Writing Tips for the Traveler

Boun giorno, folks!

If you happen to pay attention to my twitter or instagram, you may have noticed I recently returned to the states from a trip to Italy (ok, not so recently).

The trip was absolutely, totally freakin’ ah-ma-zing. Me and a group of friends from the day job went on one of those whirlwind bus tours that tries to pack in a month’s worth of sightseeing into 7 days. I had a blast and highly recommend the experience to everyone.

As far as writing is concerned though, the trip tossed a wrench into my process. My typical writing schedule flew right out the window and I worried I would get absolutely nothing done.

But do not despair! Through my toils, I learned a thing or two about working on my writing projects while on the road. And since I believe wholeheartedly in sharing my wealth of knowledge—or at least the few cents I’ve acquired—I thought I’d pass what I learned on to you folks.

First off:

IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS

I know how I work. I also knew from past experience there wouldn’t be a whole lot of “free time” on this trip (and when there was I’d probably be exhausted—or drunk…ok, mostly drunk). Because of this, I made a conscious decision to NOT bring my laptop or ipad and to NOT work on drafting or editing.

WTF you ask? Then what the hell did I do?

A shit ton, folks. I chose to work on “the little things”, things that are more free-flowing for me. For example, I worked on outlining my next novel and completed some character sketches. I made notes for scenes I know need some work in the current novel I’m editing. These are all small things I worked on in short bursts that added up to a whole lot later. This allowed me to come home and jump right back in the saddle.

It is important to note that I made this decision because I know how I work, I have a pretty good understanding of my own process (at least at this stage seeing as shit changes). When drafting and editing, I like to have solid chunks of time to work with. So rather than strive for near impossible goals, I focused on things I could actually accomplish. I used my time wisely.

Which leads us to:

TIMELY MANNERS

A standard bit of writerly advice is to make time for your writing, set a chunk aside and guard it with a flaming sword, with a battalion
 of soul-sucking demons ready to be loosed upon whichever fool dare disturb your holy hour/s.

When traveling, especially when partaking in a tour that leaves scant amount of free time, having a scheduled chunk of writing time is difficult—nay, impossible.

So what does that leave us poor wee writers to do?

Again, use your time wisely.

For me, this meant taking advantage of the often hours long bus rides across Italy. Sure, the countryside is beautiful to behold, but sometimes the damned sun was scorching a hole in the window and melting my face off. During these times, I would close the handy dandy curtain provided by the generous touring company, get all comfy (yay for slightly
reclineable bus seats) and pull out my equally handy dandy notebook. I would work on the things mentioned above (outlining, character sketches, notes for my editing, etc).

Depending on your process and how you work, you could find other meaningful ways to fill this time. Maybe you can work on drafting or editing for small chunks of time. Then do it. Or maybe you were a genius and printed out a copy of your manuscript (or part of it) prior to flying off to a foreign country. Maybe you could be reading your own story and making notes as you travel the countryside. Maybe I could learn a thing or two from you.

JOURNAL THAT SHIT

Make an effort to journal each day, just a quick entry about the days events, crap that inspires you, etc. This is a great way to write in some fashion and also helps you capture your journey.

Now, do whatever the hell you want, but I chose to journal as a writing exercise. I wrote about the day’s events, focusing on keeping it clear and succinct, choosing the right language. Basically, I treated my journal entries like scenes in a manuscript. I described the various settings as though they were in my novel. I tried to capture how I felt during specific times of the trip (like when tracing my fingers over the walls of the fucking Colosseum for god’s sake—shit sent shivers down me spine). Capture the tactile sensations, the smells, the sights, the tastes just as you would when writing your novel and trying to draw your reader in to the character’s experience.

In Verona, I sat in a small park with a fountain across from an ancient Roman arena. I scribbled a few lines in my journal trying to capture the mood and atmosphere, just like I would if writing a piece of fiction.

Here’s my horrible attempt:

The sun warms my face and I breathe deeply, relishing the crisp scent of flowers and fresh baked dough wafting out of the shops across the street from the park. A mist from the stone fountain in the center of the lawn tickles my skin. A pair of ducks frolic and splash in the water at the fountain’s base. Pigeons cry as they dart across the lawn, catching thrown bits of bread. I lean back against the slats of the wooden bench and marvel at the arena rising above the treetops in front of me. The sun strikes the weathered stones, turning them shades of amber.

(Ok, this is really sappy and aims toward purple prose, but what can I say? You go to Italy and see how romantic you get about some damn ducks frolicking in a fountain.)

Want to take it a step further? Write the journal through the eyes of a specific character, or series of characters. This can be an amazing exercise to help filter experiences through the lens of a character.

The writerly mind (which is so a thing) is like any other muscle: if you don’t use it, it wastes away, and this is the perfect way to give it some use.

Speaking of which, idea numero tres:

BUILD YOUR MUSCLES

Obviously I’m referring to your creative muscles (and if you still don’t believe me, one look at my flabby arms can assure you I have no interest in building actual muscle).

Aside from the journaling hack I mentioned above, there are numerous ways you can work your creative muscles. One of my favorites is to simply people watch.

Picture it: Venice, St. Mark’s square, a small cafe with live violinist, a glass of wine (the most important part), relaxing in the spring air, enjoying said glass of wine (and the second and third—fine, the whole carafe and-don’t-you-fucking-judge-me) and watching people mill about the square. Children chasing pigeons. A plethora of foreign languages being spoken.

Pick a person, a family, and make up their life story. 

Now, this is not a happy family. Fuck that. There’s no room for happy. Give them conflict, a shit-ton (take another sip of wine if that helps). The father looks angry. Why? Maybe he saw the secret postcard the wife sent the pool boy from Vatican City. Bam. Story.

See how it works? (Cliche ass example I know, but you get the point).

If you’re doing a walking tour or just strolling at a leisurely pace through a historic landmark, read the signs or listen to your guide, soak in the history. Imagine what it was like to live in that period. Place a character from a current novel, or a brand new character, into that time and let your imagination go wild.

In short: be inspired!

The last tid-bit of wisdom I am going to leave you with is perhaps the most important:

HAVE A GOOD FUCKING TIME

One of the best parts of travelling is being able to immerse yourself in a new culture, a new environment. Pay attention to the setting you find yourself in, allow yourself to be swept away by it. My travel to Italy was (most likely) a once in a lifetime opportunity. Take advantage of such opportunities.

Allow your experiences to be fodder for your creativity.

-Ann

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