Traveling as a Writer: The Only Question You Need to Ask

You already know I love to travel. AND you probably know I interpret travel very loosely. Yes, I love sitting in a sidewalk café on a gorgeous sunny day with my notebook! (Yes, please!) But I also love driving alone across Nebraska, meditating on corn, clouds, and cows. I love to travel one town over and lock myself away for the weekend in a cheap hotel, diving deeply into my work (and you should try it if you never have!) Regardless of the destination, I’m always traveling as a writer. 

Not all travel is created equal for inspiration. What I’ve discovered is the best writing comes from travel that has a tiny bit of adventure—a little bit of the unknown mixed with a little mystery splashed with a little danger.

Not DANGER danger. Of course.

Just the danger of: I have no idea what to expect…and I’m going for it.

Maybe you’re traveling somewhere brand new. Maybe you’re traveling alone for the first time. Maybe you haven’t mapped out your itinerary and you’re going to “wing it” for a whole day (yes, do this!). Maybe you’re going spelunking or snorkeling or horseback riding along the central American coast (swoon!). Or maybe you’re spending the evening taking slow-motion videos of the summer carnival in your own home town.

No matter where you are you can always be an artist.

Back when I first fell in love with Hemingway, it was both his writing and his contagious curiosity about the world. His life wasan adventure!  Or at least it seemed that way. Whether he was in exotic Paris, Africa, or Cuba, or closer to home in Michigan or Idaho—it was all inspiration. It all ended up in his work. 

Influenced by Hem, I decided I would make it my goal to lead an interesting life. To say yes as much as possible. And over the decades this mindset has become second nature to me, a guiding principle in many of my life decisions. When I’m faced with possibilities, or difficulties, or uncertainties, I ask myself this very important question:

Will it make a good story?

Actually, this is a great question to ask all the time, whether you’re traveling or not.  But if you ask it while traveling specifically…you will begin to follow the road less taken. You will veer away from the crowds and down the quiet side streets…and into your next story.

Because new ideas come when we invite the unknown into our lives. They come from walking the dirt roads through local villages instead of taking the car, going to the wild beaches instead of the tourist hot spots.  They come from talking to a stranger in a strange city in a train station you will never see again.

When you travel as a writer, your heart intentionally open to revelation in all its many guises, you will be just as excited to soak up the muse whether you’re on a solo retreat or a family vacation, whether you’re in Hawaii or Omaha.

So, as you travel or consider traveling again, I invite you to travel as a writer. Whether you engage with your scheduled travel more creatively, make simple travel more inspiring, or decide to go on a future retreat with me (!) remember that as artists we are always on the clock.

And what a beautiful clock it is.


How to Travel as A Writer Wherever You Go

  1. Embrace Novelty: take risks. Eat the new food, walk the new street.
  2. Reflect on Normal: With distance, we can better see our regular lives. Away from our hometowns, we finally have perspective enough to write on what we take for granted.
  3. Carry a notebook. Writing in a notebook is also a fantastic companion when eating alone at a restaurant. (P.S.—try eating alone in a restaurant)
  4. Engage conversations with locals and strangers—real conversations. Meaningful and memorable ones.
  5. Take walks, ride bikes, and take bus/metro/train rides with no destination and no schedule. Public transportation is much more interesting. Walk whenever you can.
  6. Make art that doesn’t count. Carry a camera or a sketchpad (or a harmonica!). Engage that sense of play that comes from making art outside of your preferred genre.
  7. Remember your job: artists show us beauty and frame experiences—everything is inspiring if you want to see it that way.
  8. Create chunks of headspace to go deeper. Travel alone if you never have. (Yes, do this! More than half my travels are alone.)
  9. Make a point to see/engage with many kinds of art: museums, music, community culture (I recently went to a carnival and took photographs)
  10. Meet other writers: there is no better inspiration than surrounding yourself with other creatives.
  11. Learn some new words. Seriously. Learning a language is good for your brain, but as writers it reminds us of the plethora of new words out there.
  12. Put away the phone and step away from the internet. Look up and watch the real world go by in all its beautiful glory.

Happy Travels!

xoxo Nanc


Want to travel and write together in 2022?
New Retreat Opening Monday!

FRIENDS! Are you feeling ready to reconnect and recommit to your writing? To commune with your fellow artists again? Do you need a dose of adventure and a jolt of inspiration?

We’ve found just the place for you!

Kathy Fish and I will begin opening up our first flash fiction adventure of 2022 on Monday, July 26! These retreats sell out quickly so get first access below:

Photo by Lindsay Loucel on Unsplash

Yes, I’m interested! Put me on the list for information and first access!

“The Wacky, Weird, and Wonderful”–Zoom workshop fundraiser for Brilliant Flash Fiction

Virtual FUNDRAISING WORKSHOP WITH NANCY STOHLMAN

Saturday, JUNE 12, NOON MDT (Denver, CO, time)

Everyone attending the workshop will be eligible for a drawing to win one of 3 signed copies of Nancy Stohlman’s book, Going Short.

About the workshop:

“The Wacky, Weird, and Wonderful: Dazzling Narratives and Experimental Flash Fictions”

The constraints of flash fiction have ironically created a new sort of genre freedom, and flash fiction writers are embracing contortions that wouldn’t work in other forms: a motley circus of tightrope walkers and jugglers and trapeze artists plunging against their boundaries and defying narrative in breathtaking ways. In this one-hour workshop we’ll examine, discuss, and take bold risks with experimental narratives, attempting the kinds of literary acrobatics and daredevil antics that emerge when plots are forced to bend in small spaces.  

acrobats balance on Empire State Building, 1934

From Brilliant Flash Fiction: If you want to attend this workshop, please email bffnonprofit@gmail.com with WORKSHOP in the subject line, giving your name and an email address where we can send a Zoom link. We ask participants to donate $20 by clicking the Donate button at brilliantflashfiction.com. Everyone attending the workshop will be eligible for a drawing to win one of 3 signed copies of Nancy Stohlman’s book, Going Short.

More info, as well as contests, submissions, and other awesomeness, at Brilliant Flash Fiction

Writer’s Digest Short Story Virtual Conference May 22-23

Thanks to everyone who registered for summer workshops–all workshops are now FULL, and I am looking forward to working with you all!

If you were not able to register for a workshop intensive: I will be participating in several live (Zoom) opportunities in May and June! The first one is this weekend, at the Writer’s Digest Short Story Virtual Conference:

Writer’s Digest Short Story Virtual Conference, May 21-23

Writer’s Digest is pleased to present an exclusive virtual conference for short story writers! On May 21-23, our Short Story Writing Virtual Conference will provide expert insights from SEVEN award-winning and best-selling authors on the finer points of how to write a short story. Spend the weekend learning techniques for honing your craft skills, marketing your short fiction, editing, and getting the tools you need to advance your career as a writer from seven different published authors.

Experience the education, camaraderie, and opportunities provided by a live writing conference without ever having to leave your home!

  • Marketing Short Fiction: The Science of Publishing by Jacob M. Appel
    The purpose of this session is to demystify the submission and selection process, ultimately leading to a more impressive acceptance to submission ratio.
  • Editing the Short Stuff by Windy Lynn Harris
    This session will walk you through a four-step plan to go from first draft to last with confidence.
  • Whose Story Is It Anyway?: Point of View in Short Stories by Ran Walker
    Award-winning author Ran Walker discusses the ins and outs, pros and cons, of using the various forms of point-of-view so that you can approach your next story with greater confidence.
  • How to Use Eight (vs Five) Senses in the Short Story by Jenny Bhatt
    During this session, we’ll look at practical examples from well-known short stories for how to leverage all eight senses in our own writing.
  • Going Short: Flash Fiction for the Flash-Curious by Nancy Stohlman
    In this session, veteran writer, publisher, and professor Nancy Stohlman will take you on a flash fiction journey to examine and discuss the fundamentals of flash, examine different approaches to the compressed narrative, debunk flash myths and distinguish flash fiction from its close cousins, the short story and the prose poem.
  • How to Develop an Enticing Story Premise by Rachel Swearingen
    In this session, you will learn how to use the elements of craft to discover the unique premise hiding in your material.
  • Worldbuilding and the Bi-valve Heart of the Story by Brenda Peynado
    This craft lesson will show you how to forecast the heart of the story within the first sentence or paragraph at the same time as it builds your fictional world, small or large—a family, a suburb, a spaceship, or a planet.

Info, full schedule, and registration for the conference:

***Going Short: Flash Fiction for the Flash-Curious will be held Saturday, May 22 at 3 pm EST/12 pm PST

Would love to “see” you there!

Summer Workshops: Registration Open!

Friends! It’s that time of year again! These will be the only “live” (asynchronous) workshops I will be offering until January 2022–I’m looking forward to working with everyone this summer!

Flash Flood: Write a Flash Novel

May 31-June 11, 2021 (FULL)

July 19-July 30 (FULL)

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Do you have a large, book-length idea that you’ve been wanting to bring to fruition? Do you want to end 2020 with your flash novel in progress? Do you love the intensity of FlashNano or NaNoWrimo? Then get ready: In 10 days we will create a literal “flash flood” and you will leave the workshop with the bones (at least) of a flash novel.

What’s a flash novel? With the scope and complexity of a novel, and the size and ingenuity of flash fiction, the flash novel is a new type of book, a breakout genre that can deliver a sophisticated reading experience in a compact space. In this online workshop will envision, draft, collage and create the momentum for that large-scale idea you have been wanting to tackle.

Participants should come with a basic understanding of flash fiction and have ideas for a book-length project.

NOTE: This class (taken this summer or previously) is the pre-requisite for the Flash Novel Mastermind


Going Short: Writing Beautiful Flash Fiction 

June 14-18, 2021 (FULL)

August 2-6, 2021 (FULL)

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This 5-day generative class will take a deeper dive into the concepts from Going Short to examine the fundamentals of flash, try a variety of approaches to the compressed narrative, discuss what makes successful flash, and generate your own original flash pieces.

This course is open to writers with all levels of experience in the form, whether you are brand new to flash fiction, a writer coming from other genres, or a veteran flasher looking for a dose of inspiration and some writing camaraderie.

Questions? Feel free to contact me at nancystohlman@gmail.com


The 12-Week Flash Novel Mastermind

Returning in September, 2021!

Get First Access to all courses

From Past Participants:

“Nancy’s class was a delight to take. Her incorporation of multimedia into each day’s approach motivated me on new levels, and her prompts opened doors to reimagining my stories in ways I had never before considered. The focus is on creation, not critique, which offered a comfort in that foggy, not-knowing phase of writing, something I’ve long struggled to find. This class was the gentle push I needed to dive head first into my ideas and let them carry me for while, before taking the reins. Thank you!”~Meagan Johanson

“Nancy Stohlman’s Flash Novel workshop was so helpful and so much fun I took it twice. Nancy’s wonderful course materials—readings, commentaries, exercises, critiques—arrive each morning like a magical gift to unwrap with the day’s first coffee. Now I’m hoping she’ll offer a Flash Novel Next Steps workshop!” ~ Sally Reno

“Nancy will help you to become a better writer—while having an awesome time. The best thing about working with her is that it doesn’t feel like work; the atmosphere is positive, generative, encouraging. I took her “Write a Flash Novel” class. These days I’ve become a slower, finicky writer, but her class pushed me out of my finickiness and into producing work. I wrote the hell out of those two weeks. Every day there was an inspiring prompt and lesson. It coaxed me out of dull perfectionism and allowed me to make a mess (a requisite for any artist).” ~Leonora Desar

“Nancy is a gifted teacher and coach, striking just the right balance between inspiration and discipline. In her Flash Novel workshop, I learned how to let go of preconceived ideas about my material and explore its larger possibilities for characters, structure, and plot. By the end of the class, I had lots of great ideas and a road map for getting them on the page.” ~Pedro Ponce

“The day I signed up for Nancy Stohlman’s “Flash Flood: Write a Flash Novel” workshop, I entered with five underdeveloped ideas. By the workshops conclusion, one of these ideas blossomed into a cast of characters with personalized desires, humor encompassed in varying flash forms, and previews of my fellow writers flash novels in-progress. This workshop enables writers to construct a table of contents, toy with characters (new and old), and exchange ideas on how to proceed in writing their novel in flash once the workshop ends.” ~K.B. Carle

“Nancy Stohlman’s Novel-in-Flash Workshop was a thoroughly rewarding experience. Nancy was an encouraging and passionate instructor. She fostered a supportive community of writers. Her knowledge of flash fiction helped me move out of my comfort zone and try out different techniques I would otherwise have been afraid of trying.”~Candace Hartsuyker

“Nancy Stohlman’s Novella in Flash Workshop moved my writing ahead in a direction I never imagined.  Before it began, I feared I’d signed up for more than I could handle. But, in a ‘flash’, Nancy, a generous person, with an infectious creative spirit assuaged those worries. From the first workshop day to the last I received encouragement and insightful responses to my writing.” ~Jo Goren

“Nancy’s class was a delight to take. Her incorporation of multimedia into each day’s approach motivated me on new levels, and her prompts opened doors to reimagining my stories in ways I had never before considered. The focus is on creation, not critique, which offered a comfort in that foggy, not-knowing phase of writing, something I’ve long struggled to find. This class was the gentle push I needed to dive head first into my ideas and let them carry me for while, before taking the reins. Thank you!”~Meagan Johanson

During these times of uncertainty and unknowing, Nancy Stohlman opens up the writer’s mind to embrace uncertainty and unknowing as a source of creativity and discovery for our potential as writers. Her workshops provide a safe environment to let things go and see what surprises return. ~Annie Bien

The Flash Novel workshop with Nancy Stohlman was an amazing immersive experience. I looked forward to each morning, wondering what she would cook up next! Her prompts worked miracles, opening my story, helping to push it out, guiding the work to the next place it needed to go. Im so grateful for her wise suggestions, her boundless supportand for the tools to maintain a daily writing practice to continue my project after the workshop was over. ~Jean Wolfersteig

Flash Flood: Writing the Flash Novel was the most inspiring and transformative writing workshop I have ever experienced, and I’ve participated in many good ones over the decades!  The structure was brilliant, including a craft lesson each morning replete with sample readings, reflective observations from Nancy, and a multi-layered prompt.  The flexibility allowed for each writer to respond in the way that was most meaningful for their project and where they were in their process. The small class size and the general good will of the writers created a warm and supportive sense of community from the first introductions. Nancy’s personalized and thoughtful comments arrived daily in response to each person’s work. I learned a wealth of new strategies that will continue to serve my writing for years to come.  I also gained valuable insight into areas where I needed to push myself to explore new directions and approaches.  I wrapped up this workshop with a solid collection of new work and a strong foundation for moving forward.  Flash Flood was a game changer for my writing and I will be forever grateful for having had the opportunity to work with Nancy! ~Katie Maxim