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!

July 20: Denver Fbomb with Host Nancy Stohlman and Featuring Rob Geisen in “Things That Are 50”

Our July Fbomb is a Throwback to the Very First Fbomb ever in 2013 with original host Nancy Stohlman and original featured reader Rob Geisen!

As always, expect readings from host/feature/open mic guests that are hilarious, irreverent, profound, thought-provoking, satirical, and just about everything else.

You have never been to a reading quite like Fbomb! Discretion advised (don’t bring your grandma!)

Join us on July 20 at 7:30 pm MDT on Zoom!

YOUR PROMPT

Travel back in time to the year 1971: a year that first saw the birth of Walt Disney World, the Apollo 14 Mission, the First Email, and the first McDonald’s Quarter Pounder.

What else is 50? Mark Wahlberg aka Marky Mark (raise your hand if you remember Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch). Mary J. Blige! Shannen Doherty! Ewan McGregor! Malibu Barbie!

So is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and A Clockwork Orange: 2 of the best book to film adaptations!

Both Dirty Harry and Shaft were born in 1971!

Did you know: $50 in 1971 is equivalent to about $332.34 today?

OR take another approach to the 50 number prompt: Maybe a 50 word story, a 50 sentence story, or a list of 50 Things…

There will be a limited number of open mic spots–sign up at the event!

Have fun and happy writing!

Zoom link

Nancy Stohlman’s latest book, Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction, was a 2021 Reader Views Gold Award winner, a Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist, and an International Book Awards finalist. Her fiction has been anthologized widely, appearing in the W.W. Norton anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, Macmillan’s The Practice of Fiction, and The Best Small Fictions 2019, as well adapted for both the stage and screen. She teaches at the University of Colorado Boulder and around the world. Find out more at www.nancystohlman.com

Rob Geisen. Author of Beautiful Graveyards, Paper Thin, Avenge Me, The Aftermatch etc, I See You Lewis. Guitarist, Casio Keyboardist and broken romantic for the band Girls Just Wanna Have Us. Currently focused on writing sci-fi novels and learning everything there is to learn about The Outer LImits, the history of paperback science fiction, Theodore Sturgeon, and the works of Jake E. Lee. He used to host open mics with Olatundji Akposani. He used to be Get in the car, Helen. He used to not almost be 50 years old.

Beauty in the Aftermath: A Creative Call to Action

Friends,

Are you feeling the shift? Something in the water these last few weeks… unfamiliar frequencies, extra static that you can’t quite put your finger on? A cautious shift into…joy? Hesitancy? Both?

In the U.S., there has been an impulse to move forward, and quickly! Take off your masks, everyone! Hug your friends! Go to Disneyworld! And yet it’s unsettling. For 18 months we’ve been dreaming of this kind of permission, but now we may feel stunned. Pausing in a fog of new feelings.

I’ve been trying to put a name to this feeling for weeks. It’s like slipping between worlds, inhabiting a strange, transitional, duty-free zone between here and there. A kind of reverse culture shock tinged with trauma.

Go with me for a minute…

You probably know about culture shock—if you’ve experienced it, you may remember feeling unmoored in the new spaces—not quite sure how to navigate in the face of so much difference. But…you eventually embraced the unfamiliar and opened your heart to the difference, and in that opening you found new ways, new foods, and new rituals.

I mean, that’s why we travel, right?

Fewer people talk about reverse culture shock. I first experienced it after spending 3 weeks on an anthropology trip in Nepal in college. We had been well prepared for the culture shock of Nepal—but, after 3 weeks of adjusting to a new everything: new climate, altitude, food, customs, time zone— we were completely unprepared for the re-entry. We had changed, and the old ways now seemed foreign and awkward. 

Returning created just as much disturbance as leaving—maybe more because we were unprepared for it.

But reverse culture shock is only part of the current equation. There is also the very real trauma of surviving a life-threatening situation. I don’t use the term PTSD lightly. But we carry the aftermath of life-threatening trauma—wars, accidents, abuse, starvation, or a deadly pandemic—in our bodies, sometimes for years, maybe even a lifetime. My grandparents lived in the shadow of the Depression for the rest of their lives.  

It was once explained to me that US soldiers in Vietnam began to experience more frequent instances of PTSD in part because of airplanes. In earlier wars, soldiers traveled home by ship, a process that took several weeks, and they traveled together. There was a natural buffer—a liminal time between the site of the trauma and the re-emerging into society. There were weeks of distance, processing, grieving, and connection among the soldiers that helped the re-entry process. But in Vietnam (and subsequent wars), most soldiers were debriefed and flown home on airplanes—leaving them only 18 hours to transition worlds. Which means they were in a war zone on Tuesday; thrown into their old lives and their old relationships on Wednesday. No wonder they struggled (and continue to struggle).
 
So combine the two—reverse culture shock with a bit of collective PTSD, and we get closer to defining this strange, in-between space we’re inhabiting these days. We are facing the aftermath and not sure how to reacclimate.

So now what?

What does a community of sensitive, emotionally attuned people do now, at this threshold? When there is a feeling of cosmic trepidation, hesitation, when making simple decisions seems overwhelming? When your creative work—wherever on the continuum you’ve been over the last 18 months—is again shifting. Perhaps the ripples we’ve been feeling is humanity herself shaking to be alive.

Now, as always, we turn to the artists—you and me—to hold a new vision of the world. More than ever we need the beauty makers and visionaries, the poets and painters and preachers. The storytellers. Our time has come, fellow art makers. Now, in the Reconstruction of our world—let’s help to leave it better and more beautiful than we found it.

Proud to be on your team,
Nancy
xoxo

“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