There are lots of different ways you can be inspired. Sometimes I get ideas from dreams, books I read, movies I watch, conversations with friends, art, gardening, or watching strangers in public places. Inspiration can come from just about any place, so you have to be open to it all the time. Keep a notebook handy and write ideas down, or take a picture of things that you might need to look at later.
Today I want to talk about travel. As you might know from reading my blog or if you know me in person, I am an introvert with some social anxiety and a fear of leaving my house. There are days when it is so bad I can’t even work in my gardens. I sometimes don’t leave my house for weeks. Given this, the fact that I love to travel might seem a bit of a contradiction. And I guess it is. When I am traveling I am at a higher level of anxiety than at home, and sometimes I have to hide someplace quiet and take deep breaths. While traveling I call my housesitter often (normally Jeff, one of my best friends) and make him send me pictures of my cats.
Traveling is hard for me. Very hard. I cry when I leave the house and have all sorts of horrible thoughts. I sometimes will be in a wonderful place and be wishing I was in my cluttered office like I am now. But all the same, I try to travel some place new every year, because the value of travel is worth the price of being a little scared and homesick. My husband travels a lot with his job, so I normally just go to a city he will be working in so I have a place to stay without spending money, because this being a writer thing does not pay well. He works and I get to have adventures on my own. Exploring a new place alone is my favorite way to do it, because I don’t have to worry about anyone else’s timetable or interests. I once sat in the beaver room at the Biodome in Montreal for nearly an hour because it was what I wanted to do at the time; with another person that could not have happened. I also like cemeteries, old ones. There are not many people who are good companions in a cemetery.
I like seeing some places with other people too. There are some experiences that are best shared, some best alone. So if there are other people who want to do stuff with me I try to find a balance, spending time with them doing something, alone for others.
The value of travel is many faceted. Seeing new places, trying new foods, smelling different air, and meeting new people are all part of the package. When traveling to a new place, even just a state away, you can see the world in a different wayand learn skills you might not have learned at home. One of the most important things for me is the inspiration, the ideas that can be sparked when you see or experience something new. Those images and sensations get filed away until sometime I am writing and all of a sudden a place comes back to me and it is the perfect place. It is where this story has to happen.
There are two scenes in my novel “Lost in Reflection” that are based on real places I have been. Places that I would not have been able to see or experience if I was home.
One of them is Muir Woods near San Francisco. I had seen pictures of redwoods, and I knew the general idea of a rain forest. But understanding and experiencing are two very different things. The smell of this place is something so hard to describe, as well as the how wet and cold the air was. Being from the south I know hot air is humid, and cold air is dry; that is just the way it is. But this place was as wet as the hottest Georgia day, but so very cold. When writing the book I remembered this place and it was perfect.
Here are some excerpts from “Lost in Reflection”. Keep in mind that this is still in the editing phase, so it could change a lot.
“Once my eyes adjusted to the light I found that I was in a forest, old growth from the look of it. There were some big evergreens, sort of like pictures I had seen from the Pacific Northwest, not like the spindly pines of home. The ground was a spongy bed of brown and green needles and the air was wet and heavy with the pleasing smells of clean dirt and fresh compost, mixed with the less pleasant odors of mold and rot.”
“It only took a few minutes for me to find a good game trail, cutting through the ferns and emerald green moss that covered everything . It was sure to lead to water eventually, and it might not just be a trail used by animals. It was old and wide, not as wide as a road, but it looked easier to follow than the paths through the woods around my grandparents’ house that I walked every time I visited them.”
“At some points the trees were so thick that I couldn’t see the sun, just light glowing around the leaves. This place would have been peaceful in another situation. I loved being in the woods; the sounds, the smells, and the fresh new feeling of the air. The place we used to live had a lot of woods around it, but not like these. At home, even in the woods, the air was still normal and dry. Here the air was very wet, and I don’t mean humid, at least not the hot southeast humid I was used to. I mean the air was actually wet. So wet that in few places it was raining without clouds, little drops of water falling from the trees. Each drop catching the sunlight and turning to molten gold.”
Another place that shows up in the novel is a hallway from the hotel I stayed in while I was writing a large part of the book — just the hallway, not the hotel itself. I am not going to put in any excerpts from that part in because it would be hard to do so without giving anything away, and I have not edited it at all yet. But when you read the book you can come back here and see a picture of the place I wrote about. Mirrors are creepy, that is all I am saying.
Traveling and seeing these places in real life makes the stories more real for me, and hopefully helps me write them in a way that is more real for you. There are lots of places I would love to go that I likely never will, because travel is so expensive. But maybe someday I will get lucky and have the chance to see China, Romania, or England. I bet there is a story idea waiting around every corner and behind every door in all of those places.
I went to Hawaii a few months ago (lots of kindness got me there), which was an amazing experience, and will show up in my stories for years to come. I have been meaning to post some pictures and tell you about it. I will do that soon.
2 thoughts on “Writing Inspiration – The Places I Go”
How do you get in the mood to write your descriptive parts? I’ve not had a lot of experience with this kind of thing, but last semester, I had to write a descriptive piece about the place I was doing my mini ethnography on – Smart Recovery. I had no idea of what the real experience of an addict would be having to sit in that room and talk about what it was like to be an addict, so I found all the songs I could about being addicted and listened to them and tried to feel what the person was feeling who wrote them. Then once in that frame of mind, I wrote my experiences in the room. I got tons of compliments when I shared it with the people at smart recovery – that it really did describe their experience there. Anyway, I guess I’m just wondering if you have to emotionally psyche yourself up like that to be able to write descriptively, or if you have another process?
The descriptive parts have always been some of the parts I like best. I like talking about feeling and experiences, especially sensory experiences, like smells, tastes and textures. So I don’t have to psyche myself up for that, in fact it is a good way to release emotions. I find that writing is helpful when I am upset, to get the feeling out without having to talk to a person about it.
If I do need help getting myself in a writing space anything that makes me feel an emotion does it. Like you listening to those songs to feel what the addicts felt is a thing I could see myself doing. I listen to sad music if I need to be sad, happy if I need to be happy, the Matrix soundtrack when I need to write action. 🙂
In my story “Red, in Tooth and Claw”, which I know you liked, I looked at lots of pictures of Mars, the Grand Canyon, and places around volcanoes. I just looked at the pictures I thought about what it would be like to be in the places on Earth dreaming of being on Mars. I tired to look at things the way the character in the story would have, I got so into it that for a while I really, really wanted to go to Mars. So I guess in that way it is like method acting.