Sometimes, when writing, the words flow like water from a broken spigot. You see the scene clearly in your mind. The setting is perfectly situated. You hear the character’s words directly from their mouths. You devise a perfectly pithy way to describe how they are dressed. And all you have to do is transcribe what you see in your mind’s eye onto the page.
But other times, the process is…not so smooth.
So what should you do in times like those, when you need a fresh perspective on the world? Maybe go out and get an actual fresh perspective by travelling.
Visiting new cities and faraway lands is a great way to kick start your imagination. Did you know that Cinderella’s castle was inspired by a real castle in Bavaria? Neuschwanstein Castle, right on the southern border of Germany, is a famous tourist destination and includes a precarious walk across a bridge that provides a breathtakingly spectacular view of the castle. Not many people will see it in their lifetimes but as Cinderella’s castle is the first image shown in almost every Disney movie, its legacy will live on, just because an animator was inspired by Neuschwanstein.
|It really is spectacular, but that bridge leaves much to be desired.|
Recently, I used my vacation to New Orleans as the inspiration for a short story to be included with our Corporate Gothic anthology. “The Doll With Scorch-Mark Eyes” takes a few of the sights and locations I experienced when I visited NOLA a few years ago. I only used snippets from the time I was there, but the memory of that vacation is what spurred the idea of the story. Would I have written that story if I’d never taken that vacation? Possibly, but it wouldn’t feel as authentic as it does.
|I could write 1,500 words on these beignets alone|
Now I understand that going on exotic vacations on a whim just to find a little bit of inspiration to breathe life into your writing is a bold thing to say. Not everyone has the resources to do such a thing. Of course, there’s the monetary constraints; travelling is expensive and a lot of people are lucky to visit even one foreign country in their lifetime. Or hell, even another state.
There’s also the notion that not everyone can get away from work. Not all jobs provide vacation time and a paycheck is necessary to keep the lights on. But there are other ways to experience different settings that don’t require a massive financial output.
(And yes, we’re currently in the midst of a global pandemic. That is a definite hindrance to travel. But hopefully that won’t last forever and we’ll be free to move about the planet once again.)
You can always just travel someplace out of your regular zone. Breaking out of a rut often requires moving out of a comfort zone, so something as simple as visiting another city is enough to spark the imagination. Take a day trip and drive, or hop on a train if you live close to a station, to your nearest big city. I happen to live equidistant to both Manhattan and Philadelphia so my options are open to me. But can you make a trip to Boston? St. Louis? Miami? Then do so. Sure, the price of gas is a burden and finding parking is a hassle but is it worth it to kindle your art?
Maybe you’re too far from the city. Try visiting a local park. Look at the trees around you. Smell the aroma of the flowers in bloom. Bring a few slices of bread and sit on a bench, feeding the birds. Getting away from your regular environment, like the drab walls of your local coffee house or the stale air in your home office, can bring an exciting change of pace. Who knows what kind of story it could ignite within you? Perhaps a children’s book where a fish helps a squirrel rescue its nut from the depths of the pond. (I call dibs on that one, though.)
But there’s another method you could use to experience new surroundings: Google Street View.
Google Street View allows users to upload panoramic shots of different locations. So if, for example, you need to know what the buildings around Wrigley Field look like but can’t make it to Chicago, Street View has you covered.
It’s not perfect, though. There tends to be a lot of bodies littering the landscape, and less visited places will likely have few, if any, pictures available, but that means that more touristy locations will have an option of different views, which gives you a variety of input. I’ve used Street View a few times to give me the sense of certain buildings that I’ve written into my stories.
Maybe you’re writing a story about New York City and a scene takes place in Central Park. Pull up Google Street View and you can get a bugs-eye view of different areas of the park. You can see the Alice in Wonderland statue from down on the ground, and get a feeling of the surrounding land. See the children climbing up onto the mushroom and getting in the Mad Hatter’s face. These little flourishes can add life and majesty to your story and you can get them without even leaving your house. And if you’re stuck, fire up the old Street View and type in a landscape; say Alcatraz. Seeing three stories of cell stacked on top of each other might give you a great hook to write a sequel to The Rock.
|Or use it to check out the Balto statue in Central Park.|
Every writer gets stuck in their career. It can be debilitating if you let it or it can be a sign that you need to break out of the routine and try something new. If you have the resources and the wherewithal to visit a new place, you should. You never know what it might spark within you and add to your craft. But if you don’t have those resources, you may just have to think outside the box a little. There are always ways you can experiences those new locations that fit within your budget.