Pezenas it had been 24 hours and I'd been on a plane and a plane and a train with maybe three hours of sleep here and there.  I was so tired I fell right out.  But for some reason coming back home was brutal.  Felt like it took me forever to recover.

3.  Window seats.  Yes, I like the view, too.  But I also like to drink tons of water on plane flights so that I won't get a headache.  And that means several trips to the bathroom.

4.  Car sickness.  Ask my sister, when I was little I was famous for throwing up on car trips.  None of my sisters or cousins wanted to sit next to me for fear I would vomit on them.  I still have a hard time sitting in the back seat of a car, though I have discovered the wonders of Sea Bands that seem to mitigate most car sickness problems.

That's it!  That's all I've got.  What about you?  Do you like to travel or prefer to stay home?

Because I know you care desperately, here's the first Wednesday post from last week.  (I'm looking for a name for these posts.  Ideas?)

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