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Thread: Writing While Traveling

  1. #1

    Writing While Traveling

    How does one become a fiction writer?

    To a large degree, I did it while traveling. For 15 years I took two or three trips each year to mainly tropical destinations. I wrote long letters to friends back home describing what I saw and the people I met. My friends raved about the letters and at some point I began to feel I could use my experiences to write fiction stories set in exotic locations, like Somerset Maugham.

    There is something about being in an unfamiliar place that lends itself to fantasy -- and lying, which is what fiction writing is in some respects.

    I bought my first word processor while I was on vacation in Naples, a little beach town on the Gulf coast of Florida. It was one of those clunky self-contained word processors, not a computer, but it served the purpose of getting me started writing fiction. A typewriter was out of the question. I'm a lousy typist and I knew I would spend more time XXXing out mistakes and re-typing whole pages than composing stories.

    One day my landlord asked me what line of work I was in. With a burst of unbridled (and as yet unwarranted) pride, I said I was a fiction writer. He loved the idea of having a fiction writer in house, so to speak, and he offered to discount the apartment rental price if I wished to stay through the winter season.

    It was a very good beginning, even though I didn't know what I was doing at the time.

    It was November and still hot in Naples. I slept with a large fan blowing on my bed. One morning I awoke chilled to the bone and discovered the temperature had dipped to 50F after a cold front arrived. On my walk to the buy the morning newspaper I found the town engulfed in a ghostly thick fog. I rushed back to the apartment to write a description of the fog (which I later used in a story about San Francisco.)

    As far as I'm concerned, Naples is where I became a fiction writer, even though it would be 9 years before I got my first book published. Getting published isn't the ultimate criteria. Learning to think like a fiction writer and doing the actual work of writing is more important.

    I soon learned that some travel destinations are good places to write and some aren't. On my second trip to San Blas, Mexico, I accidentally discovered an old hotel I swear hadn't been there during my first visit. It was an eerie place -- large and empty of guests with a dry wind blowing through it like a desert wasteland.

    I decided not to check in because I was afraid I could never check out, as with the Hotel California. I pictured myself trying to write there: sheet after sheet with nothing on them except "All work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy." I could see madness and axes and blood running down the hallways -- The Shining in Mexico! Not for me. I rented a small condo and sipped mescal while battling a case of Moctezuma's Revenge. Writing was just not to be in San Blas.

    Singapore and Australia were much better and so was Costa Rica. I even wrote travel articles for the Tico Times, the English-language newspaper in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. I rented a monthly apartment with satellite TV in the suburbs and grocery shopped at the largest "supermarket" in Costa Rica, which was no bigger than a country store in the U.S. At the newspaper I met an interesting woman reporter who was an American ex-patriate and I wrote a short story inspired by her life.

    I also wrote a wild story based on my airline flight to San Jose. I had stopped off in Florida to visit my mother and one day I went to see the film "Fearless" with Jeff Bridges. It portrayed an airliner crash so realistically I felt like crawling out of the theater on all fours. When I told my mother about the movie and where I was going, she cheerfully reminded me of a special program she had seen on TV about an airliner crash in Latin America. She kept shaking her head and saying "all those bodies scattered through the jungle." Thanks a lot, Mom.

    My flight from Orlando was supposed to stop over in Tampa to pick up passengers, but I noticed we were headed south instead of west. I assumed we would stop in Miami instead of Tampa -- until I saw the Florida peninsula slip behind us. I wondered if the flight had been hijacked to Cuba, which lay directly ahead of us, and I started ordering drinks two at a time. The flight attendant finally calmed me down, explaining that flight plans had been changed this would be a non-stop flight to San Jose.

    I'm glad I was feeling no pain when we landed at San Jose airport in a 40-knot crosswind. The plane bounced two or three times and nearly ran out of runway before it screeched to a halt. I staggered into the terminal building clutching my word processor. I was already writing the story in my head.

  2. #2
    Lija, darkling writer Poe_writer's Avatar
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    Interesting story, starrwriter. I had to grin when I saw your name because one of my other usernames online is Starr. I started writing when I was 9 or 10. You can just imagine what those stories were like! Also: my husband was raised in Oahu, and we live near Tampa now. I've been to Naples, when Stephen King was signing his new book, Dreamcatcher. Beautiful place.

    Just thought I'd mention that, disregarding the timelines, our paths have crossed--geographically, anyway.

    Lija
    I took the road less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.
    Robert Frost
    Postcards from the Asylum
    TeddyBears for charity

  3. #3
    Registered User TEND's Avatar
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    Reading this put a little smile on my face. I've always wanted to be a writer, and recently especially I've really been working hard at it, actually writing down what I think, instead of forgetting them the next day (Although this has led to some wakeful, writing at 4 am nights). Very nice to read, and I'm glad to hear there are others who struggled and have found their way as a writer.
    "Americans should know the universe itself as a road, as many roads, as roads for traveling souls."
    -Walt Whitman
    They have their worries, they’re counting the miles, they’re thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they’ll get there—and all the time they’ll get there anyway, you see.
    -Jack Kerouac

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