Tag Archives | travel and writing

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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Soaking It In

As you may have noticed, things have been a bit quiet around here.  I've been in France, as some readers know.  France, people! Two weeks in the south and several days in Paris. 

And I have been soaking it all in.

So much so that my brain feels ready to explode and I can't wait to get on the plane and have time to write.  (But given a choice, I'd stay here longer in a hot second.)

To back up a bit:

The first couple of weeks in September, I wrote a lot. I took a class about fast drafting, and managed to write 80 pages on a brand-new project before I got on the plane for Europe.

The third week in September, I was in Pezenas, co-leading a writing workshop.  And, since all the participants were writing every day, I wrote, too.

Then my husband arrived in Pezenas.  And a group of us stayed on a second week.

There was no writing.  Instead, there were adventures.  Like a trip to Sete, where we rode a boat in the canals and harbor and got drenched in a rainstorm.  (None of us even had coats on.) A visit to St. Guilhem-de-desert to see the old houses built up a ravine and the Cloisters.  A journey to the beautiful and lively city of Montpelier.  And lots of time spent wandering the town of Pezenas, which has an historic core that is fun to get lost in (and get lost you will, the streets are very curvy and narrow).  And now, of course, Paris.  Just, Paris.

About mid-way through the first week I bought a journal.  (Buying paper goods is one of my favorite things to do here.) And I wrote in it a few times in the morning.   I thought for sure I would write delicate, important words about Paris in it once we got here.  But I haven't.

And for once, I'm not worried about it.

Because I am filled up with the sights and sounds of my time here.  And the flavors, let us not forget the flavors: macarons from Laduree, foie gras with fig jam in a small cafe in Pezenas, leg of lamb at a cafe on Boulevard Montparnasse after walking all day.  And the wine! Vin rouge, from theLanquedoc, the best wine in the world.

It really doesn't get any better than this.  Even if you're not writing.

So here are my recommendations for going with it and just letting it soak in:

1. Take insect repellent.  Les moustiques Francaise love me.  I was covered with bites the first two weeks, and they would suddenly activate in the middle of the night and start itching.  Once I bought insect repellent, my sleep improved dramatically.  The moral of the story? Be prepared.  I think being prepared in writing is related to soaking it in.  Being a sponge for every sensual experience is preparing yourself to disgorge words on the page.

2. Try.  I speak French haltingly.  But I find if I at least attempt a few words in French, people laugh and talk to me in English.  It is nice to try, though.  Same thing with writing.  Try putting some words down on paper.  When you're blocked, just try it and see what happens.

3.  Be willing to be uncomfortable.  I've written about this before, but on my table it is way too complicated to find the link.  Part of the experience of travel is a willingness to be embarrassed because you did something wrong in a different culture.  To get lost.  To have to walk 2 miles because you missed the bus.  To be uncomfortable.  And is this not also the essence of writing?

4. Have fun.  Every time something goes a different way than we anticipated, my husband and I look at each other and say, "Who cares? We are in Paris!" And then we soak in some more of wherever we find ourselves.  If you're not having fun with your writing, you might want to consider another career.

5. Use the toilet wherever you find one.  This is excellent travel advice.  Alas, I find I cannot relate it back to writing.  Maybe you can. 

As is so often the case with writing, I find that now I am to the end of this post I finally get what the true theme is.  And that is what I said in #4.  One should always live life, and approach writing, with the idea that wherever you find yourself is the most wonderful place on the planet to be.

Bon jour.  I promise that next week I'll be back to normal on my blogging.  In the meantime, what's up with you?  How's the writing going? Please report in the comments.

 (Alas, posting photos is too complex at the moment and I only have one day left in Paris so I am off to explore.  If you want to see some images from my trip, follow me on Instagram.

 

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On The Road

Last week I drove to Baker City, Oregon with my friend Sharon. 
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Yeah, I know, a lot of people here in Portland don't know where Baker City is, either.  (For the record, it's about five hours east of here, in the dry side of the state on a high desert plateau surrounded by gorgeous mountain ranges.)

It was a quick trip, just overnight, and a long drive for the amount of time that we actually stayed in town.  But, like most travel, its had an impact on my writing.  I'm not writing about Baker City directly, (except in this post), and most likely its not going to creep into my novels or stories in the future (although you never know). 

But it has informed my writing since I returned, because my mind keeps going back to:

–driving for miles beside the blue expanse of the Columbia River

–taking a deep breath and driving up (and down the next day) the slightly hairy grade over the Blue Mountains

–watching the temperature climb to 107 and stay there for hours as we drove home

–staying at the historic and wonderful Geiser Grand Hotel

–eating dinner in the bar of said hotel and enjoying great conversation with other guests

–hanging out in the hotel room (there are few things I love more than a hotel room)

–checking out shops on Main street

–driving around the small town, looking at the Victorian houses

There's just something about getting away that inspires me.  I've written about this before, most recently when I spent ten days in Louisville in May at my MFA alma mater.  I travel to Nashville regularly to teach, and I'll be heading to France at the end of the summer to host a writing retreat.

But, really? It doesn't matter where I go, whether by car or plane.  I just love getting out in the world and it always, always, always loosens something in me that translates to words on the page.  Whether it is describing the new landscape I find myself in while journaling, or turning somebody I've met into a character in a book, travel always inspires me.  It expands my brain, and trust me, the old noggin can always use some expansion.

Does travel inspire you or make you cringe?  (Some people really don't like it.) Where have you gone (or are planning to go) this summer? 

I stole the photo from the Baker City website, but I don't think they'll be too upset with me.

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