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.

Off I Go Again

I'm heading to LA tomorrow.  Coconuts_trees_tree_221641_l

Yep.  Swimming pools.  Movie stars.  Just like the Clampetts. 

Except I'll be working the entire time, attending a two-day business intensive that is part of the Suzanne Evans 10K Coaching Club.  Together with 98 other women, I'll be designing a plan for the next stage of my business.

Frankly, I'm terrified.  And excited, too.

Some days I just want to be a writer.  I am a writer, it is the basis of all that I do, every single thing.  But sometimes I want to go back to the days when that was all you had to do.  Before you needed to do nearly all the marketing for your career yourself. Before social media and coaching and blogs and websites.

Some days all I want to do is write novels.

And instead, I'm designing classes and products and writing newsletters and blog posts.  I'm coaching clients and critiquing student work and attending networking groups.

Truth be told, I love everything that I do.  I love all the extra stuff almost as much as I love writing, and I know that if I decided some day to stop it all and just write, I'd miss it.  (And of course, that day will never come, because the world has changed now.)

But still, some days I just want to write.  And that is good.  Because it is what drives everything.

A couple notes:

Patrick Ross has requested that I write a post on ghostwriting.  Meant to get to it today, but I ran out of time to do it justice, so expect this brilliant expose next week.

I'm taking registrations now for the Book Proposals That Succeed Teleclass.  It is going to be rockin' so don't miss out.  Check out the page here.

On The Road Again

I'm heading out again first thing tomorrow morning.  It is unusual for me to book trips so close together (I got back from Nashville less than a week ago), but it is just the way it worked out this time.

Tomorrow's destination is Diamond, Oregon, way over in the southeastern section of the state, a near-eight hour drive from Portland.  I first visited this area last fall, which you can read about here, complete with photos of cows.

This time I'm going with two writer friends and we're staying at the hotel. Hoping to get writing and hiking in, as well as planning for a retreat one of the writers and I want to host (perhaps at the Diamond Hotel). 

Here's the catch:  I'm pretty sure there's no internet at the hotel, so I won't be posting this week.  I'm sure it will be good for me not to have internet access, but still, the thought is a bit unnerving. I'll report how I do when I return on Thursday evening.

In the meantime, go check out the blog of Roz Savage, ocean rower.  She's amazing, and she's just set off on another leg of her journey to row around the world.  I love reading her daily blog posts about her adventure.

Can you even imagine doing such a thing?  I can't, but I love that there are brave people in the world who do.

How do you handle not having internet access?

Separation Anxiety

I'm leaving for Nashville tomorrow, and I don't want to go. Holiday-travels-airport-1199-l

I do really, because I'm the "book doctor" at Room to Write and there are going to be a dozen fabulous writers there.  And I'm going to see lots of friends.  Stay on the beautiful Scarritt Bennett campus and then with my friend Candace.  Get a lot of writing done.

But at the moment, everything is going wrong and I don't want to go.

When I leave Nashville for Portland next week, I won't want to leave Nashville.

I've gotten used to this push and pull of emotion before I leave for a trip.  It always happens.  I think of all the reasons I shouldn't go and long just to be at home.  Which is really just a silly illusion because I adore going to Nashville for all the above reasons.

So, its separation anxiety.  And the only thing there is to do about it is live through it.

Like so many things in life.  And writing, come to think of it.  Rejection comes to mind.

What do you get anxious over, either in writing or in life?


The Brain Dump

I'm just back from a road trip that knocked my socks off. 

I drove, with two friends, to a remote ranch in southeastern Oregon, near Steens Mountain.  (The above photo was taken on the gravel road up to the summit if said mountain.  The Aspens were peaking and unbelievably gorgeous.)  This part of Oregon is very different from the west side, which is lush and green.  Instead, we were in high desert country, basin and range, where wild mustangs still roam and we saw at least 30 different kinds of birds, including a great horned owl, whooping cranes, a bald eagle, grebes, and mountain bluebirds.

Seeing as how we were on a ranch, there were also cows:

Excuse the sideways image, I don't know why it is loading that way.  At any rate, this is the cattle looking in the front door of the ranch house.  Crane your neck to the left and note the gate in the background, which, being city girls, it didn't occur to us to close.  So we had a lot of fun herding the cattle out from the backyard and back into the front pasture.  They went every which way, over the fence, leaving fur behind, and under it, breaking down a couple rails along the way.  One even went under barbed wire.

We climbed to the top of the afore-mentioned Steens Mountain:

From where I'm pretty sure you can see Idaho and Nevada in the distance, hundreds of miles away.  It was colder than a witch's you-know-what up there, and windy as hell.  But spectacular.  Oh, and all these years as an Oregonian, I thought it was Steens Mountains, plural, as in a mountain range.  But it is one very long mountain, a fault-block mountain which makes it so.

The idea was to write:

Which I did a wee bit of.  But mostly I was too busy inhaling the grand vistas, spotting birds, looking for wild mustangs, and meeting fabulously interesting people during dinner at the Hotel Diamond, which has been in operation since 1898.  Considering that its in a town with a population of 5 at the end of a road, its amazing and wonderful to me that the place is pretty much always booked up. 

By the way, the writer Ursula Le Guin stays at the same ranch house we did every year with her husband, and is so inspired about the place she just wrote a book about it, which you can buy here.  And, in another by the way, a friend and I are planning a writing retreat for next year that we've been scouting locations for–and this might just be the place.  So stay tuned for more details about that.

When I did have a small amount of time and sat down in the grass by Benson Pond to scribble away, I intended to work on something I've wanted to get done for a long time–a new freebie to entice people to sign up for my newsletter.  Its going to be a really good one, and I'm excited about working on it.  But I found I couldn't.  Why?  Because I had too much new stuff in my mind to focus.  That day by the pond I wrote about what I had seen.  And even since I've been home, I've still been writing and processing. 

I've been engaging in a brain dump, getting every new experience and vista out of my head an onto the page, clearing the way to go back to my other work.  And now, after journaling and blogging about it, I'm starting to feel clear enough to write the freebie.  So sometimes it is important just to allow yourself to do a brain dump.

What about you? How do you process new experiences?

Stranded, or Withholding Judgment


Currently, I am temporarily residing in the lovely and fast-growing city of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, home of Middle Tennessee State University, which is the home of the writing program I co-direct, the Writer's Loft.  (Our fall workshops and orientation are next week and there are still a few spots left. You can come on Friday for the low cost of $50, and there will be workshops with Whitney Ferre and Kathy Rhodes. Check out the website for more info.)


I left Portland on Tuesday, expecting to arrive here that night.  Instead, I arrived on Wednesday night, after an unexpected stranding in Houston.  There was a hurricane, they said.  So they had to cancel flights. The weather looked like a lot of hot, steamy rain to me but what do I know?  I got the last room at the airport Marriott and barely slept all night, worried about my flights the next day, even though the bed was soft and bedbug-free (I checked) and the pillows plump and numerous.


Next morning, bright and early, I landed on a flight to Newark.  From there, I'd catch my connection to Nashville.  Never mind that it makes absolutely no sense to fly all the way across the country from one coast to the other and then double back again.  But, this turned out to be the best part of my adventure, even though I thought that hanging out in the airport bar with a bunch of stranded travelers would be.  (Can I just say that Mad Men are alive and well in this millennium?  In the time I drank two glasses of wine, the businessmen sitting beside me at the bar downed three mixed drinks and three glasses of wine.  Gee-zus.) Because upon hearing that I was a writer, the friendly flight attendant invited me to join him in the back of the plane.  I sat on the jump seat as he regaled me with ideas for screenplays, jokes, and classic lines of dialogue from movies.  This made up for the fact that there were no blankets and it was freezing (said friendly flight attendant made the pilots turn up the heat) and that an Angry Bald Guy who punched the overhead compartment in his fury was sitting next to me.

My point to this story? Well, as the title hints, it is that we often shut ourselves down to interesting adventures and experiences because we're so worried and judgmental.  Upon hearing that my flight had been cancelled, my first thoughts were dread and fear.  Where would I stay?  What if there weren't any rooms?  What if I really couldn't make it to Nashville until Thursday, as they initially told me?  How would I cope without my suitcase?  I was already pre-judging my experience before I'd even started to experience it.  So I made a conscious effort to let all that go, and just hang in there and go with the flow.  And it worked out great.  I hung out in the bar, met an interesting fellow writer, saw the Manhattan skyline from the Newark airport, and made it to Nashville in only minorly stinky clothes.  In short, I had an adventure.  And I loved every minute of it.

And now here I am in Murfreesboro.   And I'm determined to celebrate and enjoy whatever comes my way, good or bad, without pre-judging.  After all, life's an adventure.

What do you pre-judge?  Um, your writing, perhaps?  I do that, too.  But that's a post for another day.

Photo credits: airplane by Richard_B, courtesy of MorgueFile, Marriott Houston from TripAdvisor, screaming man, Brbankston from Everystockphoto, downtown Murfreesboro from Pollinator, via Wikipedia.

Friday Review: Female Nomad and Friends

Female Nomad and Friends:

Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World

by Rita Golden Gelman

I leaped at the chance to review this book because I was familiar with Gelman's first book, Tales of a Female Nomad and was happy to hear she'd written another one.  To understand the premise of the second book, you need to know a little about the first book (though you certainly don't have to read the first to appreciate the second).

At the age of 48, on the verge of a divorce, Gelman, who at the time led quite the privileged Hollywood-style life, decided to chuck it all and begin traveling.  Now, she lives all over the world, carrying what she needs with her, living serendipitously.  As she puts it, "In 1987 I opened my life to otherness; it became addictive.  I still have no fixed address and hardly any possessions."

And how does she manage to finance this lifestyle?  Through writing children's books.  Her first adult book, which detailed her adventures, also did well.  Well enough that readers clamored for more.  But Gelman didn't really want to write another book, she was too busy having fun.  Part of that fun included trying new and different things and she wanted no part of writing a sequel.  Still, readers clamored.

And thus Female Nomad and Friends was born.  Gelman hit on the idea of using the many stories that readers, inspired by her adventures, had emailed her.  Plus she decided to add recipes. So the resulting anthology has 41 stories and 32 recipes, all of an international bent.  Perhaps the best part of it all is that evey single penny of the proceeds from this book goes to Gelman's current pet project, which is funding vocational educations for high school graduates from the slums of New Delhi. 

For that reason alone you should buy this book.  But you'll also want to buy it for the stories and the recipes.  Its the kind of book that you can have on your bedside table and read one a night, in order if you are that type of person.  Or you can do what I did, which is to pick it up, close my eyes, and choose a story at random until I had read them all.  It is much more fun that way.

Here's a sampler of the stories you'll find in the book:

Breakfast in Malaca, by Wendy Lewis, about a delicious–and surprising–meal in Malaysia.

Chapati Love Remembered, by Jean Allen, probably my favorite story in the whole book, about making chaptis–and love.

Thanksgiving: A Different Perspective, by Ana Maria Bradley, in which a foreign exchange student comes to appreciate an American holiday.

And here's a taste of some of the recipes:

Latvian Piragi

Ginger-Cumin Roasted Chicken (I'm trying this one for sure)

Charred Sugar-Crusted Salmon

Vietnamese Soft Spring Rolls

Mousse au Chocolat Truffee

And many more…

Reading Gelman's story, and the many stories in the anthology, has made me ponder if I could do the same as her–live without a home base anywhere.  Now, I love to travel and actually wish I could do more of it.  But somehow I don't think I could live without a permanent address.  I love Gelman's lifestyle and appreciate that for her, it is all about being open to the other and making connections throughout the world.  But I want my own little house to come home to after I've been away–my pets, my art, my funny little things.

What about everyone else?  Could you travel the world without a permanent home?

While you ponder the answer to that question, here's a bit more information about Gelman and the book:

Rita Golden Gelman is the author of Tales of a Female Nomad and more than seventy children’s books, including More Spaghetti, I Say!, a staple in every first grade classroom. As a nomad, Rita has no permanent address.  She is currently involved in an initiative called Let’s Get Global, a project of US Servas, Inc, a national movement deigned to bring the gap year to the United States. Learn more at:

We invite you to join us on the Female Nomad and Friends virtual tour. The full schedule can be seen at You can learn much more about Rita Golden Gelman and her work on her website –

Traveling Down A Different Road

We went to the beach for a night this past weekend.

But it was to a different cabin in a different town than we've ever stayed at before.  We traveled down a different highway, went to different beaches, ate at different restaurants, saw different things.  All of this was quite by accident, but it was also quite wonderful.

And man oh man, did it get my creative juices flowing.

I'm lucky to live in Portland, Oregon which is about an hour from the coast.  This is a good thing, yes, but it also tends to make me complacent.  I live so very close to the Pacific, and yet I can go months or longer without visiting–when it is a quick hour drive away.  Last week I started jonesing for the ocean.  Big time.  I wanted just to see it, to hear seagulls, to smell the sea air.  I wanted to feel the sand beneath my feet.  Needed the sensory experience of the sea.  

And yet, the upcoming weekend was Memorial Day.  We could only go one night because of obligations on Friday and Saturday night (the Eagles concert!).  What were the odds of getting a reservation for one night?  None, even in this recessionary time.  Enter my new son-in-law, who offered up the use of his family's cabin in one of the small fishing towns that dot Tillamook Bay.

And thus beginneth the different trip to the beach.  A drive down the Wilson River Highway through lush, green, rainy woods where woodsmoke and mist hung low to the ground and the river burbled along next to the highway.  The cabin on the hillside above the bay with a tiny view of it obscured the whole time by mist. A visit to Oceanside, where long ago a local family blasted a tunnel through the cliff to get to the beach on the other side.  I kid you not.  See the photo of the bunker-like entry below.  It was dark and moist and, well, creepy inside, but also irresistible. 

Oceanside2 And there was Netarts, home to Lex's Cool Stuff, the best second hand-store on the Oregon Coast, and a visit to the Cape Meares Lighthouse and then back to Tillamook to eat at a scrumptious Mexican restaurant which featured the best Margaritas this side of Texas and my friend George's blender.

The funny side note to all of this was that the weekend before, I was in Manhattan, as far as you can get on the eastern side of this continent.  And a mere week later, I was as far as you can go on the western side.  Ah, modern life.

But here's the best part:  I kept pulling my journal
CapeMearesLighthouse out and scribbling madly.  I wrote a bit about what I was seeing, but mostly I wrote other stuff.  Ideas for stories.  Ideas for blog posts and newsletter articles.  Ideas for the novel I'm sort of working on.  Ideas for life in general. Something about experiencing the new that just jogs the ideas out of the brain.  Maybe the new sensory input literally pushes out the old to make room it. 

So my new rule in life is do something new every day.  Drive a different way home from the grocery store, skip around the block, wear your hair in a crazy style, write something completely different.  I dunno, what do you think? Give me some new ideas for newness in the comments, if you please.  And, um, be nice.

The Adorable Purple Sandals

AdorablepurplesandalsYesterday I wrote a brief post about my trip to New York and how I bought an adorable pair of purple sandals.  Yet I failed to offer up a photo of said adorable purple sandals.  So, for those of you interested, check them out in the photo to the right. 

Cute, huh?  And surprisingly comfortable, too.  I wore them for hours on Saturday afternoon as we walked through Chinatown and all the wonderful shops of Canal Street, full of scarves and knock-off purses and cheap jewelry.  Heaven!  When we were children, our family drove to San Francisco every summer to visit relatives and there our favorite thing to do was visit Chinatown.  We'd come home laden with rice candy and woven thingies you stick your fingers in and dolls and little purses.  So it is no wonder that both my sister and I love the ticky tacky stores of Canal Street in Manhattan.

We also went into probably every shoe store in New York and studied what shoes women wore on the streets.  I am now ready to report what the latest in shoe fashion is: flats.  Zebra flats, beaded flats, red patent leather flats, plain black flats.  Except for the two skanky young women we saw one night, nobody is wearing heels.  You heard it here first.

The shoes and Canal Street were only a portion of the overall trip.  We met an interesting man from Nottingham, England, who owned a huge, thriving bakery, a woman from Portland who has already become a new friend, and a man from Virginia who told us where to buy beads in Hong Kong.  We saw museums and my Beloved Niece's dance classes and performances and visited friends and ate and drank and walked.  And walked.  And walked some more.

And I came home with my head swimming, full of images of Manhattan that go beyond shoes.

This is a good thing, because when my head is swimming it is alive and making new connections and carving new furrows or whatever that brain circuitry is called.  I'm coming up with new ideas for blog posts and articles and info products and books and stories.  Sometimes when you travel you get shoved out of your comfort zone.  Walking much farther than you normally would on feet that are sore, for instance.  Or staying in a hotel where the bathroom is down the hall.  And then you find out that you will not only survive such things, you'll enjoy them.  And suddenly you have a different view of the world.

Which is a wonderful thing for writers.  Or any kind of creative person in the world.  And aren't we all creative?

Anybody have a good travel story to share?  Or even some news about shoes?