Travel Writing

Travel Writing

I am the worst travel writer. When my husband and I spent three weeks in India this year, I struggled to write a single creative word. The best I could do was scribbling out lists of things we did, along with a few words to jog my memory about funny anecdotes and things that happened – like the way our driver, Jagdish, would get very excited whenever some free space opened up on the highway, and would exclaim, “Yesh! Yesh!” while gripping the steering wheel. He also called me sheeshter – sister – more times than I would have liked. Voluminous writing just doesn’t come naturally to me. Words don’t pour. I’ve had to establish a routine in order to have big writing days, and even when I break the routine – writing in the afternoon rather than the morning, for example – I have to turn that deviation into a new routine in order to trick myself into writing.

Travel – the way I like to travel – generally sees me having no routine. I let myself wake up and decide what I’d like to do, in tandem with my travel mates, and let the day follow whichever course it would like. Even though this mentality can wreck my writing routine, travel has been so important to me as a writer. It has infused so many ideas in my head. A whole novel draft that I wrote last June – while traveling, believe it or not – was inspired by the time I spent in Spain, Germany and Morocco. A new novel idea is also inspired by my experience in India. So many little snippets from things I’ve written have started as an interaction I had while traveling. That exposure to things outside of my comfort zone, outside of my routine, actually help my writing. But, I still need to make a word count!

Tomorrow marks the start of a crazy summer of travel for me. I will be road-tripping with friends to Texas, road-tripping to St. Louis and Chicago with husband, flying to Portland for the Tin House writing workshop and then taking a week-long, post-bar-exam girls vacation with a good friend in Mexico. This summer of travel will be punctuated by a long weekend in New York City for the wedding of some good friends. I am also supposed to be finalizing my thesis draft this summer, while incorporating revisions into my novel and starting a new full-time job. HOW TO DO THIS WITH SO MUCH TRAVEL!?!? ARGH!

Just like I’ve done with smaller deviations in my routine, I need to come up with some goals and mini-routines within my non-routine vacation. Sequestering myself for some alone time when I can, always having my notebook handy, forcing myself to write while sipping coffee in the morning, going for long walks and talking to myself about what I’m seeing, hearing, imagining. All of these are good, tried-and-true tactics to get me to generate words while I’m on the road. And I think, since I don’t have a minimum word count hovering over me, it might be good to simply get into the habit of free writing, letting the travel experience really inform my writing.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Write about the setting – where am I? What am I looking at? What looks the same as home? What’s different? What’s the most interesting thing I can see?
  2. What are the silly snippets of conversation going back and forth between me and my travel mates? Can any of that conversation be used to inspire some snappy dialogue (probably!)?
  3. Could any of my characters from my thesis stories – or anything I’ve written – be found in this new environment? How would they react to being in the desert or in the Pacific Northwest? This prompt can help me get to know my characters better, even if they never find themselves in this situation.
  4. Imagine what is happening back home. Normally, I like to be in a place, really be there, and forget about my life back in New Orleans. But this prompt can really stoke my imagination…
  5. FOOD! What am I eating? How is it reacting to me? How am I reacting to it? Is it making me full? Sleepy? Is it better than food at home?
  6. Behind the scenes – What is happening with the staff at the hotel? What happens in the kitchen or the bar? Who has to clean the pool? Imagine miniature relationships going on between all of the people that come to this place for work.

What are some other ideas for writing prompts while traveling? How do other people keep the word count up while they’re on the road/plane/boat?

Funeral Cars

Funeral Cars

A funeral home not too far from my house has spent the last few months building a brand new chapel, designed to match the early 1900’s style of the rest of the building. I was running past the corner of Canal and Carrollton, a corner where I see a lot of things, and saw a funeral procession. Police on motorcycles blocking the intersections, a hearse followed by three black Lincoln Town Cars like my grandfather used to drive, followed by a procession of cars with blinking hazard lights. The motorcade didn’t block me up – I was running after all, not stuck behind the wheel – so I turned up Canal and passed the funeral home from whence they must have come.

The new chapel, finally, had been completed. The bulldozers and bags of roof tile that had been stationed all around were finally gone. I thought, wow, this looks like a great place to have a funeral. Ok, I admit, I didn’t really think that. But I did wonder how they would capitalize on this new addition to their facility. Would they take out an ad? Publish some news on their Social Media? Did they even use Social Media? Thinking back to the procession, I wondered, How did Lincoln get the monopoly on funeral cars?

Granted, the Lincoln Town Car was not only ubiquitous among mourners. My grandfather, and many Old Lawyer Men just like him, tooled around town in the LTC. (That he would take up both lanes on some of New Orleans’ narrower streets is another story, as is the Styrofoam cup of Taaka vodka always nestled in the car’s cup holder…)

But still, did Lincoln fight for the contract with all funeral homes everywhere?

I don’t really care about the answer to that particular question, I don’t think, but I could see a story revolving around these details: the fraught decision to expand the chapel, the increase in contract fees with Lincoln, the Social Media campaign – and the hipster content specialist who creates it.