Writing and Travel

Folks talk about creative writing providing windows and mirrors: stories that allow us to feel and experience another’s context or perspective (windows) and tales that help us better understand ourselves (mirrors).

I tend to gravitate toward writing that offers me windows into unknown cultures, places, times or experiences. In the young adult/middle grade category I’ve loved books like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and Navigating Early. Recent adult creative-writing reads with engrossing windows have included Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Euphoria, and To Capture What We Cannot Keep. Part of what makes these “windows” books great is that they also provide complex characters and insights into the human experience. In short, they are replete with “mirrors,” as well.

Travel, of course, can have a similar and sometimes even more jarring effect by exposing us to differences and then challenging us to think about the world in new ways. That experience of having your expectations challenged is a great starting point for writing. In fact, it turned out to be the frame for a couple of the essays I published this year. One essay was about my youngest son’s experience of learning Spanish: what initially felt torturous, turned out to be quite comfortable, even fun.

The full essay is available here at The Washington Post. I hope you enjoy reading it, and for those writers out there, I hope that this post inspires you to write about experiences when your expectations were challenged. Just remember, you don’t have to leave the country or even your own neighborhood to have your expectations dashed, but experiences like these are generally rich for writing.

Next week, I’ll follow up with a post about how my understanding of the natural world and climate change was expanded after a year in Costa Rica.



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