I travel to the south of France every September, for two weeks of teaching writing and a “fun” week in between, plus time in Paris when the workshops are over, and an occasional visit to Barcelona.
However, I am a firm believer that even the “fun” week contributes greatly to my writing career. Yeah, it might have looked like I was lolling about in the south of France, eating tapas in Barcelona, or wandering the back streets of Montparnasse, but it was all in service to my writing. Riigght, you are saying, very slowly. So let me count the ways, and convince you.
1. Travel inspires me. Duh. This is the obvious reason most people travel. Immersing oneself in different locales and cultures shows us new things, fires new neurons, inspires new ideas. And, of course, ideas are good. They are our life blood. A writer can never have too many ideas. Ever.
2. I’m different when I travel. I don’t know anyone, other than the people I’m traveling with, so all bets are off. I can drink all night, swing from the rafters act anyway I want — talk to people I meet on the street, stop and stretch in the middle of the sidewalk, gaze with obvious rapture at a medieval cathedral. Nobody knows me so I’m free. And isn’t this what we long to be on the page? Once I regularly experience the feeling of freedom in my regular life, it is much easier to translate it to the page.
3. Travel sometimes makes me uncomfortable. Okay, let’s face it. Most of our lives are not hard. Well, my life, anyway, is not hard. Mostly I sit at the computer all day long and convince myself, hand on forehead that I’m suffering. But travel is a different thing. There are times when I don’t know what’s happening, or what stop the train just pulled into, or what the person in front of me is trying to say to me. There are times I’ve probably embarrassed myself. But you know what? This is good, excellent, even. It is good to feel discomfort once in awhile. Because, after all, isn’t that what we put our characters through? Don’t we always say, the more conflict the better? Yes, yes, we do.
4. Travel is fun. And I don’t care if you’re trying to write or become an insurance agent, fun is important. We get veeeery serious about our lives most of the time.
5. Travel makes me adventurous. I’ve gotten obsessed with reading the blog of Eugene Kaspersky. He runs some crazy big cyber-security site and spends tons of time traveling, some of it adventuring. He climbs volcanoes in Kamchatka, treks across snow fields in Iceland, circumnavigates the planet, and so on. I’m just going to say right now I will do none of these things, ever. But I love reading about him doing them. And when I travel in my own tame way, I step out of my comfort zone into my own adventures. And there are always adventures when you travel.
6. Travel makes me try new things. Like the unknown shellfish we tried at a seafood dinner in Port-Vendres, or climbing the side of a mountain (I exaggerate a tiny bit here) to reach the ruin of a castle when my hips were screaming in pain (again, a tad bit of poetic license, but still). It can be as simple as turning now a new street, or trying a different café — things I don’t do often enough here because I so easily get stuck in a rut. Things that may somehow work their way into your writing.
7. Travel lets me meet different kinds of people. There aren’t a whole lot ofFrench men or British women carousing down my street, for instance. And it is relatively rare to even hear someone speak in a different tongue in my day to day life. If there’s one thing I love, its meeting people (I confess to a terrible extrovert streak — I’ll talk to anybody, anywhere). And one of the best things about travel is the different people you meet — the couple from Australia in Paris, or the nice lady from London who was toiling up the hill beside me. Again, who knows what person might spark an idea for a character?
Okay, so I hear you. You’ve got a newborn baby, you’re in school, you have a demanding career. And travel to Europe, or anywhere else for that matter, is just not on the horizon. But, honestly, you can “travel” in your hometown. Change up your routine, do something different, drive a new way to work. Do something, anything to shake things up.
After my last trip to France (this time for a writing retreat) in March, my brain as foggy as a morning in November, and inspired by my visit to the Inter-marche Hyper (read=big, very big) supermarket in France, I went to the American version here that I usually avoid. My shopping took me twice as long as I stumbled through the aisles trying to figure out where things were, but I discovered new products and chatted with an adorable, funny cashier. One never knows when someone just like him shall appear in a book.
Because, as the late, great, Anthony Bourdain says:
“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least their food, it’s a plus for everybody.
Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.”
It’s that last part that is especially important, don’t you think? We can’t all travel as much as Bourdain, but we can travel new routes to work, visit new parts of our home city, and keep an open mind while doing it. That will only enhance your writing.
So, how about it? How about we all spend the rest of this summer devoted to living with a spirit of adventure? I’m in, are you?
Charlotte Rains Dixon is the author of the novel Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior (Vagabondage Press, February 2013), and articles published in magazines such as Vogue Knitting, The Oregonian and Pology, to name only a few, and her short fiction has been published in Somerset Studios, The Trunk and the Santa Fe Writer’s Project. She earned her MFA in creative writing at Spalding University in 2003, and has been teaching and coaching writers ever since, both privately and as an adjunct professor at Middle Tennessee State University’s Write program. She’s been blogging about writing, creativity, and motivation at charlotterainsdixon.com since 2007. She is repped by Erin Niumata at FolioLiterary. Visit her website at charlotterainsdixon.com and her travel site at letsgowrite.com.
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