Writers definitely like their routines. Coffee, tea, a specific playlist, a brisk morning walk — whatever it is, we all seem to have something (or many somethings) we do regularly before we sit down to write.
There’s no doubt that routines can be helpful, especially for writers who tend to procrastinate. But recently, a writer friend who returned from a few weeks of travel to different locales remarked how stimulating the travel had been for her writing brain. It opened up her eyes, she said. Getting out of her usual routine made her think and see differently, and she came home with a new perspective on her work-in-progress.
And I thought, duh. Routines can easily turn into ruts for writers who work every day in the same place and at the same time, whether it’s at home, the neighborhood coffee shop, or that one corner cubicle at the library. Routines can drive and comfort writers but also can sometimes stifle creativity.
Travel, as my friend discovered, can open our eyes and writing brains to all sorts of possibilities.
First, of course, there’s setting. Being in a different place can generate all sorts of ideas for new and unique settings. When I travel, I love to look at big things like monuments and skyscrapers and oceans, but also small things, like how cobblestones are arranged on a street and the way people plant their gardens or what kind of curtains adorn the windows of an interesting looking house. And be honest, doesn’t an old, abandoned barn just beg to have you imagine its past?
Travel can provide numerous opportunities for developing unique characters with diverse backgrounds. Like many writers, I watch people wherever I go — their mannerisms, clothing, hairstyles, expressions, accents. I love observing people in line to buy hot dogs in New York, or a brother and sister building a sand castle on a beach, or an older couple holding hands on a park bench. I imagine their stories. I imagine how I would write their stories.
And dialogue! Travel gives a writer the chance to listen to people you might never hear again. Years ago, I took a summer class at the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. One of our assignments was to sit outside for an hour and write down snippets of overheard dialogue. That was the best possible exercise in learning to write realistic, believable dialogue. I still do it sometimes, especially when I travel. I love hearing the flavor of another place through both natives and tourists. One line spoken by a passer-by can generate countless imaginary ideas!
Finally, traveling and getting out of a writing routine can make you remember to take risks and have fun! Sticking to a routine and having daily writing goals can sometimes make writers forget that all-important element of enjoying and having fun with your work. Traveling turns routines upside-down, and the unexpected, unpredictable places you go and people who cross your path will undoubtedly give you fresh, novel ideas. Even if you’re just going to a different coffee shop.