Wednesday, June 27, 2018

I'm Not Lost...I Just Don't Know Where I'm Going

I know that last time, I wrote about staycations, so forgive me if this post feels contradictory and/or redundant. But summer is road trip season, which has me reflecting on how fun it is to pack up the car and go exploring, despite my horrible sense of direction. Even with GPS and all the phone navigation apps, I can and do get lost. I read a news story a few years ago about a group of tourists who drove into the ocean because their GPS told them to, and I could completely relate.

Image result for Colorado Road Map Detailed

For me, there are two ways of feeling lost: not knowing where I am, and not knowing where I’m going. Sometimes they coincide, but not always. Last week, I realized that I’m aware of where I am and what’s keeping me busy, but I’m really not sure which direction I need to be heading. I’m feeling lost in a different sense. The “what am I doing with my life?” sense.

Partly this comes from being overcommitted. You know, when you’re busy with a hundred different things and feel like you’re not doing any of them justice? It’s very destabilizing and is starting to make me stressed-out and grouchy. So, I decided I should take myself on a metaphorical summer road trip and was amazed at how framing my problem in this way immediately made me feel more in control.

First, I need to map my route. I’ll spare you the boring details, but this basically entails breaking down my summer writing goals into a series of achievable steps. That’s not so hard, right? Add in a couple of side trips and stay flexible for detours, and barring any major breakdowns, I will be much farther along than if I stay put where I am, spinning my wheels.

Next, I should decide what to take. In addition to my own works-in-progress, I'll throw in a couple of novels I’ve been wanting to read, a memoir written by a friend, and a complete compilation of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Wine, sure. (Sangria, maybe, as it is 98°F at my house today.) Chocolate, of course. And, hopefully, equal parts creativity and problem-solving.

Now, what not to bring. That matters, too. Taking a parka to Las Vegas in July, for example, is wasted effort and space. So, I'm sorry, social media. You don’t make the cut. I’ll check in once in a while so you know I'm alive and well, but you aren’t going to ride shotgun with me, sidetracking my mental energy. Same for you, online news outlets. Mindless scrolling through articles that somehow change every day but don’t change at all is not the best use of my time right now. It will all be there when I get back.

The point of this “trip” is to get my writing squared away, so it doesn’t matter than I won’t get much farther than my driveway. As my new blogger friend Karen of Profound Journey put it, writing is more an inner journey than an outer one. (Honestly, go visit Karen's blog if you haven't already. She will inspire you for all kinds of journeys!) 

What would you pack for your metaphorical road trip? What would you leave behind?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Taking a Writer's Staycation

Travel is great for writers. The more you see and experience, the more it informs your writing. But successful travel, especially with a family, depends heavily on the convergence of many factors, including work schedules, finances, school programs and projects, dog kennels, cat sitters, and how long it has been since someone in the household last threw up. It’s a miracle anyone goes anywhere. Especially if an airport is involved. (Thanks, TSA.)

Well, you think, drumming your itchy writer fingers on the table, the alternative to traveling is staying home, and what’s fun and inspiring about that? My answer is: nothing. Please go directly to YouTube and spend the next 7 ½ hours watching instructional videos for making decorative door wreaths out of the junk in your recycle bin.

If you didn’t take the bait, congratulations! You are a true writer and/or your recycle bin is empty. So I will share a little secret: you can find plenty to write about without jetting off to Reykjavik. In fact, I once spent the better part of three years doing one new thing in my hometown every week. It was a great way to renew my enthusiasm for my community, and it gave me lots of material.

If you’re interested in mining your location for inspirational nuggets, I have a few tips:

Research. Go to your local tourism website and print out a list of the top ten activities. Now, wad that into a ball and throw it on the floor for your cat to play with. Instead, pick up a real newspaper and a couple of those ubiquitous free arts and culture publications. Make a list of possible activities that will challenge you to stretch your imagination and comfort zone. If you’re anxious about going solo, find a willing friend/spouse/child to accompany you.

Ditch your car. No, don’t actually drive into a ditch. (Writers…so literal.)  Leave it behind and walk, which helps exercise both your body and your amazing powers of observation. Bring a notepad and camera (my preference) or use a smart phone to document your adventures. Pictures and notes are indispensable memory joggers when you finally quit procrastinating (ok, maybe that’s just me) and sit down to write.

Follow your nose. Venture into establishments you’ve never visited, and talk to people you encounter as you go out and about. Different neighborhoods, whether ethnic or not, often have vastly different vibes, especially in urban settings. Take advantage of the variety available in your area. Feel free to eat, drink, and be merry, all in the name of investigation.

Always mind your surroundings. Ra’s al Ghul’s advice to Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins applies to all of us. Your safety is paramount, so don’t stray so far off the beaten path that you end up somewhere you shouldn’t be. If you really want to get nitty-gritty, schedule a ride-along with your local PD.

Now, get out there and find your inspiration! 

What tips would you add for infusing your writing with local flavor?