Last summer I stepped away from labor and academia to visit my girlfriend in the German town where she lives. Not everyone is lucky enough to cross the pond and get the European experience, but I spent two and a half months busting my tail on demolition sites to save up the money. (Living under my under the roof provided by my parents helped too, I guess. Thanks Mom and Dad…) After four weeks, four countries, and a few thousand dollars, I had what can easily be classified as the best month of my young life. And while I didn’t have time to develop as a writer while abroad, I did notice that it changed my writing after I came back.
How Travel Helps
1) New Things to Write About
Face it: As college students, it’s difficult to think up original and invigorating content for our next-best, would-be stories when we’re confined in our dorms and barricaded behind our books. Exploring foreign places and experiencing new cultures can lead your mind to thoughts that you never could dreamed up. What better way to explore those new ideas than through the wonderful process of discovery that is writing?
On the way home from Berlin, as an example, our six hour drive actually took ten when traffic stopped, due to the discovery of an old, defunct firebomb from WWII near the Autobahn. This in particular got the creative juices pumping through my neural pathways, and I spent that extended ride reflecting on this new plot device that may yet become my first true masterpiece of short fiction. Only time will tell.
2) New Places to Imagine
If you’re at all like me, developing a setting for your fiction can be difficult. I ask myself, “How many more times can someone write the suburbs with a fresh perspective?” Whether it be through supplying a romantic backdrop for a story, or by providing inspiration for the creation of your own world, touring any of the historic cities that are so plentiful across the Atlantic will be the perfect panacea to this creative obstruction.
(My Personal favorite was Amsterdam—those canals made the city streets twinkle in the most beautiful light. John Green did no wrong using that place as the setting for his YA classic, The Fault in Our Stars. I couldn’t help but fill the space with half-baked characters with stories that were begging to be realized.)
3) Time to Reflect (and Relax!)
Ask George R.R. Martin: You can’t rush art. Every artist needs time to think about what they’ve written before it can be any better. And unless you’re Stephen King, the odds suggest that you won’t be publishing bestsellers annually. Being out in the world and away from your work will give you the perspective and the temporal distance required to see your work objectively.
Besides, if your semesters are as hectic as mine are, you’ll be screaming for the time off. The stresses of the university require a strong mind and an unbreakable will. Which brings me to the next part of this list…
How Travel Hurts
1) Back to Reality
“Yeah Connor,” you’re probably saying, “we get it. You had an amazing month in Europe. Good for you.” Well, it isn’t all good. Because I spent so much time in paradise with the beautiful girl I love, coming back to Hamline was a difficult transition. After spending nearly all of my summer earnings on memories that only traumatic brain injury could manage to take away, returning to the white space of a blank page is more intimidating than I remembered. And all that effort I put into making economic use of my time last Spring? Yep, that’s all gone.
2) Duller than Fiction
It’s a common mistake of young writers to rely on the actual events that inspired them while fictionalizing a real-life story. When I was in Europe, I was overwhelmed by my experiences, and in those moments I felt they all might looked good on paper. But what makes fiction fun is its ability to transcend reality and still unveil an astounding human truth. Don’t make the mistake of sacrificing what could make your story great in order to stay true to the memory in your head.
Hopefully the knowledge I gained during my travels in Europe can help you realize some of the pros and cons that tourism can have on your life as an artist. For those of you that have been out of the country, help me make this list longer by sharing how your travels have affected you as a writer.
Meet the blogger:
Connor Rystedt recently graduated from Hamline University with majors in English and creative writing. He received his AFA in creative writing from Anoka-Ramsey Community College, where he had several publications in The Rapids Review and The Campus Eye. In October of 2014, he received the Norman Mailer Nonfiction Writing Award for two-year college students. When he’s not worrying about what to write, he likes to watch football and fight with his parents’ mini-labradoodle.