We like to travel to new places and see new things. We feel that travel enriches our personal lives and our lives as writers.
Many writers travel to research settings for their current writing projects. Immersion in the location you’re writing about is a long-celebrated strategy for creating an authentic setting. But traveling, even when it’s unrelated to your current project, can benefit your writing, too!
Mid-February ’17, both of us ventured to different places for different purposes. Whitney traveled to Atlanta for a mini vacation while her husband attended a conference, and Julie traveled to San Francisco to attend a writers conference. Even though we were on opposite sides of the United States, both of us used our travels as opportunities to write and be inspired by our surroundings.
Here are 10 ways you can do the same. Get the most out of your next trip or vacation!
Set one writing goal.
While you don’t want to spend your entire trip trying to complete several intense writing goals, it’s definitely realistic to set one writing goal that you can accomplish before you head home. Just be sure to keep your goal small and specific.
For example, Whitney’s travel writing goal was to revise a conversation between two major characters in her novel. Julie’s goal was to perfect her novel pitch, one of the most difficult challenges writers face. After writing, rewriting, and practicing her pitch, like, a bazillion times, Julie now has thirty seconds’ worth of compelling description to use when meeting agents and drafting query letters.
See the literary sights.
Before she travels, Whitney Googles “Literary stuff near ______” and works whatever she finds into her travel plans. She’s a tad bit obsessed with seeing the literary sights. It’s not just because she’s a lover of literature, however.
Being a literary tourist can offer insight into the lives, habits, and values of other successful authors. Years ago, when Whitney visited Jane Austen’s house, she saw (…touched, actually. Shhhh. Don’t tell…) the tiny writing table Austen worked at each morning.
During her Atlanta trip, Whitney visited the Margaret Mitchell House and found out that Mitchell hid the unpublished pages of Gone With the Wind in stacks behind furniture. At Piedmont Park, she saw where Booker T. Washington gave his Atlanta Exposition Address (the “cast down your bucket” speech).
Visiting sites like these help us feel a greater connection to the literary traditions we admire and hope to join.
Find a coffee shop (duh).
Lets be honest, you’re going to do this anyway, right? Every writer ought to have a relationship with some sort of beverage. We recommend coffee or tea. We also think you should seriously consider engaging in a love affair with pastries. There’s nothing like refreshments to get those ideas out of your head and onto the page!
Is your time limited? Plan to stay in the coffee shop for only the length of time it takes you to finish your coffee. Set a coffee-timed writing goal and when that last sip is toast, get going again!
Go to a museum.
Why not surround yourself with the artifacts of the past? At the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Whitney saw brilliant sixteenth-century oil paintings next to traditional German American folk chests. This artistic contrast creates new connections and questions. Who is that woman in the painting? Why does she look so haughty? Who owned that chest? What happened to them? And it doesn’t have to be a big fancy museum, either.
What about the local history museum in a small town? Whitney knows for a fact that an Arkansas museum has some incredible examples of a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit!
Keep your eyes open to discovering nifty gems.
If you don’t have time to visit a museum, you can often spot fabulous outdoor art and sculptures as you move through a city.
Art in Public Places, especially the humongous abstract variety, happens to be one of Julie’s favorite things. She was ecstatic to have spotted this gem right along the S.F. Bay and loved walking along its textures and peering into its twists and turns. Public structures like this are great reminders that a novel’s plot must have textures, twists, and turns, too!
If only a kitten had popped out of one of the tunnels. Then, Julie’s trip would have been complete.
Talk to locals.
Talking to the people who live, work, and thrive in the city you’re visiting is a great way to hear more stories. And as storytellers ourselves, we have to be armed with a variety of stories at all times.
When Whitney was in London a few years ago, a Londoner struck up a conversation with her while she was having lunch at a pub. Not only did she find out that this guy was a big-time landscape designer in Africa (idea for a character’s job in a future novel, right there!), but he also pointed her in the direction of a London side alley in Covent Garden that housed African art museums.
The art work was glorious and the street performers in Covent Garden were spectacular. Memories of laughing children on a London street and visions of the shadowy, quiet galleries full of gorgeous art are just waiting for Whitney to use in her fiction at the right time.
Find a bar with great atmosphere.
We’re not advocating for the probably misattributed Hemingway quote “write drunk, edit sober,” but there’s no denying that a great bar or pub can be a writer’s friend. In fact, one of the most obvious ways to mingle with locals and find out cool stories about the town you’ve traveled to is to visit a bar. Of course, you can also enjoy a glass or pint of your favorite poison while you’re there, if you wanna!
What’s even better than a great bar? Finding out that the baristas have a way with words! Julie discovered that S.F. Bay Area baristas can teach writers a thing or two about the use of wit to engage a target market.
See something historical.
Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley tells us, ‘History is a cyclic poem written by Time upon the memories of man.’ Through our travels, we can become more aware of our place in this cyclic poem and perhaps contribute a few lines ourselves.
While hustling through San Francisco, Julie enjoyed a brief evening stroll through Chinatown, a distinct cultural enclave in the heart of the city, where she found festive street decorations and majestic architecture. Areas like this are wonderful for sprucing up one’s knowledge about how America came to be. Just a tiny bit of Googling revealed Chinatown to be the subject of interesting books, like San Francisco Chinatown, written by the neighborhood’s own Philip K. Choy, inspiring Julie to read up on the important history of this community.
Walk, walk, and walk some more.
As we’ve talked about previously on From Nothing To Novel, exercise revives your brain and gets creative juices flowing. Plus, when you walk, you can better see the details of a new place, including street names, shops and their customers, local fashion trends, and other rich material for your current novel!
Hopefully, you’ll enjoy nicer weather than Julie experienced as she braved several days of rain in S.F., still making it up those monster hills.
Bring back souvenirs.
What better souvenirs for writers than books from local shops or knick-knacks that make your home a more restful and inspiring place to write? Select an small item that brings you joy and reminds you of everything you learned on your trip. For example, Whitney brought home a magnet from the High Museum of Art to add to her collection of travel memento magnets. And if you’re a space-conscious minimalist like Julie, make sure your souvenir is both meaningful and streamlined, like these fliers, mags, contacts, and other writer swag she plans to scan to a .pdf and, of course, recycle later.
Where are you off to next? And how will you make the most of your trip? Tell us in the comments below!