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The Subtle Art of Writing on the Road

Here I am, miles of highway stretching before me and even more miles behind. Just me and Rory, on our way to our next adventure. So what do I do? Explore the subtle art of writing on the road. 

I love driving. I always have, especially the last few years. By both choice and necessity, cross-country road trips have become a staple in my life. From the epic scenery of the South Dakota Badlands, to the seemingly endless expanse of the Midwest, and now on to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, the tendrils of cloud interweaving among flattened tops of this ancient mountain range. I’ve always marveled at the beauty of this country. The act of driving is meditative for me, a ritualized experience, that I definitely needed before jumping into my next clinical rotation. As I stare at the road stretching before us, my mind flits between medicine, books and writing, art, and thoughts of friends and family left behind.

Every trip is a new adventure, but some things remain constant. Which brings us to the subject of today’s post: my list of cross-country road tripping essentials for the creative in all of us. 

1) A Good Dictation App

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Dictation has been a game changer for me when it comes to harnessing hidden moments to articulate creative thoughts. There’s nothing like telling a story out loud to get you excited about a plot, nothing like jumping between accents to make you really hear your characters’ voices. They don’t have to be good accents mind you. Listening back to recordings of your terrible accents is half the fun after all. 

It can be hard to jump into, I’ll grant you. But once you get started, there’s something about the words that can’t help but just flow. So every day, I’d line up my dictation app, start the mic, and just let it go, using the scenery around me as a guide as I wove together some of the most outlandish tales you’ve ever heard. Most will likely never see the light of day, but it helps to pass the time, and keeps me in a creative mood. It also trains my ear to the audio format. And as I mentioned before, it’s a tool that I’m always hoping to get better at it. So it’s always good practice for me to spend time telling stories that no one will ever read, but recording them nonetheless.

2) My Best PawFriend

Ok, ok, this one may just be for me. But I really do do so me of my best writing on road trips. Something about the passing of scenery and the steady rhythmi sounds of the highway passing under our wheels, but it just gets me going! And who better to listen to me spin my wild tales of fantasy, magic, swordfighting, and love then my best pawfriend Rory. 

She’s such a trooper this one. Endless days of being cooped up in a car, and she’s content to just curl up in her little doggie bed in the passenger seat, watching the scener flit by, eased into slumber by the car’s vibrations and my stories. From hotel room to hotel room, drive-thru to curbside diner pickup, Rory’s there for it all. Never complaining or criticizing my stories, she’s the best type of audience member, curling up in bed with me at the end of a long day as we both drift off into dreay sleep. Really though, folks, get yourself an Alpha reader like Rory. 😉

3) Audiobooks for Days

It used to be that the best way to get a room fool of bookish types fighting and hollering was to pose the time-honored question: print or audiobooks? No sooner would the words be uttered than the factions would split, each convinced that there way was the true artform by which stories ought to be devoured. Written or oral? Spoken aloud or internally processed?

Nowadays, I think most people have come to appreciate that such divides are frankly quite silly. The reality is, that most people consume some mixture of the two. And interestingly, the genres and story types ingested in each medium seems to vary even for a single individual! What can’t be denied though, is the value of audiobooks to put you in the creative mood on long road trips. Often, when I’m stuck on a plot point or struggling to articulate a character in just the right way, I’d turn on my audiobook and just let the words rush over me. Particularly on a trip when your primary writing outlet is through dictation, hearing the flow and tempo of the spoken word can do wonders for your writing! 

What have I been listening to you ask? Why The Huntress, by Kate Quinn. I’m absolutely loving it so stay tuned for a review coming soon . . .

4) Podcasts

Road trips are also such a great time for learning. Nothing to do but listen and think, it’s a great opportunity to catch up on all those podcasts you’ve had waiting in your queue. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn another language (Yep, duolingo has their own podcasts now!), or you’re secretly a news or sports junkie. Well podcasts have something for everyone, my friend. Literal worlds of experiences, right at your fingertips. What’s not to love?

For me, I’ve spent the last few days oscillating between medical mystery podcasts (yep, they’re a thing) and podcasts that talk about the writing and self-publishing world (because work is never done, am I right?). As in many areas of my life, I find that switching between otherwise totally disparate fields helps keep things interesting and it’s always a blast to discover new ways in which the two intersect. (Med Lit any one?)

5) Killer Soundtrack

As much as I love words, there comes a time on any road trip when the mood really calls for some good tunes. When was the last time you were reading a book and had the sudden thought of what the ideal soundtrack accompaniment was? Or when were you watching a movie and a soaring score threatened to bring you to tears? Music reaches a deep emotional part of us, that sometimes even the most giften wordsmith can’t quite touch.

It’s often problems in character development that make me turn to music, seeking out the perfect song to embody the emotions I can’t quite seem to articulate with words alone. And honestly? It really does help. Sometimes even just feeling an emotion, letting it wash over you before even attempting to restrict it to sound and syllable can help you move behind your own limited understanding of how humans somehow manage to think and feel. 

This has definitely been a whirlwind of a year. I always knew I’d spent the year bouncing between regions and states, getting to see the country even as I got to learn medicine. But between COVID and last minute schedule changes, there’s definitely been more upheaval than I was anticipating. So by this time, I’ve been on the road for nearly a year and have my systems fairly well planned out. I know how each item fits in my suitcase and my wheeled storage bins have morphed into a tiny little kitchen, a dog motel, and of course a rolling library. 

Yes, I have been zipping back and forth across the country for almot a year and hauling a bin full of books along with me. What can I say? We all have our security blankets. 😉

These are just some of my strategies, but I’m sure you’ll find your own. Just remember to find that spark of creativity wherever you can, and enjoy the journey! 

What about you? What are some of your favorite tips for writing and living that creative life on the road?


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