History That Never Was

Home of Dawn Vogel: Writer, Historian, Geek

Writing While Traveling

One thing that’s been helpful to my writing in the past year and a half is that the fact that I haven’t been traveling at all. Since March 2020, we’ve only spent one night away from home, which means that some of the advice I’m talking about today really hasn’t been put to use in a while. But in the “before times” as they call them, we often took a few trips a year to visit family or friends, or to attend conventions. And at some point in the future, we’ll be doing that again.

So how do you get writing work done when you’re outside of your normal schedule and residence?

For me, a lot of my travel involves airplanes. And it’s not always convenient to use a laptop on a plane (especially when you wind up in the middle seat) or when you’re waiting at the gate for your flight, so I like to have a notebook and pen if I hope to write during plane travel. Writing longhand is MUCH slower for me–I hold my writing implements in a convoluted way and it makes my hand cramp up if I write too much. But it works, even at a slower pace.┬áPen and paper can also be useful if you’re going somewhere where you won’t have electricity or wifi, like camping. And the alternative is sometimes putting notes into a phone using whatever note-taking app you have, though again, that can be slow going, between the tiny keyboard and autocorrect.

When we travel, our destination is typically somewhere with electricity and wifi, in which case, we will often bring our laptops. Because we almost always have some downtime when our schedule isn’t filled. When we go to the East Coast, we’re often able to stay up until what seems like midnight to folks there, but it’s only 9 p.m. on the West Coast. And when they don’t want to get moving until about noon their time, that’s 9 a.m. for us. Maintaining that West Coast schedule means there are a few hours in the morning to get some things done, even if you’ve got a full day of sight-seeing planned. This of course doesn’t work for everyone, and can even be anti-productive when East Coast folks visit the West Coast, and time is all jumbled up.

Even when we’re traveling in our own time zone, there always tend to be a few hours here and there where you can steal a bit of time to work on something. And while it may not necessarily be a productive time for writing something new, sometimes that time can work for editing or other “business of writing” sort of things that don’t involve new words. For example, I might spend the time writing a blog post or submitting stories that need to find homes.

If there’s something I absolutely 100% need to write new words on, though, that necessitates carving out a bit of time in the schedule and holing up with my laptop. That can be hard for social reasons and mental reasons. Getting into a writing headspace when you’re not in the right physical space for you can be rough. Hotel desks and chairs never feel quite the same as my dining room table and folding chair. And if we’re staying with friends or family, the only place to sit and write can frequently be the bed. In cases like that, I might try to find a coffee shop, which might not quite be the place I’m used to, but at least it has the coffee shop ambiance that I’ve experienced before and gotten writing done. It really is about tricking your brain to believe that things are as close to normal as you can make them, sometimes!

While others may find different tricks that help them get writing done while they’re traveling, having alternatives, sneaking in writing when I can, and trying to recreate my home (or coffee shop) writing experience can all be helpful if I need to get writing things done while traveling!

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