Oh, the Places You’ll See

Going on vacation would seem like an ideal time to write. You’ll have all those free days. Plus, you’re probably sick to death of the same old routine, in the same room, anchored to that cluttered desk. Travel represents a chance to have new experiences, widen your horizons, provide fresh ideas. Yet when you wake up the first morning in a hotel room, you find you have no intention of writing, none. You want to map out what you’re going to do that day, or you perform some familiar routines, such as checking out sports scores. The hopes you had for new invigoration have vanished in the sultry breeze.

What is the problem? Most likely it stems from trying to write in a strange place. No matter what writing habits you have—in a study or at Starbuck’s—you’re a world away from such touchstones for creativity. Oddly enough, inventing wild and crazy ideas often originates from a mundane, trusted locale.

You may be better off not trying to make progress on your present project. You want new ideas? They’re all around you. Why are you sitting in a hotel room rather than going out to find them? Not everything you write must funnel into useful activity. You know full well how many useless days you have sat at home not coming up with a blessed thing. Abandon the laptop for the phone, or for more old-fashioned types, the legal pad for the pocket notebook. You can stay engaged with the live wire of your writing. Just don’t expect it to be productive.

When you are merely recording impressions, you’ll find that exotic details recorded at the time may be transmuted into a modulated version once back home. You may write a detail about a tropical flower after a brief morning shower, but flowers do tend to be alike in terms of droplets and petals. More to the point, an exotic detail may lead your mind to wander onto a surrogate that would fit better in your homeland.

One good idea is to take some books that you had meant to read but never got around to. If you’re thinking of using a con man as a character, maybe you should bring Herman Melville’s Confidence Man or Thomas Mann’s Felix Krull. Spend a few weeks seeing how they did it without worrying about the mechanics of how you can. When you return home, you may find you’re filled with ideas sparked by your impressions.

Exercise: A profitable practice can be to challenge your foreign jottings when you return to your hotel room. Rather than merely one impression of gloomy light on the Thames, stop to think of the exact opposite: in full sunshine. Rather than rave review ad nauseam about the next sight you see, take a cynical view of it too. You may find the opposite version is the one that proves more useful later.

“Not all those who wander are lost.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien

Copyright @ 2021 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.