Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Long Haul no.1: Four Ways to Use Travel to Benefit Your Writing

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Lucy Leiderman

The Long Haul is a monthly column by Lucy Leiderman, the author of the forthcoming book A Past Life, the first book in a young adult trilogy published by Dundurn Press.

Many people might sit down and try to force a story out, but the best things in life rarely come from brute force. This article is about what happens before your novel is ready for editing, mailing and unforgiving scrutiny. This is about the long road to having a manuscript in your hands. To that extent, we’re going to discuss how to make travel benefit your writing.

1. The Conventional Tourist

Travelling is a great way to get your creative juices engaged and in tune. I’m not going to go all Eat, Pray, Love on you, but exploring new spaces (or rediscovering old ones) is sure to get ideas flowing. It doesn’t matter if you go to Timbuktu or Timmins — wherever your heart, budget and/or time off work will allow still creates a break from your norm. The benefits of enjoying new sights and sounds when suffering everything from writer’s block to chronic procrastination are numerous.

Some tips:

  • Find some time to take a break from being a tourist. A quiet location and some amateur meditation can bring a new perspective to your situation. Don’t be scared to close your eyes and breathe deeply, always savouring the moment and committing to memory exactly how it feels to be where you are.
  • Notice the people around you. Try to see their stories intertwine with yours. When looking for ideas and fighting writer’s block, watching people in their daily lives can be the remedy to your writer woes. Don’t forget landscapes and monuments — these can inspire great stories and characters.
  • Take lots of pictures. Draw if you can. I like to pull out a notebook or my laptop and describe my surroundings as if I’m writing about them. This is a way to describe the scene to someone else, and often you’ll learn a lot more about how you see things when talking to someone else versus when internalizing your own thoughts. Remember to include the five senses. You may be standing in the middle of a busy intersection, but including smells, sounds and your other senses can really bring it to life.

2. The Visiting Writer

Ready for a more extensive change of scenery? Remember Colin Firth’s trip to France in Love Actually? Consider a prolonged stay in a foreign land with a focus on writing. Canada has agreements with over 30 countries where citizens under a certain age (usually 35) can live and work abroad for up to two years as part of a "working holiday." No questions asked. Well, okay, they need you to fill out a form but my point is that it is pretty easy.

If you’re over 35, a Canadian passport allows you to sit tight in many countries for up to three months as a "tourist," which is fine as long as you don’t plan on working.

Regarding money matters: A writing intensive stay in India, Vietnam or other developing countries would be relatively inexpensive, but always take into account insurances and other similar expenses. Writers’ trips in the more illustrious France, Spain or even Canada would cost more, of course. There are lots of resources online about where and how to live for cheap. For more information, consult your chosen country’s immigration policies at the Government of Canada website.

Sometimes we can only stare at exotic destinations through our computer desktop wallpaper, but if you’re ready to delve into the unknown and invigorate your writing through new experiences, a stint somewhere new could be the way to go.

3. The Forever Student

Going back to school is another way to benefit from time abroad or to breathe some life into your writing (not to mention your work ethic!). There are a lot of those "earn your degree online" programs out there, but this post is about travel and writing. I’m talking about not only refining your skills as a writer, but also exploring writing in other genres, gaining all the benefits of travel (listed above) and making your credentials more appealing to publishers.

Most universities offer degrees to international students at exorbitant prices (a year at Oxford including all necessary fees can run you about 60K). If you’re wondering how to do this without breaking the bank, here’s how: there are quite a few schools that offer free education in a variety of English-language programs (Bachelor Degrees, Master’s and Certificates/Diplomas). Norway, Iceland, Finland, Germany, Austria, Sweden and France are a few of these. They all have their own stipulations — some make you apply for special international grants (Sweden), some have a limited number of programs (Germany), but the bottom line is the same: free education for all nationalities.

This is a good idea if you want to get the opportunity to refine your learning in a certain topic, claim international experience, earn a degree or get the opportunity to be published in peer-reviewed journals. Obviously, taking off isn’t something everyone can do, but I recommend this option greatly to those that are able.

4. The Roaming Writer

I bet you were all waiting for this one! It’s a post about travel and writing — surely travel writing is a great way to go! Well, yes and no. Yes, because who wouldn’t want the opportunity to travel the world and be paid to write about their experiences? No, because everyone does want to do it and so competition is fierce. It’s very hard to actually pay your way by relying on travel writing. Like all writing genres, it’s a tight-knit industry where only the seasoned pros can hope to earn a decent wage. You’ll often hear that you have to write for free for a long time before making any money. Well, there are tens of thousands of travel blogs out there, both professional and amateur. Yes, of course the layman can get lucky. But when you’re stuck in a Moroccan market with no money and a camel eyeing your backpack, you don’t really want to rely on luck. True story.

So, while you can roam and rely on a series of odd jobs, here are some writing jobs that may be easier to find on the road than travel writing:

  • Translation
  • Content management (translation and writing for websites)
  • Anything in IT (web development, design, etc.)

These also happen to be things where you can work as a "contractor" in foreign countries and get paid in cash — bypassing the need for a work visa. But don’t tell the government I told you that.

Doing the things above will give you experience in other genres, teach you about style and might even provide you with some pretty cool credentials. Also, you’ll be able to delve into the craft of writing while on the road.

And so…

Uprooting is difficult. It’s stressful and confusing and sometimes expensive. But, change often inspires the kinds of thoughts and ideas that a stale routine cannot. Literature is filled with travelling novelists, from Mark Twain to Rudyard Kipling to Elizabeth Gilbert and so many, many, many more. Finding your inspiration can just mean a few steps out of your comfort zone and into completely new experiences. Travel can help to break writer’s block, forego procrastination and inspire something new.

What I’ve listed above isn’t for everyone, but hopefully you’ve seen that there are lots of ways to finish your manuscript while having an adventure in today’s modern world.

Lucy Leiderman is a person interested in far too many things. She writes about getting inspired, writing and trying to get published. She likes to compare the whole murky process to the swamp planet of Dagobah. She also likes to make pop culture references. Lucy is the author of the upcoming book A Past Life (Dundurn Press). Follow her on Twitter via @lucyleid.

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