Earlier this month I went to California for my cousin’s wedding reception and some quality time with my dad. I took my laptop and a pile of work to do, but you know what? I didn’t do any of it. Didn’t even get those papers out of the case. All I had time for were some hasty notes at bedtime and lots of photos. But that’s okay.
I stayed at my father’s house, which may be the last place in Silicon Valley where I can’t get an Internet connection. Sure, the neighbors have Wi-Fi hookups, but they all require passwords that I don’t have. I could go to a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi, but that would mean peeling myself away from the family I had driven 700 miles to see. So I couldn’t get online for three days, and I didn’t get much work done. But as I sat in the backyard listening to Dad’s stories and watching the squirrels and the crows, I felt my brain relax. And then, like the squirrels gathering nuts, I started gathering ideas.
I think that’s what travel is for, at least for writers. Can we call it a vacation? Maybe not; maybe it’s more of a supply trip. If you stay in the office day after day with most of your input coming from the Internet and TV, you find yourself getting stale. But out in the world, if you’re open to it, ideas sprout up everywhere, like mushrooms in October on the Oregon coast. The question is: Are you prepared to pick them and bring them home in good condition?
If you’re going to pick mushrooms, you need a bucket or a basket. A writer gathering ideas needs at least a notebook and pen, a camera, and perhaps a computer or iPad. I also use small voice recorders that I keep in my car for the ideas and information I can’t write down while I’m driving. Bring lots of rechargeable batteries and a charger; today’s electronic gadgets eat batteries like I eat chocolate chip cookies. Make sure you have a memory card and flash drive with plenty of room on them. Expect to take lots of pictures, gather all the handouts and brochures you can find, and take notes. Also expect that you might not write every day, that your schedule may fall completely to pieces. That’s all right. If you’re going to write about life, you need to live it in order to gather the raw materials for your writing.
Capture whatever you can before you come home. It starts to fade as soon as you return to your ordinary life. For me, when I get within a few hours of South Beach, I start thinking about upcoming appointments, deadlines I have to meet, and oh God, I still haven’t called the plumber. That magic I feel on the road, whether it’s standing alone on a windswept beach, staring up at the redwoods, or enjoying a family moment, fades away.
So gather the notes, impressions, stories and pictures. Don’t publish it all half-baked on Facebook without looking at the bigger possibilities. When you get home, spread your treasures out around you and look at all the ways you can use them. Parcel them out little by little, taking time to write, edit and publish what you gathered on vacation.
Travel disrupts my writing schedule, but it also brings the focus back, like a reboot. It hushes the noise in my mind and allows me to fill my bucket again.
It’s summer. Get out, change your scenery, even if it’s only for a couple of hours. Just don’t forget your bucket/notebook and camera.