Traveling and the creative spark

One of the things I like about traveling is that I always end up with a bunch of story ideas while I’m doing it. I need the butt-in-chair time of staying home to actually do anything with these story ideas but I almost never have them if all I do is stay at home. Which is to say that during the first two years of the pandemic, I had almost no new story ideas and the ones I did have withered on the vine.

They didn’t turn into anything I felt like spending months working on. Whereas after a couple of weeks in Spain, I’m already half-done with the draft of a new novel.

I’m not quite sure why this should be. It’s not as if my new ideas are usually set in the place I’m visiting. You’re not going to read a story about a Flamenco dancer from me. It’s more that the disruption of my normal routine makes my brain work differently. All of the new inputs seem to kick the creaking machinery of my imagination into gear.

I’m sometimes inspired by something I’ve read—“Amnesia is kinder than memory” is a statement I recently read and it made me jot a few scribbles on a story that  . . . just petered out.

Now, I’m not going to give up on that story. Maybe it will turn into something someday. What I’m saying is that while reading or watching or conversing can sometimes spark new directions for a project they don’t seem to be enough on their own to get a project off the ground.

I seem to need to be dislocated from my usual things in order to think new things, at least for long enough to work out a story plot and not just a story start.

I’m exploring this because I wonder how to replicate it without having to go to all the trouble and expense of taking a trip. Maybe it could be done closer to home by going to a place I wouldn’t normally go, like a high-end retailer, or by watching a show I wouldn’t normally watch, like the Kardashians. But you can see the downside to this experiment.

It’s also possible that it is exactly that time and trouble that is the point for my creative machinery. I have organized my daily life so that it is very straightforward and easy. I make sure I have a lot of time for hanging out with my daughter and doing the creative work. I enjoy my day job and have worked and invested to make sure that it runs smoothly, too.

So perhaps is it that things running smoothly just puts my creative brain to sleep and I have to run through Malaga with two suitcases, a carry-on, a messenger bag, and my daughter trying to make it to the train station on time that wakes the creative engine up.

It certainly wakes me up.