The notion of writing while traveling is a beautiful thing.
Picture it: You’re writing your novel. But, instead of toiling away at your cluttered writing desk as usual, you’re on a beach on Maui, ocean breezes wafting over you as you ponder your draft over a piña colada.
But, in reality, writing while traveling isn’t always as lovely. While a new adventure can be an excellent way to stimulate your writing mind and enrich your writing life, finding time to focus amid lost luggage, jet lag and must-see sights can be frustrating. Consider these tips below, from someone who’s been there.
3 ways to let your travels help your writing:
1. Embrace disaster.
Sure, we’d love every vacation to be picturesque and unfold seamlessly. Yet, as much as I plan (and trust me, I am a planner), disasters will happen. The skies will open up and storm. Someone will forget a ticket. Your large intestine will betray you in a nightclub. Or, your flight home will be cancelled, forcing you to wait with a group of strangers in an airport for hours.
Unavoidable conflicts are great for fiction writers in particular; traveling is a perfect reminder of how sometimes, things just go wrong. Just as fiction authors can’t make life easy for their main characters in order for a compelling, story worthy journey, traveling is a chaos magnet that can forge great stories.
Try this: Embrace the little hiccups that come your way. How did you emerge from the experience? What did you discover about yourself? You never know — maybe your travel writing will lead to a unique premise for your novel.
2. Listen to your body.
Especially if you’re venturing to a place you’ve never been before, keep a notebook handy for tracking sensations you inevitably detect while your body adjusts to a new environment.
I remember the first time I stepped off a plane in Hawaii. My skin was the first to signal, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” The thick humidity lapping at my skin…the rich scents of tropical flowers coming into my nose…the hot sun assaulting my eyes all forced me to really live in the moment of my experience.
When we’re living our normal lives, it’s easy to miss these sensory details. Traveling, however, invites them in full force.
Try this: While you’re traveling, be sure to remind yourself throughout to simply stop and pay attention. What are you looking at right now? What smells are you picking up? How would you describe the texture of what you’re feeling? Embrace negative sensory details, too; if your feet hurt, jot it down. Hyper-focusing on sensory details while traveling is a fantastic way to enrich your writing and deepen your understanding of Point-of-View, too.
3. Connect with locals.
Many fellow globetrotters I’ve connected with have similarly felt like aliens while traveling. Traveling can make a writer very aware of his or her own national identity. When I studied abroad in the United Kingdom, I was surprised by how many Brits had questions about me, about my life, and about what it is to “be American.” One man who’d lived in Scarborough, England, his whole life inquired, “What does America look like?” It made me examine my own perspective and my environment in new ways.
Being the outsider is also a freeing way to connect with locals. Traveling creates so many fascinating opportunities to learn about other lifestyles, professions, beliefs, family types and experiences. True writers know the value of seeking outside perspectives, asking questions and finding stories other than their own.
Try this: Take chances and reach out to the barista making you a café au lait, a local shopkeeper, or your taxi cab driver. See what their day-to-day life is like. Where do they go on their down time? What’s their favorite thing about their city? It may inspire a new character in your novel, or inspire broader thematic concepts to underscore your story.
Next time you’re on a new adventure, remember this oft-repeated saying: “A tourist is on vacation; a travel writer is on a pursuit.”
How has traveling enriched your writing?
Cristina Schreil is Write to Sell Your Book’s Executive Editor. She is the contributing writer and researcher of two books: Baby Debate, by Diane Polnow and Raise the Child You’ve Got — Not the One You Want, by Nancy Rose. She is also a freelance journalist who has written for XOJane.com, Thought Catalog, PsychologyToday.com, and iVillage.com.