Writing on the road

Calgary Airport Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs, run amok across the luggage carousel at Calgary International Airport.

Paula’s Post #106 – 

A perverse smile twists the corner of my lips upwards as I type the words:

“Writing on the Road”.

This is a topic with which I have more than a passing familiarity. Surprisingly though, this week I find myself firmly ensconced here on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia.

I’m home!

But this has not always been the case. In fact, since we started this 5writers blog in September 2012, I’ve actually posted “on the road” as often as I’ve posted from “home”.

Maybe more.

Just for fun, I re-traced my steps through the history of just our first year with the blog and determined that in that year alone, I posted from at least a dozen different geographic locales.

Trust me:  I know a bit of what I speak when I say you can write from anywhere.

In fact, during that first year, I wrote 45 blog posts. The first 44 on a weekly basis (almost without fail), the last of the bunch, the 45th, after a hiatus of about 6 weeks during which time my productivity was hampered not by travelling, but rather by packing up and getting ready to “move”, a different kettle of fish indeed and one much more crippling to a writer’s productivity.

Blog Posts: Year 1

#1 – 5 – September & October 2012 –  From my then home in West Vancouver;

#6 October 2012 – ‘On the road’ at the Surrey International Writers Conference;

#7-10 – November 2012 – Composed on the road and in residence at our second home in Palm Springs California.

#11 – November 2012 – Composed in San Francisco International Airport and the Hyatt Union Square (Oh my Fog!).

#12-14 – December 2012 – Composed back in the fog and drizzle of Vancouver.

#15-16 – Christmas & New Years, 2012 – Composed in Maui, HI.

#17-32 – January to May 2012 – Composed in Palm Springs, California (at least I think I was back in California for most of these – since you can write from anywhere, I didn’t always say where I was hiding out).

#33 – Orlando, Florida  (Almost Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil).

#34 – Back in California.

#35 – Western US road trip through California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

#36-37 – California.

#38 – California, LA Live, Channelling Raymond Chandler.

#39 – Portland City of Books.

#40 – Whistler (my post from our ‘critique retreat’ In the Lions Den).

#41 – Drumheller, Alberta.

#42 – On the ferry from Vancouver Island to Horseshoe Bay (at this point in our lives our home in West Vancouver had been sold and we were soon going to find ourselves homeless, so were house-hunting all over British Columbia – previously that week we’d been on the Sunshine Coast, where we eventually purchased our present home).

#44 – West Vancouver – Full Retreat, July 16th, (from my old home in Vancouver).

#45 – West Vancouver, The Year in Review, September 10th 2013 (post move, from our new temporary rental home in West Vancouver, after an almost 2 months hiatus from blogging during the move).


So, having established some credibility on the topic of “Writing on the Road”, I’d like to share, in no particular order, my top ten list for enriching your blogging and fiction writing.

1) Use Writing Software:

Organize your research and notes on plot, character, etc. in a portable format that travels with you on the road. For me, one of the most fantastic things about using dedicated writing software like Scrivener or StoryMill is the ability to keep all your research neatly organized and on hand, all in one accessible place. Ideally, you could even go one step further and do enough ‘copy and pasting’ from the internet to ensure that your research consists not just of mere links to websites, but the text of actual articles and reference materials so you’ll continue to have access, even when you don’t have wifi.

2) Use DropBox

You can even take the pre-planning one step further by saving your work to a DropBox folder (accessible from anywhere), even if you do not have your laptop or home computer with you. For those of you who don’t yet use DropBox, another big reason to include this essential in your writers toolkit is the ability to share, collaborate and save your work. If you’ve ever experienced a laptop ‘flame out’ nothing will make you happier than to discover you’ve the entire text of your novel-in-progress, saved in dropbox and accessible from any other computer.

3) The Airport Departure Lounge is your Friend

I so cannot relate to people who hate to travel and wait in airports. With my busy life, having two hours to do ‘nothing’ is an absolute gift of time, and if you are playing Candy Crush, or SpellTower, you may need to give your head a shake. Today, almost all major airports have free WiFi. So you can not only write, you can also research any niggling detail you need to quickly check out in the process. Give me a Starbucks and I’m good to go. So much so that I’m usually scrambling to get my laptop shut down and packed up when the flight is called, all too soon.

4) Characters Abound (the Silent Observer)

For me, the buzz of activity in an airport or train station makes it that much easier for me to concentrate all the harder. But if you are one of those rare birds who find you just can’t work on your novel in such a noisy environment, why not enjoy being a “bug on the wall” and do up some quick character sketches of your fellow passengers? Bars are particularly useful sanctuaries for exercises of this nature, and a wonderful way to pass the hours and not look desperately alone if you are, by chance, travelling solo. Have laptop, will travel.

5) Characters Abound (the Artful Engager)

Some writers, admittedly, are shy, reticent even to engage in conversation with total strangers. But in my experience, most people (and travellers are no exception) enjoy talking about themselves and their lives. So picture yourself, tightening your seatbelt and getting ready to taxi down the runway. Sneak a peek at your seat mate and try to guess what her or she does for a living? Wouldn’t you like to find out? What if I were to tell you they were a retired FBI agent or an Air Traffic Controller? Interest piqued? The point is, you’ll never find out if you don’t at least engage in conversation. Up to you, but I’ve made some wonderful connections while travelling, maybe you will, too.

6) Say Cheese

Whether you’re blogging or researching your novel, nothing can compare with having a ready supply of rights-free photos available for your use. I know that here at the 5writers, we’ve tried hard to use our own photos to add original content to our blog. Nevertheless, when we don’t have any that will do the trick, we’ve been careful to use photos and graphics from sources that permit non-commercial use in our blog (such as wikicommons or Morguefile). But how much more fun is it to whip out your iphone and snap away. If you’ve got an iCloud account, or another cloud storage option such as DropBox, you’ll have access to those photos whenever you need them.

7) Record Your Experiences and Sensory Observations

How do you research your novels? If you’ve read Write Away, Elizabeth George’s  observations on the writing life, you’ll already be aware of the techniques employed by this celebrated mystery author. If you haven’t read it, I commend it to you, but whether you’re an advocate of Ms. George’s methods or have a system of your own, there is nothing better than time spent on planes, trains and automobiles to add to the treasure trove of observations and experiences in your writers’ tool kit. Make notes and squirrel away nuggets for later, you’re sure to end up with more than you can ever use, but your writing will be the richer for your ‘banking’ the fruits of your travel.

8) Eat!

You don’t need to be writing a culinary mystery to have your novel enriched by mouth watering descriptions of food on offer ‘on the road’. While this is, perhaps just an extension of #7 above, the experience of recording particular food and wines of a geographic region is so important as to bear a special paragraph all its own.

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Need I say more?

9) Reflect

While this is perhaps a bit harder to express, one of the great gifts of travel, in my opinion, is the opportunity to gain a new perspective on our own lives. Whether this arises from comparing the abundant riches of life in North America to the challenges in the Third World, or the cool of a Canadian summer to the sweltering heat of a tropical jungle, or merely the quiet solitude of the country to the buzz of our every day lives, there is no denying that in suddenly experiencing these contrasts we have an excellent opportunity to reflect and think deeply in a fairly meaningful way about people (read characters) and how they react in various situations.

10) Refresh

Okay, I lied. I said this list was in no particular order, but in my view #10 is the most important of all: refresh. Nothing like a good road trip to fire up the engine of creativity and get back on track with our writing.

So what are you waiting for? Hit the road, Jack!

Oh, and one last tip: never, ever check your laptop (especially if the dinosaurs at Calgary International Airport on still on the rampage).

Italian Street Market

5 thoughts on “Writing on the road

  1. I think I’d be horrified to check my laptop! It is my most treasured possession. I’m totally with you on #3! Airports are the best time to get caught up and I too am rushing to shut down so I can get on the plane before it leaves without me. Even though I’m not a fiction writer I like some of your other tips – re listening/observing people around me – just might make for some more good travel stories. I seem always to need to be more vigilant about making notes as we go.

    • Thanks Alison, I actually had so much more I wanted to right about writing on the road, and in particular all the famous authors who in fact were ‘travelling writers’. One of my favourites, ‘Agatha Christie’ who wrote many of her most famous mysteries while traipsing around the world after her archeologist husband. A bit of a nomad like some other people we know and love. But perhaps, as sometimes happens, this is a topic that will self-replicate into many spin-off posts and I’ll get my chance to say more about dear Agatha!

  2. Some great tips for travelling writers here Paula! Although I admit I have difficulty attaining the focus I need to do a lot of actual fiction writing in a busy airport, I agree it’s a terrific place to watch people and soak up regional quirks. What I most like to do is imagine where travellers are bound, and why. When I do love to write is late at night, alone in a hotel room.

  3. Thanks for the tips Paula, I think you’ve done really well not to use travelling as an excuse not to write – I think the lack of routine of being in one place would be one of the more difficult things to get used to.

  4. Thanks Andrea to you! For the first time in what seems like months, I am settling into what I hope will be a routine, now that I am back in our ‘summer home’ in Canada. I am very thankful for the occasional grey cloudy day and close proximity of both my 5writers writing group and our wonderful community library. Next week, we ‘five’ are going to hold a mini retreat, with no agenda this time except to get together and write and enjoy each other’s company. Very happy to have such great friends and followers on 5writers and can’t wait to hear what projects everyone is working on right now. Also, just revisited your blog and have to laugh: in the strange way of parallel universes, I must share that we, too, have several families of Canada Geese and goslings visiting with us here in Gibsons Landing this spring. I’m so enjoying watching these families proudly sail past several times a day!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s