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  • Writer's pictureSofia Sawyer

How Travel Inspires Creativity

For those who know me, spontaneous would not be an adjective they use to describe me. Likely, they’d say I’m a little too organized and predictable. Hell, when building out an itinerary for my trip to Austria and Czechia, I even scheduled in slots for “spontaneous” time. What can I say? I like having a plan. I don’t like being blindsided. I like to prepare. And I enjoy a solid routine. All of those things keep me grounded.

But if I lived my life like that 24/7, I may never have been able to write the way that I do, nor will I be able to grow my writing skills in years to come. Why? Because life isn’t perfect. And sticking to the plan can prevent you from being open. Think about our characters, for example. They face all sorts of challenges throughout the story, pushing their boundaries and forcing them to give up or lean in. Had I not experienced this myself, I couldn’t write characters and their ups and downs believably.

As I sit on a four-hour train ride to Prague, I think about my own big adventures and the courage needed to step out of my comfort zone, such as moving from New Jersey to Charleston when I was twenty-two with zero jobs lined up and only three months worth of savings. Then, that move up to Boston without having a chance to see the city before I went (aside from when I was seven, and I barely remember anything). Or the fact that I’ve traveled to ten countries and more than seventeen states. All of these opportunities taught me a lot and are things I try to incorporate into my writing.

How Travel Influenced Writing

I’ve always been someone who prefers to spectate rather than take part. I was curious in that way. From a safe distance, I loved learning about life in other places and about the people found there. But to travel, you’re thrown into the thick of things. And to travel successfully, you need to understand cultures and customs. That 30,000-foot view just won’t cut it.

In every place I visit, I try at least a few things relevant to that area, whether it’s food, or visiting a specific site, or participating in some sort of activity. For example, in Austria, I made sure I tried traditional Austrian food (e.g., schnitzel, sausages with mustard and horseradish, apple strudel, and the famous Sachertorte). I spent a ton of time in their many beautiful cafes just taking in the sights, sounds, and easy way of Austrian life. And as a place with some of the most well-known musicians in history, I attended a symphony orchestra concert at the Schönbrunn Palace. Although I’m sure almost all of that was touristy, it was nice to experience it and get a sense of life there.

It also led me to take as many notes as possible so I can use it in a future book. There’s a clear difference between Googling things and being there. Now if I do write a story, I can authentically talk about the tastes of things, the way the light filtered in through big windows of cafes, or how the sound of a piano swelled around me in these beautifully architectured places. It’s the little things, ya know?

Sure, I could talk about the splendor of the magnificent palaces by doing a little research and viewing pictures online, or I could talk about how I felt at a particular moment while racing through the grounds of the Belvedere and the way the old wooden floors creaked underfoot as I looked at the museum’s exhibits. Or how the Schönbrunn Palace gardens reminded me of Palace of Versailles, only to learn that Marie Antoinette spent summers at Schönbrunn as a child. Could that have inspired the beautiful gardens at Versailles?

Why Experiences Matter

When I first moved to Charleston, I’m almost sure I would never have survived had my best friend not moved with me or if my mom didn’t pick up every time I called (which was a ton when I first got there). I was a girl who hadn’t lived on her own, barely knew how laundry worked, had zero idea of what it was like to manage a household, and my palate was pretty pathetic. I think I lived mostly on chicken fingers, french fries, and pizza when I lived in New Jersey.

However, being out of my element and falling on my face time and time again forced me to grow. And I remember each and every experience and how it felt to fail or succeed. What it took to make it click. What it was like to experience something for the first time on my own. All of those things can be put into my characters. The trials and tribulations I faced are ones they can deal with too. That feeling of discovery is also something I can help them uncover. But I could have never have done that if I didn’t take that big first step, because once I got through that scariness, I realized I could do a lot more.

How I Will Embrace Travel for Writing

I could almost kick myself for not thinking of making detailed notes on all those other trips. Sure, I’ve taken a ton of pictures because I’m shutter-happy, but it’s not the same as knowing all the details. What did I order from that restaurant? What made me laugh? What surprised me? How the hell do you get out of a Parisian subway station? Don’t laugh, I somehow got stuck in there for a good thirty minutes. It’s the little things that make a story.

Going forward, I plan on embracing these experiences fully and really be in the moment. It gets easy to zone out or check my phone when I’m doing something. With writing, it’s all about the five senses, so I want to make sure I’m using those and remember them. Even if it’s as simple as going to a new restaurant in Charleston, that could be useful especially since I’m writing more stories based in Charleston. What I may have taken for granted because I live there, I now can look at it with new eyes and apply it to my stories.

As a writer, do you use your own experiences in your stories? As a reader, what experiences (big or little) resonate with you the most?


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