Journey’s Pause: Tips on Traveling and Writing (Day 12)

Sunrise at University Heights, Victoria. Photo by kajmeister.

As we head south, I will be taking a pause to schmooze with family near Seattle for the next few days. Saturday we took a nice little lazy ferry through the San Juan Island channels over to Anacortes, at the northern Washington border. We passed the site of the pig war, mentioned the previous day, into the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, with its currents that turn into the Pacific Graveyard, from a blog earlier in the week. This is a day to reminisce about greatest hits of the trip, and maybe share thoughts about traveling itself.

People sometimes ask why we are so lucky to find the amazing things we find and see the things we do. People also often say, Gee, I wish I could write. I thought I would offer a few tips.

Friday Harbour on San Juan Island, WA. Photo by kajmeister

Ain’t It Grand?

There are plenty of travel hacks that I’ve learned, such as wearing layers regardless of your destination or the season, traveling in shoulder season (April-May or September-October), or eating lunch, not dinner, at highly-touted restaurants because it’s the same foodat a discount. But if I think about what makes our trips really successful, I would highlight three core parts of our philosophy.

Plan Well, Then Be Flexible

An enjoyable trip is a balance between scheduled stops and spontaneity. Overplanning, which to my mind means shoving more than two planned activities into a travel day, leads to a lot of stress and anxiety. You keep checking your watch and worrying about whether the traffic or the crowds that will “prevent” you from seeing the Next Thing. Give yourself plenty of time to breathe in the place you are seeing.

On the other hand, if you go into a famous location and hope to just soak up whatever is interesting by wandering around, then you may end up only seeing what is advertised. And, usually what is advertised is the overpriced, schlocky, “touristy,” least-localized experience you can get. Do some advanced research, and pick a planned tour that you like–Food Tour, Hiking Tour, Bus Tour, Shopping Tour–whatever floats your boat. A starter goal really helps. That will anchor you; then allow time to return to something interesting that you spot on your tour.

Maintain Healthy Practices

It’ll seem obvious that you can’t enjoy your trip if you get sick. But it goes beyond the logic of just not overtaxing yourself. For example, if you assume you have to fit in some kind of “exercise,” then you’ll have a nice brisk walk through the redwoods, climb up some Roman hills, or kayak across a lake. Assume you have to bring some of the right clothing and make time to do it. You’ll get rewarded both by the health benefit and the outdoor scenery and gain experiences you can’t get with a sitting bus ride.

Meanwhile, we have found an amazing group of places to eat on our trips, and I have been thinking about what makes my search process so successful. Most often, places that have been touted in advance don’t pay off. Often, they’re not available (overbooked because of their reputation) or can’t live up to pre-expectations. Instead, I’ve had good luck finding places through google or yelp, and the common thread seems to be looking for “vegetarian-friendly” places. I’m not a vegetarian, but it seems that if a place serves vegetables, then the chefs have a predisposition towards freshness and quality of cooking. Then, even the burgers and fries taste better. As do the beets, seaweed, and kale.

Newport lighthouse, redux. Photo by kajmeister.

Embrace It–All of It

Planes will be late, sometimes hours late. Shows will be sold out. Restaurants serve strange food, construction closes down the street with the Thing you wanted to see, and people do weird things. You get lost. More than once. All of this will become part of your trip. One of the funniest stories I enjoy telling is The Worst Meal I Ever Had, which was a restaurant we chose in Brussels because we were late, lost, exhausted, and starving. Stuff happens on trips, and part of the flexibility is in going with the flow and learning to laugh about it later. When you get lost, you discover that little out of the way coffee shop or boutique with the ring that looks like your grandmother’s. The trip is about the journey, even the bad or unexpected parts.

On the ferry to Anacortes. Photo by kajmeister.

Attach Seat to Chair

Weird experiences do make for good stories. At least one reader this past week said a favorite post was on a day where I didn’t do much. I had to work a little hard to tell stories out of it, which apparently succeeded. It’s been both harder and easier than I expected to turn in something every day, and I learned a few more things from it, too.

Redwood State Park, Oregon. Photo by kajmeister.

Write every day

If you don’t write often, it’s hard to get started. The more you think about what you “need” to get started, the harder it is. It’s fine to prefer a certain process–special pen, more or less lighting, more comfortable chair–but don’t use not having the perfect setup as an excuse. Just write. It always takes a while for the sludge to clear, and the longer you go between writing, the more sludge. I have surprised myself at how quickly I’ve been getting started, and I know it’s because it hasn’t been long since the last session.

Discipline is a choice

I am a disciplined person, but even I was surprised at how lazy I had beome. I have other writing projects which, surprise, surprise, have made slow progress. Obviously, I’m just too busy, right? It can’t be that I’m fiddling around in the morning and not starting for an hour or two. In that sense, the trip has been a revelation to me. Mind you, this daily posting was a goal I set myself. I appreciate you as readers, but no one asked me to do this. Yet, I have really risen to the task–literally–getting up by 6:30 each day so I can finish before we start the day’s touring. It wasn’t a hardship. I wanted to see if I could do it, and hey presto! it turned out I could. The less time we had in the morning, the more organized I’d get the night before. It’s possible. You have to create the conditions to make it happen, and that isn’t waiting for the sun to be at the perfect angle.

No, Thank You

Write for an audience; write for someone

The other magic element X that has made this set of writing successful has been you readers. I’m not setting any records here for Likes or eyeballs, but I know there’s a handful who have been loyal and appreciative. I’ve gotten a sufficient number of thank yous for these posts, and my response is thank you for hanging there with me on the journey.

Someone was likening this to writing in a journal, but that’s only partially correct. In attempting to meet my audience’s needs, I do edit, organize, and curate the posts. They are long. There are a lot of pictures. However, I try to maintain consistency in my existing style, assuming out there that You do expect Something Good. Journal writing is non-judgmental, but I think it’s important to have some judges. In that sense, all of your feedback is incredibly valuable. You make it worthwhile.

Twelve posts in and I’ve written roughly 14,000 words. If I tried to do that at home, it would seem an impossible task. Just a little each day and every day.

Nanaimo is coming…er no that was the chocolate custard bars…NaNoWriMo is coming (National November Writing Month). Good thing I’m all warmed up.

Clotted cream from High Team at the Empress. Photo by kajmeister.

I’ll be back in a few days as we traverse through southern Oregon. Meanwhile, I charge you to go find some acceptable scones and clotted cream…

…and attach seat to chair and begin writing.

100 Blog Posts and Counting

Source: Pinterest

I didn’t plan to spend so much time writing in my second act.

I didn’t plan to become a weekly blogger or to write a book about the Olympics.  I also didn’t plan to spend thirty years working as a cost accountant and process designer for a single company. That wasn’t what I dreamed of as a child. I am still in shock that we’ve lived in this house for two decades and that I have apparently raised a physicist and a music teacher.

I thought I’d be going out to museums more often and watch less television. I thought I’d eat more pizza although, now that I’m older, I wish I’d eaten less pizza. Plans–life plans–are like that. They’re really more like wishes.

In the Company of Writers

I spent a lot more time in my youth thinking about writing than actually writing, although I did harbor a notion that I would become a famous writer, someday.  I blame Freddy van der Gelder, this kid in my fourth grade class. We were supposed to write a sentence that included the word “beautiful,” then pass our papers to a neighbor. I wrote “The beautiful lake was shimmering in the moonlight.” His hand shot up, he was so excited to read it out loud. That was my First Like. Continue reading “100 Blog Posts and Counting”

NaNoWriMo: Less Counting, More Dancing

The more people writing, the better! Really, writing should be encouraged. We can never have too many writers, artists, dancers, or musicians. But NaNoWriMo as a Thing To Do has always been kind of lost to me, and as people are posting their word counts on social media, I just can’t help but explain why.

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You Can’t Count your Way towards Better Art

NaNoWriMo is about writing 50,000 words by the end of the month of November, which means writing approximately 1667 words every day.  But 50,000 words doesn’t necessarily equal a novel. Some stories can be told effectively and be commercially successfully in a lot fewer words. Many stories take a lot more.

Honestly, 50,000 for a “novel” might be a little on the short side. Good for children’s books, or if you’re Vonnegut or Hemingway.  J.K. Rowling’s books started shorter (Sorcerer’s Stone was 77,000) and then, as they got interesting, became decent-sized. Four NaNoWriMo’s worth.

A great painting is not made better by having more paint strokes. A symphony isn’t better by having 50,000 notes as opposed to 35,522 or 272,395. But NaNoWriMo by nature is built around counting. It was started as a community project to help a handful of San Francisco writers practice their craft in miserable weather. It clearly struck a nerve, since so many people want to participate. But the participation effort is about writing a certain number. The helpers include several ways to count your words or build word count apps. That’s what apps do. Continue reading “NaNoWriMo: Less Counting, More Dancing”

A Year’s Worth of Blogging

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I didn’t plan to devote so much of my Second Act to writing. I thought I’d spend a lot more time watching old movies or re-reading Dickens. I always thought I might start writing someday, but when retirement came, I didn’t think that was Someday yet.

When I was a kid, I did think about “being a writer,” and I did study Literature in college. Unfortunately, I found the actual act of writing to be exceedingly painful, whether writing papers about Faulkner and Woolf or, later, trying my hand at fiction. I always got As on the papers, and everyone who’s read my fiction tells me it’s pretty good.  But it didn’t want to come out without a fight. I agonized so much over every description. I couldn’t get the hang of dialogue to save my life. So I gave it up and in one instance worth sharing, I even gave a pretty good Star Trek fan fiction book, abandoned at 250 pages, to my writer spouse who used it as the plot for her outstanding science fiction novel, Night Vision.

Meanwhile, I contented myself with lengthy fascinating analyses in my corporate job and was constantly whacked on the nose for being unable to limit myself to short, subject-less bullet points. No one who formerly worked with me is surprised that I am now so prolific. Except me, apparently.

This 52 weeks does come as something of a surprise, though. When I retired a year ago, I did put “Writing” on my Things To Do plan. But I also put brushing on my piano skills and taking classes, and though I can mash through a couple Bach inventions now with fewer errors and I can expound with great expertise on Opera and Philosophy, I wouldn’t call either an avocation. Nevertheless, I started writing every week, with a voice that was neither fiction nor drily analytical, and it seemed to flow. By now, this writing bug seems to have gotten into my blood. Even worse, I want to do it. Continue reading “A Year’s Worth of Blogging”

The End is the Beginning

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Barbara in Montana likes my endings. From the time I started writing my weekly posts, she’s told me that she finds the endings are often the best part and reads them first.

Can you imagine how much pressure that adds to the process? Now, not only do I want something equally entertaining and interesting, thought provoking but not too heavy, words to make you go hmmmmmm and ho ho ha ha, but now ALSO the ending has to be Barbara-WORTHY.

I don’t really know where the endings come from.

Writing, inspiration, requires priming the pump which is why you have to be disciplined to do it every day or in a routine.  Usually, it’s a pretty rusty pump. You have to start with a few vigorous thrusts of whatever quality, to get it going and get the brown stuff cleared out. Then, it just goes. Not all of the words will be funny or insightful but enough of it will get you started. And then you don’t really know where it “came” from.

Continue reading “The End is the Beginning”