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5 Things Traveling Taught Me About Writing

And we're back with the "5 Lessons" column! Most writers have day jobs, which feed into their writing. Every Friday I’ll be asking a writer what unexpected lessons their day job has taught them about the craft.

Today, we have a guest post from Gigi Griffis, a full time traveler and writer who, I think, is living the dream. Check out info about her upcoming novel on her website here.

Hey there, I’m Gigi—a full-time traveler, blogger, travel guidebook author, content strategist/copywriter/coder, and hopefully soon-to-be fiction author. In 2012, I packed up everything I owned, walked away from my little Denver rental house for the last time, and hit the road with my hiking backpack, my small freelance writing business, and my pint-sized pooch, Luna. I’ve been traveling full-time ever since, living and writing against a backdrop of Swiss Alps, Mexican surf towns, and elegant Parisian neighborhoods. In my free time, I swoon over new foods, hike tough trails, take too many photos, and read a lot of books.

Lesson #1 : It’s okay to muddle your way through (we all are).

If you’ve done much traveling in your life, you probably have a few (or, if you’re me, more than a few) stories of major travel faux pas.

I’ve taken the wrong bus an hour in the wrong direction in the middle of the Italian countryside with nary an English-speaker in sight, vomited on the glorious ancient ruins of Macchu Picchu, and had full-on meltdowns in Parisian cafes. Well-traveled friends of mine have stories of accidentally ordering six breakfast dishes in Chamonix (when they meant to order one), going to the airport to catch a flight on the wrong day, and crying over a lack of airport coffee shops.

When it comes to traveling abroad, you learn pretty quickly that anything can (and will) happen. Mistakes—in language, bus schedules, directions—are inevitable. And, honestly, it’s okay.

It’s okay to get lost. It’s okay to mistranslate. It’s okay to muddle through. That’s part of the frustration of travel, but it’s also part of its charm.

And the same goes for writing.

It’s okay to muddle through that first draft, to get lost, to hit roadblocks, to cry it out. Nobody goes into anything as an expert. The best adventures come from detours. And even the so-called experts get on the wrong bus, embarrass themselves in front of the locals, and get meltdown-level stuck on those messy plot points.

Lesson #2 : Plan ahead, but leave room for serendipity.

I once had lunch at Osteria Francescana—a restaurant in Northern Italy that’s currently considered the best restaurant in the world. Because it’s so wildly famous, getting a table is tough. You have to book ahead. And boy am I glad I did. In fact, I booked and planned my entire trip around going to that restaurant, and that advance planning paid off with an experience I’ll forever remember (think: Parmesan cheese five ways and foie gras made into an ice cream bar).

But here’s the thing: many of my best experiences traveling happened by accident. They weren’t planned. They weren’t fancy-pants-must-book-ahead restaurants. They were meet-ups with locals that resulted in motorcycling down the coast of Croatia or overnight stays in old castles I accidentally stumbled upon while cycling across France or hiking trails I followed on a whim in the heart of the Alps.

Which is why, for me, travel is a balancing act: partly planned, but with room for stumbling upon something wonderful, changing plans, shifting course.

And writing my first novel has been the same way. I planned the main characters, sketched out a timeline, spent time struggling over a few key points, but I also just wrote. I let the characters take shape and let their personalities shift the outcomes and timelines, merging with the planned outline and sometimes changing it along the way.

Lesson #3 : Take care of yourself.

It’s easy to push yourself too hard, both when traveling (I must see everything!) and when writing (I must get this done immediately!). Make sure you always leave room for self-care and have a little empathy for yourself when you start to feel burned out. It’s okay to take a break, grab an ice cream, take a nap in the hotel, or work on something other than your novel for a few hours.

Lesson #4 : Go slow to go fast.

Traveling too fast is a sure recipe for exhaustion and mistakes (like getting on the wrong bus; see above). Forcing yourself to plow through a writing project tends to do the same thing. Give yourself time for both writing and travel. Don’t overbook and overcommit. Instead, commit to giving everything the time it deserves, whether it be working out a sticky plot point or understanding a map of a new city.

Lesson #5 : Book it, pitch it, submit it.

When it comes to travel, there are plenty of excuses not to book that next trip. To take a leap, go on an adventure, try something new, we have to steel ourselves and take action.

The same goes for writing. I know a lot of aspiring writers who have a hard time getting up the courage to send out that first pitch, start their book, submit something to an anthology—but if you’re waiting for the perfect time, for all the fear and finances and everything else to fall into line, you’ll be waiting a long time. Because there’s never a perfect time. You just have to start. Write. Submit. Act. Do. There is no magic to it; that’s the real trick.

Thanks to Gigi for today's post! Any valuable lessons you've learned from your day job?

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