Ten Ways Travelling Makes You a Better Writer

'Travel broadens the mind', they say. Like most truisms it's a nice sentiment, albeit rather wide ranging. Still, there's something to be said for this one. New people, new sights, new experiences and new words can help you to become aware of, if not break free from, the assumptions, norms and standards of your home life. In all areas of life - spiritual, artistic, emotional, political, cultural, culinary, etc., - having your expectations challenged is a strength if something constructive can come from it.

Writing has to be the same.

And reading, too.

Personally, I'm a big fan of getting out and seeing the world. I know this is a huge privilege, and I'm so, so thankful for that. Reading and writing are just ways of travelling without leaving your room, or your head. I do think, though, that even getting away from your home makes your fiction better. Adventures, escapades, shenanigans ... there's a whole world out there. What was it that Tolkien said?

“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

In the spirit of sharing and challenging and seeing what happens, I've been thinking about ways that travelling changes your writing for the better. And since a good blog post needs a snappy title, I'll call it Ten Ways Travelling is a Wondrous, Mind Opening, Writing Changing Experience. Oh, yes.

  1. Words. This might seem a tad broad, but let me explain. Writers make things up. People, places, history, even languages, depending on your genre (I'm looking at you, Fantasy). Still, readers have a keen ear for badly constructed fictional names. Lord Binganbotty The Super-Amazing Mage is never going to be a terrifying bad guy. Voldemort is. Why? Well, Voldemort is brilliantly constructed. It's meaningful. It's actually French for flight of death. If you travel, even to somewhere that still speaks your own language, you're exposed to new sounds, new dialects, and new names. Names can be surprisingly local. Visit a graveyard while you're away and see. Steal shamelessly from local history and lore. Find new words, traveler.
  2. Comfort. Travel, at some point, means letting go of your home comforts. Planes are cramped and restless beasts. Or if you're camping, they're luxury, compared to what you might get. Trekking in Peru? Ow. Visiting soggy hillsides of Europe? Beautiful, but damp. New York at Christmas? So. Bloody. Cold. Brilliant, though. Without all the trappings of your life, you experience a bit more of the real world. If you're ever writing about a character adventuring, or surviving, or running away, you need these feelings, multiplied. Roughing it's good for the soul and the page.
  3. Paper. Simple. Although laptops changed the way we write, travelling is still pretty good at getting you back to basics. No plugs? Wrong voltage? Just write on paper and see where that gets you. Yes, I realise a lot of writers already use paper alone, but plenty of us don't, and perhaps we should more often.
  4. Food. An awkward and clumsy scene trying to insert exotic flavour into a book based on nothing more than a Wikipedia page is all too soon a disaster. Experiencing the lunches and diners of another world yourself is still the best way to work out quite how to describe it later on.
  5. Mind. Here we come back to the truism. It broadens it, does travel. Writers need broad minds. You're conjuring whole worlds and lives from nothing. It's harder to do if you've never left your house. Go to the next town, the next state, the next country, and just look. Things are different. Write about that.
  6. Read. Writers have to read. You're just badly trained if you don't. And if you're away from home, off on a train, sleeping at a mate's house ... bring a book. Or steal one of theirs. Or rob a library. Use the time to read. Also, please don't rob libraries.
  7. Airports. I know that plenty of travel does not involve airports. So, substitute 'train station'. Or 'taxi ramp.' That doesn't matter. What does matter is that it's a place where people meet and say goodbye. Emotions can run high, and be beautiful. Go, watch, write. Experience other people's lives for a tiny sliver of time. 
  8. I'm sorry, what? Different to point No. 1. If you're somewhere abroad and you don't speak the lingo, here's your chance to use body language, or hastily learned phrases, or desperate, bulging eyes as you try to ask where the bathroom is using only interpretive dance. Being aware of natural body movements, and knowing which gestures mean nothing outside your own country, is important. If you're writing, don't ignore your characters' natural movements when they talk - and if language is lost to you, it really forces you to pay attention. Good luck finding that bathroom, by the way.
  9. Time. Away from your house, your job, and your e-mail? Think. Plot your next book. Don't go on Twitter. Yes, I see you there, all Twitter-ing when you should be writing. 'Think before you write' is as important as 'look before you leap'.
  10. Find good books! Even between the UK and the US, different authors are big names or nobodies. Travel around, even within your country, and see who's popular. Is there a local author recommended in the village bookshop? Someone in this country's bestseller list you've never heard of? Ask, find, read. Ask other travelers, strangers or friends. The world is huge, and you are small, and people have been writing books for hundreds of years. You've barely scratched the surface - why settle for less?
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1 comment:

  1. If you *can't* find the bathroom in the end, interpretive dance may be your only viable option.

    Good post!