Claire Rosslyn Wilson on how travel doesn't have to mean abandoning your writing routine
Finding the space to write is a vital part of any writer’s life, whether it’s having the resources and support to have a room of your own, or learning how to write while being surrounded by distractions. Writers who travel face a unique challenge – the space around them continually changes. Is it possible to write when you have no set place where you can go to focus your ideas?
Establish a balance between exploring and writing
When you travel to a new place there is a pull between writing regularly and diving head first into new experiences. If you travel a lot you don’t want to put your writing on hold indefinitely but you also don’t want to miss the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see new places. So how do you manage the tension without feeling guilty about abandoning one or the other?
To manage this pull, choose what kind of balance you’re going to create between exploring and writing, and then stick to it. If you decide that seeing a place and recording your experiences are the most important, then perhaps writing an hour each day is enough. If you’re there for longer, perhaps you could write in the morning then wander the city in the afternoon. Although you can’t fit everything in, it helps to keep at least a little of both in every day.
Often I take the first day or two to cram in as much wandering and sightseeing as I can. This way I will have gone to a few of the must-see things that I’d be disappointed if I missed. It’s also a way of becoming familiar with the city or place. Once I get orientated I feel less anxious, which helps since feeling anxious doesn’t normally help my writing output.
Find the mental space
The most challenging part about travelling all the time is finding the mental space amongst the distractions. This is more difficult than at home as the emotions are more extreme and you don’t always have a space to retreat to. Things are continually changing and you might be too busy adapting to step into a reflecting frame of mind.
In order to feel comfortable in a place and have enough quiet to write, I look for spaces that I know I work well in. These don’t need to be the same as what I’m used to (we don’t travel to search for what we already know) but there are often echoes of the familiar.
For example, one of my favourite working places are public libraries, which I have found remarkably similar in many towns and cities all over the world. The empty table space helps me to clear my mind of all the new experiences for long enough to concentrate on the page. The familiarity of the space, in spite of being in a different country, helps me get into a writing groove.
Create portable routines
Another way to get directly into your writing when your location keeps changing is to create a routine that stays the same, no matter where you place your laptop. We’ve all heard of the (sometimes bizarre) routines of famous writers, and there’s no reason why the same strategy can’t be equally effective when you’re on the move. Sometimes there is the idea that if we have the perfect space and the right amount of time, then writing that book/poem/story/article will be easy. In reality what most of us do is find the space to write around busy everyday life. Writing while living in different places is no different.
At the point when you’ve decided to stay inside instead of exploring, when you’ve found your perfect spot in the library or café, you still need to face the empty space on the page. At this point it helps if your writing routine doesn’t involve anything so strange that it will get you kicked out of the library, such as John Cheever’s purported penchant for writing in his underwear.
But it is possible to implement the same small routines you might do at home. Perhaps it’s a set playlist or maybe it’s leaving a half-finished sentence from the day before. These don’t require much space and they can be a way to remind you that although you’ve changed location your creative process remains rock solid.
Don’t get too attached to ways of doing things
Writing while on the move is always going to be more inconvenient. You’ll need to look for places that have a table, you’ll need to continually ask for wifi codes, you’ll sometimes realise that text you wanted to access is sitting on a bookshelf in another country. These annoyances can get to you if you let them, or they could be creative constraints that inspire new ideas or ways of working.
In an interview with The Paris Review Jack Kerouac spoke about some of his writing routines. He commented that the best place to write is:
‘The desk in the room, near the bed, with a good light, midnight till dawn, a drink when you get tired, preferably at home, but if you have no home, make a home out of your hotel room or motel room or pad.’
Perhaps we need very little in order to write, just the habit of sitting down with our words and making them our home.
Claire Rosslyn Wilson
Claire Rosslyn Wilson is a poet and nonfiction writer. She is a regular writer for Art Radar and Culture360 and has co-written a book on Freelancing in the Creative Industries (Oxford University Press). She’s had her poems published in various Australian journals and she writes short poems about the everyday objects around us at http://clairerosslynwilson.com/ You can also follow her thoughts @clairerosslyn