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?

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?)

Come to France With Me in 2015

Just saying right off the top here–this is a teaser post.

Because you want to come to my next writing retreat in France, don't you?  You know you do!  We don't have every detail confirmed yet but we have decided where we will be.  Ready?

Collioure, France. Coll800

It is a seaside town with mountain views, and also the twisty, curvy medieval streets I love so much in part of it.  Tons to explore in the town itself, and many wonderful things to see nearby. Collioure is in the Languedoc-Roussilon region of France, and I can personally attest to the wonderfulness of their wines.  It is near the border with Spain (you could take the train from Barcelona if you so desired), in the south of France.

So, yes, that's the location.  But let's not forget that this will be a writing retreat/workshop.  I've had some questions about how this works, so here is the scoop:  Every morning (Sunday-Friday), we meet from 9:30 to 12:30 for the workshop.  This time is devoted to mini-lectures from Debbie and myself, and discussion about the designated subject (an aspect of writing).  We assign a book in common for all to read, from which we draw examples. There's in-class writing and every day, we give an assignment, which will then be discussed in-depth the next day.  (For an example of this year's schedule, click here.)

But we're not all work and no play.  Huh-uh.  Yes, you will have assignments to work on, but there will also be plenty of time to explore the town and a field trip or two to other locales.  And we have been known to enjoy the local wines, um, quite a bit, when we reconvene in the evening for talk and food and drink.

There's also the option for staying on for a second (non-writing) week.

Stay tuned.  Debbie and I are meeting next week to work on the schedule, and we'll have that posted as soon as we can.  We've got quite a long list of people who have expressed interest in the workshop this year, so drop me a line if you want to nab a space!

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.

 

My Mind is as Dry as the Desert

(Brief aside: you know how you can remember the difference in spelling between dessert and desert? You want more of dessert, and thus it has two of the letter s in it.  My seventh grade teacher, Charles Nakvasil, taught me that.  He owned movie theaters after he quit teaching.) Desert-arizona-summer-47866-h

Last week I was out of town.  This was not the usual kind of travel I do, to writer's retreats or workshops or conferences or meetings with clients.  This was for fun only.  My nephew graduated from Pepperdine law school and two days later got married in Malibu.  Yeah, he's kind of nuts.  Runs in the family.

We, all of us, went to the wedding. Kids, grandkids, the whole shebang. Long-lost brothers and sisters-in-law.  Stayed at the same hotel, congregated for breakfast, hung out by the pool, like that.  We spent a day in Santa Monica (on the beach!) and wandered around the Venice canals. And then, when the kids went home, my husband and I played tourist, taking the best Hollywood star home tour ever, and wandering along Hollywood Boulevard to see the Walk of Stars and Grauman's Theater.  You gotta love all that.

And now, I'm home.  Have been for a few days.  Came back to appointments and laundry and family duties and tons of errands to run, as one does.  

But I haven't done a lick of writing.  

I've not written down a single idea.

Taken even the tiniest note.

I can't seem to land on anything.  My brain is full up, that's for sure.  But nothing is coalescing.  When I think that I should sit down and write, I can't seem to remember any of the projects I was working on before I left.  (Um, that would be the novel, and the two stories, and the idea for novella.)

I can't connect with anything.  My brain is as dry as the desert.

And, of course, I know the antidote for this.   Say it with me now:

Write something.  Anything!  Just put words on paper! 

And so I will.  Because I'm familiar enough with the creative process to understand that this happens sometimes, and while it's often important to just go with it, as I have been, it is also important to break the spell at some point with activity.

In other words, writing.

It's gone on long enough, and so I shall get to it.  Because if I don't get to it, the Not Writing may become a habit, and I can't allow that to happen.

What about you?  How do you break dry spells?  Leave a comment!

 

***For fun, some other posts I've written about southern California:

 Here's a post I wrote about attending a party on the Venice canals a few years back.

A post on why travel is good for your writing.

A letter from L.A.

A post titled, Ah, L.A., in which I discuss how its illegal to be anything but thin and blonde and tan there.

There are no doubt more, but that's all I can find for the moment.  Enjoy Memorial Day Weekend, everyone!

 Photo by Wolfgang Staudt.

10 Takeaways from France

CobblestonesI flew home from Paris last Sunday, and as I write this, I'm still a bit jet lagged.  One of these days I'm sure I'll get back to a normal sleep schedule.  I now seem to rise at 4:30 every morning–at least it gives me time to write.

But I'm not complaining.  Because travel–any kind of travel, but especially international travel–is good for the writer's soul.  Really good.  So herewith is a round-up of some of my impressions of France, and how I see they relate to writing.  (Because, you know, everything relates to writing.)

1. Potato chips.  You gotta love a country that is as obsessed with potato chips as France.  Nearly every bar or cafe brings you a little cup of them with your wine or Orangina (my new obsession).   It's offering a little something extra–a habit we writers would be wise to emulate, don't you think?  Take the time to go deeper, to go back and rewrite that scene you've never quite been able to get right.  Take the time to give a little extra in your writing and your life.

2. Fantastic wines from the Languedoc Roussillon region.   Oh man, we loved the wines from the area we stayed in.  (It was the south of France, but very close to Spain.  Big Catalan influence with many signs in both languages.)  What can I say?  Setting is important. Bring yours to life with details from the location you're setting your story in.

3.  Water follows a natural course.  In Ceret, the sides of the narrow, cobblestones streets have gulleys in which water flows all day and night.  (See photo above.) The sound of running water and church bells chiming the hour (starting at 7 AM–no sleeping late there) are a constant backdrop.  Hopefully, your writing flows, too.  It does when you just let it, go I've learned.  And it doesn't when you force it.

4.  You will get jet lag.  And that's a fact.  The best way I found to cope  was to go with it.   The first few nights in France, I awoke every night and stayed awake
for a few hours, but I was so excited to be in Paris (and have a 360
degree view of the city, including the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur)
that I just got up and admired the vista.  You will get writer's block at some point, too.  My advice?  Quit resisting and go with it.  Take a break.  Refresh yourself.  You'll get back to the work, trust me.

5.  French women do have more style.  They just do.  And I think its because they make an effort to put their best selves forward in every situation.  Even if they are running to the corner boulangerie, they pay attention to what they're wearing.  Do me a favor, would you?  Check over your manuscript one more time before you send it out to anyone.  Make sure its formatted correctly (double spaced, please) and that there are no typos. I've seen a lot of manuscripts lately wherein the writer seems to have forgotten this crucial step.  Put your best self forward.

6.  If you don't speak the language, try anyway.  My high school French is rusty, very, very rusty.  But a smile and a sincere effort to communicate always did wonders.  Funny, because this was one of the things I worried about most but I always muddled through.  So maybe its time for you to try writing that personal essay you've been mulling?  Perhaps you really do have a novel in you? (And by the way, if you decide you want to learn a language, there's a fabulous free website called Duolingo that can help you.)

7.  In Ceret, there's a boulangerie on every block.  (Kinda like there's a coffeeshop on every corner here in Portland.)  Every morning, I'd take a walk and swear I would not return home with chocolate croissants.  I'll leave it to your imagination to decide how successful I was.  But this baked goods abundance made me think about ideas, and how we live in a rich stew of them.  An idea on every corner!  And many more in between.  We just have to become aware.

8.  Tourist areas are fun–but many other areas offer delights as well.  I traveled through Paris on my way to and from Ceret.  My first couple of nights in the city, I stayed in the home of a wonderful woman named Diane (this was where I had the amazing view of Paris).  I rented this place through AirBandB.com.  On my way back, I stayed in a fancy hotel on the Champs Elysses (thanks, Marlene).  Two very different experiences.  Is there a different area of your creativity you'd like to explore?  Painting?  Line dancing?  Fiber arts?  Head off the beaten path and see what you create.

9.  A community of writers is crucial in so many ways.  Our hardy band of retreaters read and commented on each other's work every morning as part of our workshops.   Not only did they enjoy the support and trust that sprang up, but they spurred each other on to new heights in their writing.  No kidding.  You wouldn't believe some of the amazing work that got put on the page! Find your community, whether it's a physical or in cyberspace.  (And I have one word for anyone interested in going on retreat with us next year: Italy.)

10.  All roads lead to Perpignan We took the bullet train (that baby really is fast) from Paris to Perpignan, which is a bit of a hub.  It's where Salvador Dali reputedly had a psychedelic experience that led him to declare that Perpignan was the center of the universe.  This may well be true.  As we were out and about on the countryside, we discovered that no matter which direction we traveled, there would be a sign saying we were on the road to Perpignan.   For me, this is true of writing as well.  All roads lead back to my writing.  All experiences, everything that happens, are reflected in my writing one way or another.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

What about you?  Does travel, foreign or domestic, inspire you?  What exotic locale would you most like to visit?

***The above photo was taken by moi.  I had planned to add a bunch more images to this post, but major wonkiness is going on with Typepad and photos.  I took tons of pictures, some blurry, some crooked, some actually halfway good, and you can see them all on my Instagram stream.

 

Jet Lag

I have returned.

EiffellTower

France was wonderful.  Paris has only gotten better in the years since I've been there, and Ceret, the small town in the south of France where I spent a week leading a writing retreat, charming.  I had full intentions to blog regularly during my trip.   Obviously, that didn't happen.  To my credit, I did try, but discovered that with an Ipad, one can only use Typepad, my blog host, on an app.  Which I did download.  But then it seemed easier to walk to town and enjoy an afternoon glass of vin rouge than figure out how to use it.  So I didn't.  (But, between teaching and drinking, I did manage to write quite a bit on my own projects, so that, at least, is something.)

In the meantime, after the 12-hour flight (10 from Paris to Salt Lake City, and 2 from SLC to Portland) home on Sunday, I've been a bit wigged out, trying to straighten out a weird sleeping pattern, and catch up with a million things that happened while I was gone.  So my grand plans for blogging have gone astray.

However, I am working on a round-up post (that will also go out with my newsletter) for Thursday, and I'll have a book review posting on that date as well.  So please stay tuned, and know that I missed you.  By the way, the writing retreat/workshop was fantastic!  All of our participants turned out a high level of writing and seemed well satisfied with the week's work.  Next September we're going to Italy–so start making plans to join us now!

Until then, you can view my photo stream, with tons of pictures of Paris and Ceret, on Instagram. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos from Wikimedia Commons.

 

Its Pretty Amazing: This Vision Board Stuff Works

So, you might be a bit like me (or a lot like me, since you are reading this blog). GotoImage

You might be like me in thinking that this vision board stuff is all well and good when it comes to applying it to a book that you're writing.  Because, book writing is a very visual thing, right?  And so finding pictures of your characters and settings is a great idea because it will help to visualize things for the writing.  And yeah, maybe you can see how having a visual reference could help you to not get stalled or, God forbid, blocked on your project.

But, vision boards for your life?

Um, maybe.  Except they take a lot of time.  I mean, you've got to leaf through magazines or do searches on Google and find just the right image.  And, honestly, who knows exactly what they want in life anyway?  So why bother?

I'll tell you why bother: because this shit works.  Excuse me for being profane.  But this shit works.  Let me tell you my little story.

This spring I took a class at church called the 4Ts Prosperity Program.  The 4 Ts class, created by the late Stretton Smith, is a spiritual approach to prosperity based on the 12-Step program.  Stretton encourages class members to set intentions for what they want in life and also make a vision board.  And so, I began the process.

And it took flippin' forever.  First I took an hour or so one Saturday afternoon to find images for what I wanted.  And then the pile of images sat on my desk for a few weeks, until I felt guilty enough had time to work on the vision board again.  And then when I started sorting through the images I realized I had way too many for one board.  So I ended up with three, count 'em, three vision boards: one for my spiritual goals, one for my temporal goals (if that's the correct usage of the word) and one for my travel goals.

Because, I love to travel.  And there are places I really, really want to go.  Like Hawaii, which takes up one-quarter of my travel vision board, and Africa, which takes up three-quarters of it.  I have wanted to go for Africa for years.  If you gave me one place I could choose to go above all else, it would be Africa.  And Hawaii would be second.

This travel vision board sits above my desk, with the board with the other worldly goals to its right side.  And when I'm gazing off into space (an important component of writing) my gaze often lands on the images of Africa and Hawaii.  And besides that, every morning I'd read my list of intentions, all 90 of them, with trips to Africa and Hawaii duly noted.

So, guess what happened?

First of all, the women at my church designed them a retreat next April on Maui, for an unbelievably cheap price which can be paid in payments.  So I signed up.  Kind of a miracle, no?  And then the real miracle happened.

A trip to Africa to write a book materialized.  For this November.  It is not final yet, we are working on the details, but it is looking pretty certain that it will happen.  I've been in a daze for days.  And when it does happen, I'll be blogging every night in this very space.  I'm so excited I could just pop.

So think good thoughts about the trip for me, would you?  And check out the website of the wonderful folks who are organizing the tour here.  You might even want to donate money to their cause, because they are building wells to provide fresh water in Ghana, some of which we'll be visiting and I'll be writing about.

Like I said, its still not all final yet.  But I've got great hope that it will happen.  So please hope and pray with me. 

* Photo by Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain

***Because this shit works, imagine what it can do for your book!  If you haven't yet, sign up for my list and download my free Ebook on  Jump Starting Your Book With A Vision Board.  The form is to the right of this very post.