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.

Sick Of This Cold and Stir-Crazy? A Friday prompt from Going Short:

Are you stir crazy and sick of being cold?

Are you losing it a little bit? (me!)

Going Short is ready to snuggle and do some writing.

“I can’t get enough of your love, babe.”

Prompt: Bribing the Muse: On Your Mark, Get Set…

A great trick to create urgency in a flash fiction story is by using another constraint: Time.

For almost a decade now, all my college classes have begun with a 10-minute timed writing. Timed writing is nothing new. We know that it helps us transition us into the writing space, like stretching before a workout. We know that it forces us to stay present and dig deeper—writing past where we might have naturally given up. And we know that keeping the pen moving quickly, without crossing things out or rereading, is a great way to evade the internal critic and uncover fresh ideas.

But I discovered something else through years of this practice: 10 minutes of writing without stopping is also the perfect amount of time to draft a flash fiction story idea from start to finish.

It makes sense: Flash fiction is defined by a word constraint, so why not create under a time constraint? Having that clock ticking while you furiously try to reach the end of an idea gives the piece a natural sense of urgency. And writing from the beginning to the end in one sitting also creates a sense of continuity—we see the end coming as we embark on the journey.

You can use timed writing in many ways. For instance, you can:

  • Set the timer while writing to a prompt.
  • Set the timer when you’re feeling stuck and don’t know what to write about.
  • Set the timer and rewrite a “flat” story from scratch while the clock chases you to the finish line (my favorite)

And as a daily practice it’s even better. Besides, you can do anything for 10 mins, right?

Because only you can write your stories.

Happy flashing and stay warm, friends!

Love, Nancy

P.S. Want your own copy?

Order Going Short from Ad Hoc Fiction

Order Going Short Amazon/Kindle on Amazon UK  or Amazon USA 

Or get a signed Going Short from me here

LEARN MORE