Read Like a Writer, Travel Like a Writer

I’ve consciously and seriously been on the lookout for writing ideas for decades. Even before I considered myself a writer, I’d “see” scenes, overhear conversations, observe body language and immediately go off into creating a silent and soon a written riff about it.

In 2006 Francine Prose’s book Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them came up in discussion at a writing group. YES! was my immediate reaction. Being a lover of reading – for escape, information, affirmation, and communication, my copy of her book soon became dog-eared, underlined, and highlighted with “yes,” “try this,” and “what?”

“Read to savor words, to recognize techniques, to absorb plot, setting, dialogue, format, sentence structure, and plain old punctuation and capitalization.” F. Prose. This blended with observing and writing in my head anywhere.

Early in May my husband and I went on a river cruise. When I travel I take a journal (now iPad) and camera (now iPhone). Sure I still take shots of architecture, gardens, people, flowers, artwork and new friends. With Francine Prose in my head, the perspective is just a bit different.

 

Who hauled those stones up to the top of the ceiling in St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest? What did Richard the Lionhearted think when he was treated like a king but still a prisoner in Durnstein? Stories set in Budapest, Prague, Regensburg, and Vienna become misty possibilities.

 

 

If you are Jewish, how different are your thoughts from mine about the Jewish memorial in Regensburg knowing your ancestors were expelled in the 1500s, came back in the 1600s only to be persecuted again by the Nazis? Is it comforting to see the 2005 memorial to the original synagogue? Or is it a disturbing feeling that here was a place you were not wanted? What if I lived then? I’d probably be going to the Protestant Church near the synagogue.

I’m savoring words from travelers, guides and native residents, absorbing dialogue in accents and cadence different from mine, recognizing the sometimes disturbing concept of how history does repeat itself.

Meeting new people on our ship as we cruised the Danube River holds a more immediate level of connection. We are a floating village, pampered and certainly privileged to travel as we do. With the passenger list of mostly couples I’m in relationship idea heaven. Here are couples together for 2, 10, 20, 30, 56 years (yes 56!). Their body language, eye contact (or lack of it), gestures, physical attributes and partnership habits are grist for the mill of character development in future essays and stories.

Aside: The answer to my question, “To what do you attribute the longevity of your relationship?” usually had to do with having a sense of humor, communicating, and not sweating the small stuff.

It’s a cornucopia of writing ideas for me.

Back in my office here in Tucson, I look through photos and write quick snippets of ideas before the magic of the trip fades. So many stories…

How does travel affect your writing? If you’re not a writer, how does travel affect your sense of who you are? What other awarenesses are awakened from your travels?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships.


4 Comments

  1. Ethel, what a wonderful blog post. Since you love to travel, you would enjoy Joseph Dispenza’s book, The Way of the Traveler. I reread it often before, during and after a trip. It’s great preparation for intentional purposeful travel. I think you would find it inspiring.

    • Ethel Lee-Miller

      Thanks, Rhonda. I will pick it. I was thinking of you and your travel workshops while we were on the cruise and as I sat down to write “Travel Like a Writer”. Happy travels.

  2. joanne sabates

    Re meeting new people, mostly couples, your phrase: “Their body language, eye contact…., gestures, physical attributes and partnership habits are GRIST FOR THE MILL OF CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT in future essays and stories,” was a brilliant metaphor which set up a plethora of possible ideas; eg, we, as couples or ingredients, multi-grained or homogenous, strive to blend well to form a dough, a whole, a finished product which, once carefully mixed and kneaded, worked, will form gluten, protein, resilience, elasticity—the ability to grow, to bend and change shape, to rise with heat, with passion; and ultimately to nourish the body, the mind, the soul.

    • Ethel Lee-Miller

      I hadn’t thought of the emphasis on coupleship grist, but it sure is a great path to explore. Kneading, dough, grow. Yep, it’s got me thinking.
      I’ll be at the Write Group in Montclair, NJ on July 17 for their 10:00 AM meeting. Sending newsletter this weekend. Hope to see you there.

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