As you may know, a couple of weekends ago I took a long drive from Philadelphia up to Halifax, Nova Scotia. When people asked me why I was going, I invariably shrugged and said “Because it’s there”. But I have to admit, I had a deeper motivation to making that trek. On the one hand, I wanted to see The Citadel, an early Victorian fort perched atop the central hill in the city of Halifax. On the other, I wanted to change my perspective and see what there was to see.
I believe it’s of paramount importance for writers to get out there and see things. It doesn’t matter what we’re writing, be it historical romance or science fiction or crime dramas or horror. There is just so much to see in the world, and getting up from our writing desk and going for a ramble is the best way to begin to digest it.
It’s far too easy for us, as writers, to nail ourselves down to one place in the name of work. Writing takes so much time, much of it sitting in front of a computer traveling no further than our minds (which can be a vast and uncharted landscape, believe me!). But there is a whole world of inspiration out there just waiting to touch us.
Back over Memorial Day weekend, I took a trip down to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. I went down there because I have a cool idea for a Colonial story and I wanted to see the weaver’s shop in action. I got to talk to the weavers while I was there too, which proved to be more valuable research than all the books I could have read or films I could have seen. I was able to learn some pertinent information from experts immersed in that world. It’s as close as you can get to traveling back in time.
But while I was there, I also observed people. I watched the way that ordinary tourists interacted with each other, the way children behaved in that kind of a setting, the disgruntled grandpa and the giggling teenage girls. I watched how different people reacted when they had to wait in line for lunch. I also walked until I was sore and felt the August sun down my back.
Sure, we can stop and “people-watch” in our everyday lives, but who actually does that? There’s nothing like a special trip out into the unknown to watch the foibles of society. I may be a writer and an introvert, but I like to talk to people when I’m on those sorts of vacations. You can learn a lot from chatting with the hotel concierge…and you can make up an entire background for them based on their accent or the fact that they need a haircut.
My trip up to Nova Scotia also provided me with sudden inspiration and insight that I never would have gotten if I had stayed home. I mentioned before in my posts about the trip that the sparseness of the population and the miles and miles of wilderness between small towns and cities in that part of Canada filled me with a powerful emotion of remoteness. I live in the suburbs of a huge city. I rarely find myself very far from civilization. But in my Grace’s Moon sci-fi series (coming summer 2014), the survivors of the crash find themselves profoundly alone in an untamed wilderness.
Talk about inspiration! My Nova Scotia trip hit me upside the head with it. Of course my characters would feel alone and anxious. Of course they’d be spooked by shadows and wary of anyone wandering off into the woods alone. It’s one thing to be worried that someone is out there that they could meet, but it’s an entirely different ball of wax to think that there is NOTHING out there!
I don’t think I ever would have discovered these things if I hadn’t followed a whim and driven 17 hours north. I never would have learned about the ins and outs of Colonial corporate espionage if I hadn’t stood talking to the weavers in Williamsburg for an hour. There are a lot of experiences that I never would have had if I had stayed home and tried to imagine it all on my own.
Writers: Get out there! Even if it’s just a half hour trip to a local historical site or a hike deep in the woods or a whale watching excursion, going somewhere different, where you have made no ruts and have no ties, can be exactly the thing you need to inspire you. Behind every new corner could lurk the emotions that you’ve been wanting your characters to feel. In every map could be the answer to the plot problem you can’t work out. Books are wonderful for research, but there’s nothing like using your senses to smell the air in an unfamiliar place or to taste the local cuisine.
So where have you been that’s inspired you? What kinds of things have you learned from striking out on an adventure? Where would you like to go next? (I think I want to go on a cruise so I can get a feeling for what it’s like to be out at sea!)