The Value of Travel to a Writer: Incidental Inspiration versus Purposeful Creativity

by - 10:38 PM

Writers need inspiration to write. But how do writers GET inspiration? I left off last time with a teaser that I'd tell you about one of the most inspiring times I ever had writing and then I would tell you about a recent writer's retreat I had the incredible fortune to experience. These are in fact two different experiences I'm about to describe to you: one of which I did not go into with the intention of writing, the second of which, I obviously did. But both of the experiences were made possible by getting out and seeing the world.

The Value of Travel to a Writer

Some of the most inspired people I know find the beauty in every day living. Even in the mundane, there are moments of joy, curiosity, anticipation. Living with the purpose of seeking all things beautiful is a higher way of living than most of us live. However, most of us need a perspective change to get to that state of mind and that perspective change is most quickly achieved by a temporary change of view. There's just something about moving out of my daily routine, moving out of my comfort zone, and moving into a new physical place that allows different parts of my brain to fire. New connections are made. All five senses receive new input. Problem solving to figure out a new city's transportation system or how to order food in a language I don't speak awakens me to a new sense of reality. And as a writer, there is nothing more pleasurable than capturing this via the written word.

Finding Inspiration Among a Hillside of Sheep

When I was a geology major in my first undergraduate degree ("How many undergraduate degrees does she have?" you think. The answer is two. Like two separate undergraduate degrees, not a dual major degree. Now you want to know why I would do that, and I have to tell you that's another story I'm sure I'll touch upon in an upcoming post, so keep reading.) I had the opportunity to go on a summer-long field mapping course. The field course sponsored by my university was to take place in Montana, but I was free to choose any similar field course offered by any other university in the country as a substitution. I researched my options and found a field course offered by Boston University that would take place in...are you ready for this...IRELAND.  Hmmm...Montana or Ireland?  Hard decision, right? Yeah, no. Ireland or bust.

Adding jetlag on top of a rigorous program of 10-12 hour days out mapping may have seemed like a poor choice as the captain announced we would be landing in Ireland in a half hour after an overnight flight with no sleep. But whatever energy I lacked from sleep deprivation, the first sight of that intensely verdant isle peeking through the clouds below restored my energy and wonder times two.

On the first day of the course we students were given a little hardbound orange notebook with the clever inscription of "FIELD NOTES" on it. We knew we would be graded on the contents thereof, so it was not a private note collection, but a collection of any instructions our mapping teachers would provide as well as any observations we made in the field, all of which would be periodically read through by various instructors.

When finally a couple of weeks into the course we started to be turned loose by ourselves to do independent mapping projects, I found the days to be a complete joy. And when I say "turned loose by ourselves" I truly mean it.  Our instructor would drive us around in a mini bus and drop each one off to go tackle an entire mountain side by ourselves. No other student was our companion. And this was before cell phones. Now that I'm typing this out I do sort of wonder how this would fly nowadays! I mean what if any of us had an emergency out there in the western Irish countryside with no town around for miles? Anyway, no use retrospectively freaking out about it. It happened. And it was amazing.

On one particular afternoon, I'd completed my mapping project in record time. It was another 4 hours until I needed to be back down at the foothills to meet my ride back to the dorms. Unlike the usual Irish summer weather of half soaking drizzle (no matter how many layers of waterproof items I wore) and half intense waves of sunshine, this particular day was completely mild and sunny from beginning to end. It was the kind of day that awakened the inner poet in yours truly, and if I could read the "FIELD NOTES" of my other colleagues in the course, I suspect other inner poets were awakened on this particular day too :) With 4 hours to kill, I just sat. I found a little rock to perch upon out of the wind and I looked down on the lush valley below me. I swore that if I could accomplish nothing else but burn the image of this valley on this day into my mind forever, I would have truly accomplished something great. I watched sheep grazing up and down the hills and dumbly charging toward one another. They did manage to look up at me as I disturbed their usual symphony of bleats and hoof pats with the unwrapping of my pride and joy for the day - my ration of a single Snickers bar. I looked down at the long grass waving and the endless patchwork of stone-hewn walls as far as the eye could see. The friendly puffs of clouds hung happily high over the mountains. I was in Heaven. I filled my FIELD NOTES that afternoon, not with the striae of geological formations, but with the lines of verses that spilled from my heart.

Unfortunately, the poetry I wrote that day is...somewhere. It's perhaps in my childhood bedroom, which, I'll have you know, is still lined with My Little Ponies and Care Bears to this day in my parents' home in rural Illinois. That is another dandelion seed I have been careless to let blow away.

No more! That is why I am embarking on this project of mine this year to restore all of my work to one central location and pan through all of it to find the nuggets for my next collection. Nuggets. That's got a ring to it, huh? Maybe I'll title my next book: NUGGETS. Or just NUGS for short.

If you think I'm serious at this point, you probably need to hang out with me more.

The Self-Imposed, Dedicated Writer's Retreat

Well, I spent so much time yammering on about the incidental inspirational trip, I don't think you could get through everything I have to say about the experience of the most recent self-imposed writer's retreat I took to the lovely state of Rhode Island in the early spring of last year without already having a lunch packed. Rather, I'm going to first tell you about the value of such a trip in this post. I'll save the stories from that trip for next blog post.

1. This one is going to sound like a no-brainer, but on a self-imposed writer's retreat you're going to have time to write! I hate to say it, but no matter how much you love writing, you may still not be able to find time in your busy life to really get the chance to delve into the kind of strategy or access the depth of soul you could if you had a stretch of uninterrupted time. Everywhere you hear people say, "But if you really love writing, you'll prioritize it." Nope. That's not reality.

2. A writer's retreat, unlike an incidentally inspirational travel trip, gets you into the frame of mind to create from beginning to end. When you know you're going with no other obligations but to write, then your mind looks for metaphors in every nook and cranny. It's a very mindful practice actually. Very healthy for the soul.

3. You will see yourself more as a writer. I know, that sounds silly. But even if you don't come back with a ton of work you're proud of, you know that you dedicated yourself to your craft and you'll always have the memories and stories to tell from that. Instead of starting off all your stories with "One day at band camp," you'll now be able to start off a story or two with, "Once when I was on a writer's retreat..."

Next Time...

I'll share stories from my experience on the self-imposed writer's retreat to Rhode Island! Like for instance, why did I even choose Rhode Island to begin with? But for now I'll leave you with a little snippet from one of the glorious evenings I spent with some good New England food in the beautiful Goddard Memorial State Park:

Sun pennies on the lapping bay
Shining up the hill through still trees
I sit on a log surrounded by a bed of pine
Having just finished a lobster pita.
Is this real life?

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