Tag Archives: travel

The Writer’s Notebook

This week, I’m starting an online FicIMG_0718tion writing course through the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  For seven weeks, I’ll be sharing ideas, responding to questions, submitting my work and critiquing the work of others.  Probably, most importantly, I’ll be reflecting on my own writing process.

A writing teacher I had many years ago stressed the importance of being archivists for our creative process.  That is, we need to be familiar with when, where and with which tools we write best.  When famous authors comment on their habits and processes, we see how familiar they are with their own inner workings.  Stephen Kings says he writes all morning every morning–even on holidays.  His desk is not pushed against a wall, but is smack in the middle of the room.  Twain, Wharton, and Capote wrote lying down, while Hemingway preferred standing.  Some writers like music in the background.  Others want  a lit candle, a glass of wine, or a cup of coffee nearby.

For the longest time, I included time of day and geographical location in my notebook entries. And I saw that my teacher was right.  A pattern began to emerge.  I discovered I write best in late morning or early afternoon, that sometimes I can write for whole days, forgetting to eat, and that when I don’t feel physically well, the writing can be dark and weird–and sometimes I like the results.

But today, reflecting on the workshop question, I realized that there was something I once took for granted that is absent from my writing:  my spiral notebook.  When I decided to write for publication, I began using the computer.  It’s quick and forgiving.  It allows me to move blocks of text or get rid of it so completely it looks like it never existed.  I can research distant libraries or reach people around the globe in an instant.

With these capabilities comes a price, however.  I have forgotten the value of what Natalie Goldberg calls “writing practice.”  I’m so focused on the goal that I don’t sit thoughtfully with a pen in my hand, noticing and recording.  Goldberg used writing as her buddhist practice.  She did it daily, before moving to her writing goal for the day.  Noticing and recording are two activities integral to the writing process.  And keeping pen to paper on a regular basis is certainly one way to move through writer’s block, especially if we follow Goldberg’s lead and “keep the hand moving.”

Another writing teacher urged my class to do writing practice long-hand because of the heart connection.  She said, “the brain thinks it, the thought travels through the heart and then along the arm to the hand, which writes it.  The eyes read it. It is processed through the brain, and the circle begins again.”  This is probably true of other arts as well.  Painting and potting, for example, and fiber arts like knitting and quilting.  And while a laptop is necessary eventually, it doesn’t facilitate this infinite, organic loop.

I still work full-time, and scramble to find writing time.  But the workshop has made me understand how important that daily, long-hand practice was to my creativity.  I remembered the intimate connection with my writing self and how it fed me.  Today, I decided I will go back to it, even if it’s a couple of times a week.  And I think I’ll start right now.

If you have a moment, please share what feeds your creativity.  What “things” do you need to get comfortable so the juices flow?


Travel and Creativity


Travel has magical effects on creativity.  This week I’m in northern Minnesota, writing with writers.  We’re sharing resources, tips, workshop info, instruction on things like how to blog, and of course, eating delicious North Woods food.  That would be wild rice.  That would be cranberries.  That would be walleye.

It’s rainy and windy outside, warm and cozy inside.  The cabin sleeps nine people even though we’re a group of three. We have a roaring fireplace, fuzzy robes and warm socks, endless space to spread out, bottomless cups of coffee.  And the view is beautiful.

What is it about all this that helps get the creative juices flowing?  Writing friend Altha has pointed out that when we leave behind our day-to-day lives, we change our “container.” There is novelty in the new.  It makes our brains perk up and take notice. It makes us feel rejuvenated.

I think there are other factors at play, too.  One is the energy of sharing a common goal.  Even though writing is a solitary act, it’s easier to produce when others are focused on their laptops, composing like me.  Another is the expanded sense of space.  Anything pressing at home or work is physically distant.  We can let it go in order to be singleminded and present to the work at hand.

When I travel, the creative aspects of my life surface.  I get a different view of myself and what’s important.  My craft comes easier.  It’s like a little geographical jump-start.

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The Problem With Prague

For the month, I’m changing the emphasis of my blog from “wondering” to “wanderinIMG_0718g.”  That’s because I’m in Prague, Czech Republic, on a writing residency.  Residencies vary in their context.  Some simply provide a place to sleep and work, with a venue to show or read what you’ve done.  This one, associated with Western Michigan University, is more of a “study abroad” program.  Twenty writers of various genres from all over the US will live in community for 4 weeks of seminars, master classes, peer reviews, one-on-one conferences and readings.

The residency begins Sunday, June 29, with a kick-off dinner and orientation.  We dig into the writing on Monday.  However, there will be lot of time to explore this inspiring city and surrounding areas.  So I’ll be posting lots of photos.

The problem with Prague is that it’s so photogenic.  It’s over a thousand years old, with a varied topology and mix of architecture.  People call it “Golden Prague” because of the ornate gold work found everywhere–on its buildings, statues and monuments.  It’s also called “The City of a Thousand Spires,” due to its many churches.

Prague crackles with vitality as well.  It’s hilly and scenic.  A river runs through it.  People enjoy the beauty in a multitude of ways.  They stroll under sweet-smelling lindens that line the river walk, listen to musicians, eat at outdoor cafes, shop at open-air markets, and boat on the river.  Runners, bicyclists, skate-boarders and segway-ists keep up a steady stream of activity along the walkways.  The trolleys clang, the train whistles blow and, each hour, a bell-tower somewhere chimes.

There are photo ops everywhere–up, down, in the distance and up close.  Prague is always posing.  You get a shot, and five steps later there’s another.  Or the same shot, with different lighting.  I hope the photos I post this month give a glimpse of this most amazing and alive city.

Travel and the Inner Life

2_pragueIn the 1990’s, I took a travel writing workshop from Catherine Watson, travel journalist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Her writing then, as now, was not a narrative of pretty views, delicious meals and how to save money by going to museums on half-price days. Hers were gritty essays about life in tundra-like climates, unpopulated islands and areas in the midst of political unrest. And she documented her pieces with photographs that told their own stories–survival, human interest and cold beauty.

Her workshop was gritty too. She said we were in class to recognize and report on the inevitable inner journey that converges with and diverges from the external journey. She told us that, like a good novel, the main character needs to enter the piece like he or she enters the place.  That the main character will be changed by the journey.  Travel is, after all, a metaphor for Life.  She stated that the reader will be most interested in the main character’s inner changes.  And, she announced, the main character was us.

I have never forgotten her lesson. Travel changes us. Travel needs to change us.

There is something greater at work than just going somewhere when we travel. The first footstep on the journey is a leap into inevitability.  We enter an engine bigger than we are. We feel ourselves burst open. We are breathless at the going toward, at the possibilities, at the unknowns, the potential for disappointments, at the awe and wonder and fear of the new.

Many people travel at this time of year. I will be traveling, too. As I pack, I want to remember Catherine’s lesson. Travel broadens us, which is good. But it also deepens and changes us. Which is better.