Travel as a Writing Exercise

By Melissa Burnham

Bridge in Costa Rica

Travel is filled with inspiration for writers. What better way to spark an idea than seeing and experiencing so many new things and places? There is inspiration all around us, but sometimes it can be hard to see. Traveling takes you out of your routine and drops you in an unfamiliar place. Experiences are something we collect, on purpose or not, and it’s those experiences that can eventually turn into stories. Natalie Goldberg writes, “Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil.” Travel is fertilizer for writing and ideas, encouraging amazing things to grow.

David Morrell and Ray Bradbury have similar things to say. “For me, a vacation isn’t appealing unless it involves unfamiliar activities that are potentially useable in a book.” Have you ever thought about taking a vacation specifically for experiences useable in a book? Ray Bradbury writes, “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” To be a writer, you need things to write about, and travel is one of the best ways to fill the mind like a cup. A common refrain in the writing community is to write what you know. Well, the more you know, the more interesting your writing will be.

Travel shifts your focus outside of yourself, and you realize how big the world is. In addition to seeing new things, travel can refocus your mind outside of yourself. Sometimes we can get so caught up in our own minds, especially as writers, that we tend to forget the world exists out there. Traveling reminds us how small our problems are compared to the rest of the world.

Shifting your focus outward allows you to take more in, strive to be more, and to learn more. There’s a famous quote by Mark Twain that says, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” This is still true today.

Traveling exposes you to new ways of thinking and approaches to problems that are completely different. People from different cultures view and interact with the world in unique ways and spending time in these cultures helps create new pathways in our brains.

angkor wat cambodiaThere’s a concept called the “traveling mindset” in which your mind is more open to new things, and your curiosity is stimulated. When you’re traveling, you have to be always “on” because everything is new and different. You can’t just go through the motions because the motions are completely different. You have to pay attention in a way that you don’t when you’re at home. Your routine is broken, and you need to approach each activity with a freshness and curiosity that will allow you to learn and adapt to whatever you’re seeing.

For me, this is one of the best ways to find inspiration, either for a new story or to move past writer’s block. The next time you're thinking about vacation, try to find a new experience that can fuel your writing.

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