Why It's Okay to Look Like an Idiot (Or, the Writer Is a Traveler)

Traveling and writing have loads in common. Most importantly, both pursuits make us new to ourselves. | lucyflint.com

Here in the midwest, it is definitely SUMMER. The days are sun-dazzled (or fiercely thunderstorming), and sticky with humidity. At night, the bats and fireflies take over the backyard, and fat junebugs whap against the windows. It all puts me in the mood for ice cream cones, barbecue, the smell of fireworks, and...

You know. A big VACATION.


Besides heat, summer is always synonymous with vacation. Traveling. Getaways.

I love to travel. Soaking in the atmosphere of some Other Place. Listening for the accents, changes in idioms, new conversation topics, or heck, a whole new language.

I like to see how the light feels different, to feel the switch in climate. I revel in all the sights, unfamiliar streets, new architecture. 

Best of all, I love how it changes the air in my brain. You know? Suddenly you're thinking new thoughts. When you're in a new place, a new context--

You get a chance to be a whole different person. 

It's kinda like being a writer.

Yes? Every time I sit down to work on a novel, I feel like I kind of unbutton part of my personality. I do a conscious context shift. I shiver into another kind of skin, another kind of mental place. 

And when I wrap up a writing session, there's that disorienting sense of coming back home. That muzzy, jet-laggy brain. And all the familiar objects seem a little strange, a little off.  

Okay. But then, there's this other side to traveling. 

To be honest, there's a lot about traveling that I honestly DON'T love.

I know. Super un-cool of me. But there it is.

I am not a big fan of hassle. I get a bit stressed when maps are pulled out. 

And when it comes to being daring in new places: I am about one-quarter brave and three-quarters big fat chicken. (I'm working on changing that ratio.)

I know it's very unsexy of me, but I actually enjoy routine, reliability, and certainty. I usually don't love surprises.

Like, say, the massive detour you weren't expecting because you're already exhausted and haven't had dinner and your bladder is about to explode. (Right? Anyone?)

Travel means being out of my element. And sometimes it means, being lost, staring around for some signage, pulling out the dreadful travel guide or phrase book...

Sometimes, travel means looking like an idiot.

Advertising the fact that you literally don't know where you're going or what you're doing.

It means being at the mercy of a whole bunch of other forces. (Rain, poor signage, crappy websites, hand-drawn maps, other travelers, extremely unpleasant restrooms, the locals, the germs of the person behind you on the plane...)


Kinda like being a writer.

I don't know about you, but when I started writing full-time, one of the things I most wanted was an ultra-clear, ultra-calm map. An infallible guide to this whole process.

Some very chill person with total authority, who would step in and say: Don't worry. This whole situation is totally under control. No muss. No fuss. 

But honestly, a lot of writing--for me at least--involves feeling like an idiot. 

Like I don't have the brains to write a clear sentence, let alone a chapter. (And never mind a novel, just don't, because that's like sprinting up Everest alone and without training.)

The writing life is full of uncertainties and massive detours. It yanks me out of my element time and again, forcing me to go somewhere that I'd rather not go. 

Sometimes, I get lost. I scramble for my best writing guides, and have agonized conversations with my best writing friends, and still end up feeling like I don't know which way is north. 

Sometimes with writing, I don't know what I'm doing.

The wonderful thing is that: I know why I endure the discomforts of travel. It's not about the creepy gas station toilet experience. Or the night I was pretty sure I was being sold to human traffickers. Or getting lost late at night in a place where I didn't know more than seven words of the language. 

(Though it all makes for great stories.)

I love travel because the process of it shapes me. Letting go of familiarity changes who I am, and how I see myself. 

And whether it's comfortable or very much not: the experience stretches me, broadens me, makes me new.

And that is worth it. 

(As are the amazing views and wonderful food and instant friends and the crazy stories and other incredible experiences...)

And as for writing: well. I endure the discomfort for the same reasons. 

Because after laboring up the steep hill of not knowing what the heck I'm writing, I sometimes reach a place where suddenly I see. And suddenly I know.

And that just fills me up. It makes me crazy-happy, delirious, and like this is the only thing I want to do.

Right? Have you found that you can go from total uncertainty to total clarity about the themes in your work, or the way the plot will unkink at the end, or who the characters really are... and isn't that an incredible moment? 

The process of writing--it changes me. All the thinking and working and fighting to see things clearly: it all scrapes the edges off of me

Writing--like travel--returns me to myself feeling a bit new.

And that is worth it.

(As are the amazing love of words and the wonderful books we get to read and the instant friends and the crazy stories and other incredible experiences.)

This July, we'll be teasing out the relationships between writing and traveling.

The overt ones (like what to read on a trip; how to write when you're on the road; how travel sharpens our observation skills), and the more metaphorical (like traveling the worlds of our own stories--woo!; or dealing with the culture shock of becoming a writer).

We'll be traveling, exploring, and getting all wanderlusty with our words. 

I'm stoked.

Because I'm convinced that travel can echo, illuminate, and shape our writing--our writing habits, our mindsets, our writerly hearts, and oh yes, our bravery.

Bravery! (You knew I was going to come back to that, didn't you, lionheart?)

So pack a pen and a notebook, gather a bit of courage, and let's do this.