Given my writing business is called Science Traveler, you think I would have mastered the art of writing while traveling.
You would be wrong.
It would be one thing if my style of traveling was to go to a location for several days, a week or more. There are people who love to go to the same beach and relax. They sit out on the deck of their rented beach house or sit by the pool of their ritzy 5-star hotel, with occasional forays to explore the local environment (aka, shopping). If they are writers, their vacation becomes a writer’s retreat of sorts. Not only do they return from their travels refreshed and ready to head back to the office, they have a first draft of their newest “great American novel.”
I’m not one of those people.
My travel goals are to see as much as possible. I rarely spend more than a night or two in one location, preferring instead to keep moving and experiencing the location in full, then moving on to the next stop. Admittedly, this makes it hard to “get to know” the nuances of any given spot, but it allows me to get to know more spots – and experiences – in the same amount of time.
What it doesn’t do is allow much time to write.
The lit hours are usually taken up with excursions into the locality of the day, mostly self-guided but sometimes as part of an organized tour. If it’s a road trip there may be several hours on the road moving from place to place. If centered in a city, there are museums, architecture, monuments, and the occasional protest (I’ve run into a few of these over the years). And of course, I’m always checking out the aquariums and science-based sites, including any local rainforests, deserts, barrier reefs, waterfalls, and iconic rock faces. My most recent “vacation” was a 2000-mile road trip in the Pacific Northwest. Before that a 3000-mile road trip in Illinois. Before that, a cruise. My next big trip is also a cruise sandwiched between two immense Asian cities, with a whole lot of islands connecting the dots.
The previous and next cruises are on sister ships, although a better descriptor is yacht. I’m not a fan of the big hotel ships with 2000-4000 passengers. If it wasn’t for the portholes you wouldn’t know you were on a ship at all. My upcoming cruise is on what can best be described as a mega-billionaire’s super-yacht. With only 200 passengers there is the opportunity to get to know people more intimately and build lasting friendships.
Writing on such a cruise is still a challenge. Days are again filled with excursions to that port of call, nights are filled with getting to know new friends and the more intimate lounge acts. Dinners become major social events if you choose to join a group table. For an introvert (i.e., most writers), the few hours in the evening can offer welcome downtime in the cabin or on the deck.
But these cruises also sometimes have days “at sea,” which can be a dream for writers. On the previous trip we had only one day at sea and I productively used it to edit one chapter of my WIP, plus scoped another chapter. This upcoming trip is longer and has four non-consecutive days at sea; fantastic interludes in the brimming busyness of the trip. I’ve already planned how to use these mini-retreats.
I’m mostly a non-fiction writer, which usually means having a ton of source material spread around my computer, all dutifully ready to be cited. That simply isn’t feasible on a trip that requires long international flights and time on a yacht. But those flights and sea days do open up opportunities. I’ll likely read on the flights, but at sea I’m prepared to carve out a spot in the forward Yacht Club with a view of the bowsprit, open up the laptop (yes, I’m bringing my computer), and write the first draft of a totally non-non-fiction historical science fiction novel, the outlandish idea of which popped into my head a couple of weeks ago. If that doesn’t go anywhere I have a short story idea that also involves a little science, a little iconic location, and a little magical realism (think Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Jacques Cousteau). The key is that neither is my usual non-fiction biography. Instead, it’s a chance to stretch my imagination – and stretch out from the writer I’ve become.
So this trip is not only a chance to experiment in a new genre, it’s a chance to teach myself how to write while traveling.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.