As the summer draws to a close and students return to school, this author is grudgingly packing her suitcase. You may have noticed fewer blog entries for the past while, and you may have noticed less interaction in general. I’ve spent most of my summer living out of a suitcase, conducting research and interviews. In a happy serendipity, I’ve been able to do research both for my day job and for my authoring. Look for a travel-abroad story coming to you…oh, whenever I get it finished. 🙂 I’ve got a spunky heroine named Indigo who is different from any other character I’ve ever written…except (of course) she enjoys a spank or two. As I’ve been traveling and enjoying my time abroad, I’ve had great fun mapping out the places Indigo might visit and planning her fictional itinerary. I feel like a travel agent. 🙂
I’ve found that the suitcase life is both great and terrible for writing. Great because I experience something new every day, meet new people, and have been soaking in the sights, culture, and food of the places I’ve been. It’s terrible because the last thing I want to do on a limited itinerary is hole myself up in a room and write! I miss the days when I wrote longhand in portable spiral notebooks. I’ve become so attached to my laptop that I no longer can think as slowly as my pen or pencil writes. I jot down a few notes, only to become impatient and give up. I keep telling myself I’ll bring a notebook to a lovely place and write while enjoying the scenery, but every time the book stays in my bag. I’ve tried to bring my laptop, but that poses other challenges. It’s heavy. It gets hot if it’s on my legs. After a while, it needs an electrical outlet. It’s pathologically sensitive to moisture (already lost a computer keyboard to water once this year and not wanting to repeat the experience, thank you very much!), so I have to be on constant guard.
I’ve found something interesting as I travel by foot, bus, metro, and train this summer:
Instead of writing, I’ve been living.
While I usually jot mental notes to myself or scribble lines on scraps of paper, this summer I’ve settled myself into my seat and watched people as they get on and off public transportation. What do they wear? How do they talk and interact with others? What do people do and say to indicate someone is a stranger, a friend, or someone known but disliked? What kinds of attitudes and ways of behaving are taken for granted?
Once when I was riding the subway, a youngish man (perhaps mid-20s) picked the insides of twistable color pencils. He pulled them all out and played with them. When someone tried to sit next to him, he erupted with outbursts. It’s funny how something might have happened like that at home, but I would have been too busy with my schedule and duties to notice. Instead, because I was on traveler’s time, I took in every word, every gesture, and every reaction from others in the subway car.
Perhaps Indigo will meet a crank on her travels.
For most of my trip, I’ve been frustrated with myself for not writing enough. I have deadlines, darn it. I have professional obligations and promises and…
Yet I think that sometimes we need a growing season. Traveler’s time, as I’ve come to think of it, is when going to the local market takes forty-five minutes because you find a neat shop that sells ice-cream sodas that turn out to be the best ice-cream sodas you’ve ever had in your life. You end up chatting with the owner, saying you’re visiting, and talking about mutual experiences traveling. Then you go to the market and marvel at the luscious piles of farm-fresh produce. Traveler’s time is when you really should be home and in bed, but on your way out of a music hall for a concert you come across a light-and-music water fountain where children frolic and entire families have brought blankets to sit on while watching the display. You linger, even as you wonder whether the last bus has already left, and take in the details. This is how one little girl tips her head backward in order to plead for money for cotton candy. This is how another little boy sits on his tricycle, pretending to pedal while his mom pushes him with the handle on the back.
I’ve never lacked for ideas when writing, but this summer has been a time to toss experience after experience into a wonderful mishmash that will eventually settle down into ideas for future stories. I come back to my room each day and pound on my keyboard to decapitate adverbs and pummel repetitions of “hand” and “look,” but underneath a part of me realizes that nitpicking is only one part of writing. I strive every day to improve my technique, of course (as anyone would do), but these months spent stretching my comfort zones have left me with something else.
I’ve learned a few things about writing this summer, but the last one surprised me.
How to travel as an author?
Put down the pen and live.