Writing on the road: finding inspiration in new places – Phyllis J. Piano

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By Phyllis J. Piano

I am on a ship as I write this, looking out of the window and watching the waves break as we head to the island of Tasmania in Australia. The day at sea has given me the perfect time to create.

While traveling to new places can be incredibly exciting and inspiring, finding the right environment to actually create something can be a challenge. In order to write on the road, you only need three things: a place without too many distractions, inspiration and a laptop.

A writer has his or her own particular day-to-day process, so that routine is upended on the road. And there are so many temptations to leave your writing behind on that twelve-hour flight such as: watching four movies you really wanted to see, but missed in the theater; falling asleep after that glass of wine with dinner, feeling air sick during slight turbulence that is sending drinks and belongings flying all over; trying to help a mother calm down one of the three babies in the next aisle crying so hard that they have tiny little red faces. So, what’s the best way to write while traveling? Here are some tips:

Find an environment that allows you to concentrate and create. Generally, the last row on a plane next to the toilet doesn’t work (I speak from experience), as the comings and goings will most certainly distract from your creative process. If you are on a plane, you may want to consider noise-cancelling head phones to keep background distractions at a minimum. On a ship or at a hotel, a quiet lounge or your room can work.

If you are on vacation, make sure you do all the fun things first. Trying to force yourself to write rather than enjoy your vacation is a bad plan. But there are so many down times when you are traveling, you can grab what could be wasted time to create. Have fun, enjoy yourself and when you are ready, settle down to write.

Establish your writing plan. If you are traveling with someone, agree on the timing for your writing. Ensure that your travel partner or friend is fully occupied and happy doing other things, leaving you free to write. It actually can be quite beneficial to spend a little time apart, so you can catch up on each other’s experiences later in the day, perhaps over a great glass of wine!

Find inspiration in your temporary writing environment. Even a plane, a commuter train, a standard variety hotel room, a bus or your small, but comfy ship stateroom can provide plenty of inspiration, particularly if you use your writer’s keen sense of observation. A sense of humor can help, too, as traveling can be as trying as it is rewarding.

Put email and social media aside. Keep your focus on your writing and don’t get distracted by the ping you hear signaling a new urgent business message or communication from a friend. If you stop to check messages, you could very well lose your train of thought. That’s the advantage of travel — it’s easier to disconnect electronically on a plane, bus, train or ship than it is at your home or office.

Discipline yourself to make time for writing. It is easy to put off writing, particularly when you are traveling. If you don’t reserve some time in advance to write, you won’t do it. For example, on long plane trips, I try to set aside a few hours after meals to write and edit and on a cruise, I reserve at sea days for finishing up that next chapter or article.

Give yourself a head start. Do any advance work before you leave for your trip that makes your writing easier. Prior to this trip, I downloaded several interviews that I needed to complete and created templates with titles for assigned articles, so all I had to do is open the documents and start writing.

Don’t force it. If you have done everything right in your planning, but your writing isn’t working, give yourself a break. Just try and make a few notes if you can because it is surprising how many partial thoughts or ideas can be polished into something great later when the creative force is with you.

Jot down ideas for other projects. Travel allows us to experience new places and people. Capture thoughts, observations and ideas for future projects inspired by your travels.

Start with ideas. You can’t write if you don’t have the ideas first. Give yourself the time to think about structure, characters, storylines and plots. What better time to get lost in your creative thoughts than on a plane, bus, boat or train? So don’t discount that time you give yourself to create in your head, as you can capture those thoughts and ideas in writing later.

Grab inspiration whenever it comes. Inspiration can strike at any time, even when it isn’t the most convenient. I wrote thousands of words of my first novel, Hostile Takeover: A Love Story, on a flight from Los Angeles to London. On that particular trip, I hadn’t planned to write, but just felt this incredible inspiration and energy, so I grabbed my computer from the overhead compartment as soon as I could. My fingers just flew over the keys, and I was thrilled to make considerable progress on the book over the long flight. I continued writing while in England and worked with the publisher when I was in Australia and New Zealand, so my first book was a real transcontinental effort.

Taking my own advice, I finished the first draft of this piece while sailing to New Zealand and came up with a major plot line for my third novel while on a bus in that beautiful country. It’s a pretty safe guess that some of the amazing and inspiring things I saw on this trip will find their way into my future novels.

All the best to you in your writing and travels.


Phyllis J. Piano spent more than 30 years working in Fortune 500 companies, serving as an officer in several. She is a member of the International Advisory Committee of AP-CO Worldwide. Her first novel, Hostile Takeover: A Love Story, was published October 4.

phyllispiano.com

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