Notes on Keeping a Travel Journal

I’m coming and going at the same time. In a few days I’ll leave for a long-planned trip to Paris and Barcelona with my dear friend and writing pal Dian and I’m madly making lists, practice packing (I vow only a carry-on this time; only two pair of shoes), and tackling to-dos that must be done before I leave the country. Nightly, I’m rereading old journals, recently rescued from my storage unit, of a seven-month-long journey I took 25 years ago. Living in the past, anticipating the future, and doing my best to stay in the present. Impossible.

For this journey, I purchased three sweet, small blank journals. I figured tripping around with one small one in my bag is much better for my back than the larger ones I’ve used in the past. When I fill one, I’ll just start on the next. Because what I know about me is that when I travel, I write often and a lot in my journals. I’m a daily journal keeper in any case, but on a day-to-day basis try to keep my rambling to three pages and not too much blah blah blah. But a travel journal is so much more than day-to-day, and never blah-blah-blah.

Paris prep pixA couple of other journals I discovered in those bins were from journeys taken even longer ago than the 25-year-old trip. In 1977 I spent several weeks in Bali, gathering material for an organization I worked for at the time. A year later I was in Bolivia for the same organization, and that time the journey included a ten-day, very primitive, river trip. What I’ve discovered in re-reading these old journals, is the more thorough I am with details and impressions, the more alive the journals are. When I write about my homesickness or my worries about money or mosquito bites, they become blah blah blah.

“Write the Journey” is a workshop and talk I’ve given in various shapes and formats over the years. In it, I talk about what goes in a travel journal. Here are some of the questions I ask myself and the participants. These questions are good for a daily journal keeper, too:

What interested you? Where were you engaged?
Who did you meet or interact with that held some juice?
What amazed or astonished you?
What made you curious? What did you wonder about?
What made you laugh? What made you sad?
In what way did you feel connected to a larger world and in what way did you feel separate?

And here’s the list of what I suggest should/could be included in a travel journal:
• sketches of people and places
• cultural impressions
• emotional moments
• spiritual moments
• times you were afraid
• times you were comfortable or uncomfortable
• dialogues with people and dialogues overheard
• people you’d like to meet or know better
• daily routines
• sensory details
• names of places
• meals you ate and meals you wish you hadn’t eaten.

There’s much more of course: Questions, explorations, serendipitous moments, and always more sensory and concrete details. Our travel journals not only reflect the people and places along our path; they also mirror our own inner journey. Maps to who we are and who we want to be.

I’ll be posting throughout the journey, both here on my blog and on my Facebook page. I may even tweet a few notes. And maybe we’ll meet in some faraway place and be surprised by the coincidence. Or maybe you’re already there. Either of those would be lovely.

When Wild Voice Speaks, Pay Attention

I’ve been throwing around the term “wild voice” for a long time, at least as long as I’ve been doing the Wild Women writing workshops (these date back to 1997). With my new book Wild Women, Wild Voices, due to be released April 7,  I thought I’d better explain what I mean when I say “wild voice.”

Magellan Penguin flaps its wings, Punta Arenas, ChileAs its name implies, wild voice is untamed and unbounded and holds the possibility of great beauty. It goes deep, like roots; it sings because it can. It is not domesticated or restrained. Wild voice can be dangerous; it can be outrageous. It is passionate, exuberant, and eager for life. It is turbulent and stormy, often arriving as unexpectedly as a summer squall. It can also appear as tranquil as an autumn breeze or a lazy river—but just try to capture either of these in a bottle and put them on a shelf.

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Ten Daily Habits That Make a Good Writer (redux)

I may have been talking to myself as much as anyone when I compiled “10 Habits That Make a Good Writer” that first appeared in the original edition of A Writer’s Book of Days. Flannery O’Connor calls it “the writing habit,” others call it a daily practice, like meditation, like yoga. We know a regular practice, done with intention, can have a powerful effect on our well being.

Here’s a short-list of the “10 Habits”
1. Eat Healthfully
2. Be Physical
3. Laugh Out Loud
4. Read
5. Cross-Fertilize
6. Practice Spirituality
7. Pay Attention
8. Give Back
9. Connect With Another Writer
10. Write

Writers, like other artists and creatives, are easily seduced by our work. The creative process really can cast a spell. We forget to eat, forget to sleep, forget to move our bodies; we isolate, become self-centered (the work is everything). I think we forget we’re merely human—physical beings in a physical world, fragile and susceptible to all manner of ills, of the body as well as the spirit.

Balance. That’s what the “10 Habits” mean to me. Taking care of our bodies, not taking ourselves so seriously, filling the well that we empty by doing our work, participating in the world we live in. Our creativity is a gift, whether it’s writing, visual art, dance, music, cooking a delicious meal, crafting a beautiful vase, building a cabinet, decorating a room—all these creative gifts are meant to be shared. Give back to the world and the world will gain in ways we may never know.

Writers need one another’s support because creating our particular art is a solitary act and who can better appreciate that than another writer. Who can better understand the particular rigors, joys and disappointments of writing than another writer? Who better to help puzzle out a problem or to know what kind of celebration is called for when a poem is finished or a story or a book, especially when the writer herself is pleased with the work?

And that last “habit,” number 10: “Write.” This is what I find many who want to write don’t do—write every day. Even if only for ten or fifteen minutes. Give it half an hour; who knows what can happen. If we don’t write every day (or at least five days a week), we lose touch with our writing muscles, our imagination goes a little brittle, words hide out. The worst part about not writing, especially when we intend to write but somehow just don’t get to it, we feel bad about ourselves; maybe a little guilty, maybe embarrassed or ashamed to admit to ourselves or others. When we feel bad about ourselves it’s more difficult to get the pen moving. So we may miss another day, and then the next. The more we don’t do it, the worse we feel and the harder it is to “just do it.” But, by simply putting pen to page every day, or fingers to keyboard, even if what we write is what Natalie Goldberg calls “the worst junk in America,” we keep the creative muscles limber and the self-esteem healthy. The more we write, the better we feel about ourselves not just as writers, but in other areas of our lives, and so the more we write and so it goes. Daily practice. No judgment.

Download the completer version of “Ten Habits That Make Good Writers” here: ten habits