Travel for Writers: 5 Ways

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Yet another list today, but this one a little more on the how-to side; having recently done a bit of travel, I feel it is mandatory to put up a post on the best ways to travel for a writer, from hyperlocal (really really hyperlocal) to global, travel can be just what you need to recharge your creative energy. Rather than continuing to sound like an infomercial, I present you with five ways to travel and their best practices:

Build with your ideas.
1. Traveling within your own mind.
What did I tell you about hyperlocal? This is as local as it gets, using your imagination as a springboard for all the writerly delights you can get. With imaginative travel, you have the benefit of unlimited options - no price comparisons or jetlag involved!
Richard Hugo did it best when he created towns in his mind as a way to create stories: start with one image (the town store) and build upon that until you have the entire town. And then you can go in depth with each image (what's in the town store? who shops there? etc). I like to think of imaginative travel as an experimental playground to create unusual pairings. Confidence and fish, say, or unicorns and politics. Even though these pairs seem fantastical, they can be well-applied to non-fiction writing as well; it's all about making a concept abstract and interesting, then relating it back to the reader.

2. Traveling in your memory.
Autobiographical material can be used infinitely - as a starting point for fiction, I like to take a particular image or detail from my own past and re-work it (using that experimental playground of the mind idea again), so that it creates some distance and can morph into a location/character/event that has a life of its own.
Another way to look at memory travel is to view it as a set of prompts. What are the sounds of a particular place or memory? What are the smells? What feelings in your body? Write them down. These details are often left out when we focus on the visual presence of memory alone, so re-examine them in order to bring them back into your writing.

3. Traveling in your home city/town.
Yay, field work time! Pretend you're a traveler to your own city. What would you go to see or do? Alternatively, where are places that you as a local would never think of going or have never been to? Where you live can sometimes seem dull since you have experienced so many of the sights and sounds of it, but if you take it from an outsider's perspective, you can gain some valuable nuggets of material to be workshopped when you get back to your favorite writing locale.

4. Traveling domestically.
This option sounds more like the conventional idea of travel - getting out and looking around. I suggest at these times to mostly take notes; I myself have taken to writing down at least one thought a day while traveling. Obsessive note-taking might sound like being the photographer at the party - not living, just documenting - but even if you jot down some surreptitious mental notes, you're still getting a good solid set of memories for later. Pay attention to the things that no one else is: smells, moods, etc. Write down verbs that describe the situation, or adjectives that seem fitting. Finally, keep these notes for later, so that you can build on the material.

5. Traveling internationally.
The second most conventional option, I hold fast to the same suggestions as with domestic travel: notes, notes, and more notes. International travel can be overwhelming in itself, often involving a lot of new information, even if it's to a city that you know well. My suggestion: don't focus on the writing right away. Maybe in your small moments, maybe when you can catch your breath, but just focus on working the experiences and taking notes. Your writing will still be there (in your memory, in your mind), and you can work on it at any point afterward. Domestic and international travel are like having Richard Hugo's towns built for you, so your job is then in reverse: taking down and re-creating the small details, so that your writing mimics those situations.

Keep up the good work, all! And check out some more of my writing tips.