I'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?