What Road Trips Have Taught Me About Writing

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On all my holidays and road trips since 1982 I have written a daily travel diary, detailing each day’s events, names of places, what I saw, felt, did, bought, and so on. This has stood me in good stead when writing novels because with all those detailed memories plus whatever current info I can find about those places on Google, I can draw up a fairly accurate depiction of what life is like in that particular place today.

Hand in hand with the travel diary text, there are always photographs. Loads of them. Back in the days of using ordinary film, I was more careful about what I snapped. There was no instant viewing or opportunity for immediate retakes if you didn’t like the first picture, because of the delay in having the pictures printed – a process usually done once you reached home after the trip, and by then on an even more limited post-holiday budget.

When I hiked the Otter Trail back in 2003, I considered getting a digital camera to take with me, but when someone pointed out that, with no electricity for five days, I wouldn’t be able to recharge the battery nightly, I stuck to my trusty old Ricoh.

In 2011 I attended a writing seminar on adventure and travel writing, where one of the presenters advised us to invest in an ordinary digital camera and to take photographs of absolutely everything along the way. “You don’t have to print them all,” he told us, “and even if they’re not good enough to accompany an article in a travel magazine, they will always aid you in remembering places and incidents.”

Boy, was he right! I bought myself an entry-level digital Canon just before my first trip to Australia in 2012 and have used it to the nth degree ever since. The only downside is that the more photos I take, the more important it is to remember to recharge the camera’s battery before the next day’s excursion.

I’ve just returned to Melbourne after a two week road trip down the eastern side of Australia with one of my closest friends. Some days were so busy that we were too tired by the evening to write our daily notes, so this often didn’t happen until days later. Thanks to the photographs acting as reminders, not a single precious memory has been muddied or lost, from Arrawarra Beach to Mount Kosciuszko.

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Some days my photo count was over 140, particularly the day we saw the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge! Although only a handful of these found their way into Facebook, blog posts and tweets, they are all on my computer waiting to jog my memory when the time comes.

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I love being a writer because I can justify anything I do by calling it research. My recent road trip definitely holds fodder for a future novel. At the moment I have no idea what that next novel will be about – anything from a mob of  wild kangaroos to the story of Ned Kelly – but I’m certain it will be set somewhere in those 2400 kilometres we travelled through the south eastern part of Australia.

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I believe that being out of your comfort zone and travelling with an open mind are the two key ingredients for finding potentially limitless possibilities for the next novel.

If there is a common thread running through my novels, it is the fish-out-of-water theme. My novels are never autobiographical, but just like my fictional heroines, I enjoy being a single person in an unfamiliar place, ripe for experiencing the adventure of a lifetime.

Not knowing in advance what the next novel is about has never stopped me from gathering useless information for it. In common with other novelists, I have a system for filing away ideas, snippets of news, and notes about certain skills I will never personally achieve, but which my characters might well be masters of. Like a jigsaw puzzle where I can create my own pieces, the next novel will take shape when the time is right, and it will be made up of all sorts of previously unconnected pieces.

I firmly believe that part of any creative process is the melding together of various elements that would be unrelated in another context. The real trick is to find that elusive strand of gold that weaves it all together successfully and makes it shine for the reader.

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14 thoughts on “What Road Trips Have Taught Me About Writing

  1. Enjoyed this post, Susan. I do something very similar, with a bit of historical digging at various places as I write historical fiction. The digital camera changed everything about the way we approach photography–and like you, I love it.

    On Sat, Apr 16, 2016 at 9:48 PM, Susans Musings wrote:

    > susanrobertswriter posted: ” On all my holidays and road trips since > 1982 I have written a daily travel diary, detailing each day’s events, > names of places, what I saw, felt, did, bought, and so on. This has stood > me in good stead when writing novels because with all th” >

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    • Thanks for your comment. I also find the history of a place fascinating. As a relative newcomer to Australia I was intrigued to see how many places I visited had featured in the adventures of the infamous Ned Kelly. Plenty more there for me to investigate!

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    • Ha ha – I wish! Unfortunately it won’t be for a while, but I have plenty of stuff to chew on for the next novel or so. It’s back to the armchair and Google research now, and probably some time in various libraries, and then I’ll see where the compass points me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! Just answer me one thing… Do you take ten pictures of the same scene like Drollery does? And then he can NEVER get rid of any of them even though you can’t tell them apart! 🙂

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    • Ah, it’s True Confession time. Yes, I usually do take several pictures just in case some are blurred or have a slanting horizon in the background. I really did take 140 pics the day we saw the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and I kept them all – even the blurred ones! The great thing about digital is that even if I don’t use them all, they don’t take up much storage space on my computer.

      Sometimes I take several pictures from differing viewpoints. With Sydney Opera House I took all sorts of angles, slanting roof perspectives, sun reflecting across the different textured tiles, etc. It was such fun to be able to walk around a building that I’ve admired from afar for so long and finally get the close-ups and funny angles that make it so unique. I’m sure Drollery would agree with me that even if several of them look almost the same, the photographer can tell them apart…!

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  3. Great post – I also use photos in a similar way to jog my memory. Recently, I have been looking at my thousands of digital photos from a past Europe trip to write some future blog posts! I knew these photos would come in handy one day 🙂

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    • Thanks, Jenny. All my photos of Europe are the old-fashioned kind so they take up a lot of space, but they still inspire me to write, and I’ve had two of them adapted into book covers as well.

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      • Maybe you can scan your photos one day to make them digital? I still like having photos printed out sometimes and I used to love the thrill of getting my first photos developed when I had my first camera, even though lots of them didn’t turn out too well! It must be satisfying to have your photos adapted for book covers!

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  4. Great post, Susan. I’m always months behind in my travel writing. I had the opportunity to travel to Jordan in March, and I still haven’t written about it. I know that every day that passes, I forget the details. Now becuase of your post, I will try to write a post–or at least a draft of one. Thank you!

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