At the beginning of 2014, I abandoned the last half of my senior year in college to study abroad. While the rest of my classmates enjoyed relaxing senior springs, I…have never been good about taking the simple way. Instead, I started from zero, willingly making myself the new kid in another school’s program, in the middle of a country where I knew no one and was still working on the language.
Granted, living in Spain was not such a hardship: tapas, sangria, and three-hour siestas were just a few of my consolation prizes.
But. It was an upheaval of my life. I went from being surrounded by family and friends, having a job, a plethora of extracurriculars, and a long list of classes I still wanted to take, to having just a few, low-intensity courses and almost no other commitments. In short, for the first time in years, I had an excess of free time and space in my life.
It was the best thing that could have happened to me.
With my sudden influx of hours to fill, my life was bared down to its uncomfortably naked fundamentals. In that stripped-down-to-basics state, I was forced to contemplate some Big Life Things. Namely:
- Where the @$%& am I going with my life?
- What do I enjoy doing?
- How do I want to spend my time?
To the first question, I still have no simple answer. Figuring out life is an ongoing battle for me and, as I understand it, most people. The second two though, I spent a good deal of time working through, and came up with an answer:
I found I loved writing, and I wanted to carve out whatever time I could to write. With my lack of regular commitments, I was able to put this intention to the test. I wrote. Maybe not everyday, but I tried to write at least every week. I proved to myself that I not only liked the idea of crafting stories, I loved actually putting fingers to keyboard and doing it. By the time I left Spain, I may not have known the meaning of life, but I had clarity in something—I knew I wanted to keep writing, and I did. Over the past two and a half years, I’ve drafted three books and have revised/rewrote one of them too many times to count.
Thanks to this experience, writing while traveling will always hold a special spot in my heart. That’s not to say I always draft up a storm when I visit a new place, or that I have grand revelations every time I voyage to a far off city. Travel does fuel my muse though, and increases my productivity. So whether a trip is short or long, for work or solely for fun, here are my tips to make the most of your travels, and channel them into food for your muse:
- Relish the lack of routine. Whatever your normal commitments are at home, be they family dinners or workouts, take advantage of your break from the regular. Try writing at the crack of dawn, at a cafe at lunch time, or curled up in bed as the sun goes down. You might find a new favorite time/place to work.
- Be vigilant with your work hours. That’s not to say you can’t be flexible/take spontaneous plans in stride, but do honor your commitments to yourself and your work. If you plan to work one hour every day, make darn sure that hour happens, even if you have to stay up late or rise early to do so. Honestly, it’s good practice for Life, where %$@# happens all the &%@$ing time.
- Have set goals. Speaking of which, before you leave, or even in the plane/train/car en route to your destination, make a plan. Be realistic, but do make solid goals, and tell people about them. Whether it’s filling 10 pages of your notebook with scribbles on your new project, or vowing to write 30 minutes each morning, make your game-plan, write it down and share it with your CPs and/or friends.
- Cafes can be great. They’re a lovely way to explore a new city and experience the local flavors (literally and figuratively). Make sure to find places that aren’t super crowded so the servers don’t hate you and the bustle doesn’t drive you mad, but Yelp (or local suggestions when possible!) can help with that. Plus, being behind your laptop/notebook gives you an excellent way to be a fly on the wall and people watch like nothing else. (-:
- Libraries can be awesome too. The free counterparts to cafes! Sometimes libraries are way more conducive to long work sessions as well. Also, libraries are generally the best and can be gorgeous/filled with local culture. Just be sure to look up hours beforehand.
- Don’t spend all your time writing. Seriously. I know it might sound counterintuitive, but really, unless you’re on a designated writing retreat (and even sometimes then) did you really travel all this way just to hole up in your cave all day? Of course not. Go meet people and enjoy your time in a different location! Which brings me to my last point…
- Really, truly live. This is why you travel. This is what refuels your muse. If you only take one thing from this post, take this point. Outside of your set writing hours, throw yourself into living entirely. Do the thing that scares you. Yes, that thing. Talk to strangers. Wander around alone. People watch with a vengeance, though do try to avoid being arrested for stalker like behavior. Embrace an “and” instead of an “or” mentality when deciding what to do with your day, and pack everything possible into your trip. You won’t regret it, and your writing will thank you.
Living, after all, is your muse’s most essential nutrient. So feed your muse, and then go write beautiful, rich, full-bodied things. I can’t wait to read them.