A love letter about time

I’m writing this to you at 4:30 in the morning, sitting at my desk back home in Portland.  Yes, you read that right: 4:30 AM. Because: jet lag.  I’ve been waking at this hour every day since we returned home from France on Tuesday night. It’s great for getting writing done, but hell for trying to stay up past 9 PM.

And it bears on the topic I want to talk about today: time.

As most of you know, I spent three weeks in the south of France (the less-crowded Lanquedoc region, near Spain) teaching a couple of writing workshops. And time flows differently there.  I actually began writing this letter there, in the Mediterranean town of Collioure, sitting on a terrace surrounded by ancient stone and concrete houses.  A typical day went something like this: writing workshop in the morning, delicious lunch (often three courses, with wine), a petite nap, and then writing.

My desk in Collioure

It doesn’t sound like the best time recipe to get a lot of work done, but I did.  I wrote the first chapter of a new book, worked on the rewrite of my WIP, and took one more spin through the novel my agent is shopping.  All the while feeling relaxed and happy.

How I wish I could replicate that feeling of productive ease here.  I ponder: was it the sea air? Walking several times a day? The wine? (I truly didn’t drink it every day at lunch. But, um, there was plenty of wine every night.)  But here at home, life presses in: appointments, client work, family obligations. Which is why, precisely, going away to write is such a great idea.

And yet, we can’t always do that, can we?

Time is such a slippery beast. It slows to a crawl when you’re waiting for something you want to do or someone you want to see, and it flies by without notice when you’re deeply engrossed in a creative project.  (Which is why the old writing saw, fast is slow and slow is fast is so useful to remember.  If your character is doing something with a slow past, dispense with it quickly.  If something is happening really fast, slow down the action.)  And most often, we end up feeling as if we just don’t have enough time.

In pondering all this, here’s my takeaway. I can’t replicate the atmosphere of a seaside village in France here in Portland, but I can consciously slow myself down. I can approach life with a more relaxed atmosphere and refuse to get caught up in the harried schedules most of us keep. I can say no once in a while (except to grandkids).

And hopefully, my writing productivity will rise in inverse proportion to my relaxed attitude about it.

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter. If you’d like to join the list, see the form to the right.

And if you’re interested in learning about next year’s writing workshop, head on over to the Let’s Go Write website and join the mailing list there. We’ll have 2018 info ready soon.

On Writing and Travel (A Love Letter)

(While I’m away teaching in France for the month, I’m running a few favorite letters from last year.  We will be back to regular, new programming the first week in October. Meanwhile, if you want to come to France with me next year, click here for a look at this year’s program.)

Here I am in France, an American in Paris (having just spent three weeks down south, in the lovely town of Collioure).

One of the first things people ask me when I tell them about my annual jaunts to Paris is, “Do you speak the language?” And the answer is, I do not. I took French in college and can sort of read it, but when natives speak it, forget it.  And my halting pronunciation brings either a smile or a grimace from the locals.  Furthermore, I do not look like a French woman. I am short and round.  Every single French woman on the planet is tall and thin. (I think it’s a law they passed a while ago.) And its for certain I don’t have the classic French personality, which I think of as elegant and reserved.  I tend toward the, the put it charitably, exuberant.

So I am different when I am in France.  And I’m constantly aware of it. (One of the most fun things about travel is arriving to a U.S. airport and suddenly realizing I can understand what people are saying around me.)

But I have come to appreciate that feeling this difference is a good thing. I live in my comfort zone way too much.  I like my comfort zone.  But the job of the writer is (at least partially) to bring a different point of view to their reader. To teach them about something they might not otherwise have known about.  To open new worlds.  And how can we do that if we’re not venturing out beyond our own usual world?

Funnily enough, though so many of us shy away from putting ourselves in a situation where we are different, there are some advantages to it.  Because you can’t interact as readily, you can observe others more clearly.  You may only be able to find your way through observing! And because you are constantly straining to understand, you listen better.  Being different in a different world keeps you pretty much always in the present moment.  You don’t waste time pondering the past or worrying about the future when you are trying to figure out what the hell is going on right where you are at the moment.

Finally, you can be bold. Nobody knows who you are, so you can act anyway you want. (But please leave the Ugly American act at home.)

All these thoughts about being different lead me to ponder how we need to celebrate differences between characters in our work.  I’m painfully aware of how often my characters tend to reflect me, a white middle-class woman of a certain age, and this is something I’m trying to change.  Being in France makes me remember that, too.

But being home is going to be wonderful also!

Do you like to travel? Leave a comment and share your experiences!

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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.

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.

Otherwhere: May 9th

pencil_notebook_writing_237689_lI have a veritable cornucopia of links for you today, so let’s dive right in. Here goes:

Writing

Finish that novel already! (I know, it’s not that easy.)

Writing historical fiction

For the love of it

Write great YA fiction

How to become a ghostwriter

Writing setting (a topic dear to my heart since I wrote my MFA critical thesis on landscape as character).

How to make comments and use track changes in Word.

Reading

The late science fiction writer Octavia Butler was a genius in many ways. Here’s a quote about how she read.

Travel

France porn. (We still have a spot left in our France retreat!)

Food

I’d much rather write than cook, but every day the same need arises: figure out something to fix for dinner. Here are some imminently makeable but not-necessarily-good-for-you ideas.

That’s it! That’s all I’ve got! What have you been browsing through lately?

 

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.)

5 Things on Friday: I’m Baaaaack Edition

Peyrlower3Where I've Been: Europe. Spain and France, to be specific. I was there for our annual Let's Go Write workshop, which this year focused on structure and was a grand success.  This year it was held in Collioure,  a lovely seaside town in the south of France.  And guess what? Despite a busy teaching, sight-seeing, and cavorting schedule, I wrote a whole chapter–5,000 words–while in Collioure.  So to those of you who have asked if we really get any writing done, the answer is yes.

What I Saw: An Asian couple falling prey to scammers near Notre Dame, houseboats I want to live in on the Seine, a huge un-neutered pit bull at a sidewalk Tapas bar in Barcelona (apparently neutering male dogs is not a thing over there), stone steps up the side of the hill in Collioure and another beastly set leading to an ancient castle ruin, a fascinating medieval cloister with old stone carvings, one of the most beautiful villages in France, the amazing Sagrada Familia, heated towel racks, a precious little needlework stor  in Paris, and more, much, much more. (I took tons of photos throughout the trip, and you can see them all on my Instagram feed.)

What I Ate and Drank: Orangina by the quart (funny–I don't drink pop here at all, ever);  red wine by the gallon (the wines of the Languedoc region are superb and cheap); a divine confit du canard (duck) our last night in Paris, tomato toast at every Tapas bar (they don't call it that but I do),so much entrecote and frites (steak and fries) I finally got sick of it, tons of pate, cheese, and excellent French bread.  Also amazing butter, tomatoes, radishes, and melon.  Oh! And the jamon (ham) and sausage in Spain.  J'adore.

What I Read/Watched:  I only read one book while gone–Splinters of Light by Rachael Herron.  I love her books but this one was my least favorite.  One reason I didn't get a lot of reading done was because I've learned that watching movies on the loooooong (11 hour) plane trip makes the time go faster.  Sort of.  On the trip from Atlanta to Barcelona, I watched Life Itself, the documentary about Roger Ebert, which I highly recommend, and True Story, which was a meh for me.  On the flight from Paris to Salt Lake City, I watched: Finding Vivian Maier, Before Sunrise, The Rewrite, and Still Alice.  I liked all of them.  And I think every writer should watch The Rewrite–its about a failing screenwriter, who, in desperation, takes a teaching gig at a small New York college.  And plus, its Hugh Grant! 

I am currently reading Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse, a book I bought at the gift shop at Perpeyteuse, and Big Magic, Elizabethe Gilbert's book on creativity.

What I'm Excited About: The CNN app on my phone.  I can stream news live while I cook! I watched coverage of the Pope in America as I made an Ina Garten Tri-Berry Crumble for my husband's birthday.  Its as good as having a TV in the kitchen.  And, most especially, meeting the new member of our family, who is not here yet.  My daughter is due to deliver her second boy any day now.

I'm also excited about fun, creative events coming up this fall, like a day-and-a-half publishing workshop Debbie and I will be putting on in November (dates TBA soon, we've had to change them rather abruptly), my novel-writing class, and more juiciness to come!

Image of Peyrepeteuse, home of the beastly stone steps,  from this site.

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.

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!

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?