Usually when we travel, my husband Dave and I (and now our kids) have only a vague idea of where we are going. We book a place to sleep the first night in a country, rent a car and drive in the direction of something we want to see.
It is this philosophy of travel that has landed us at an unheated Chinese restaurant somewhere in the middle of Ireland on Good Friday (it was the only open place for over 100 miles and the temperature outside was about 45 degrees). It has also sent us on an exciting whitewater rafting trip on a Level 5 river in Costa Rica right after a rainstorm that diverted the river through sugar cane fields and over a path that even our guide was surprised by. And it has led us to the rooftop bar of a beautiful hotel in Sorrento, Italy, sipping Compari, overlooking the Bay of Naples and swaying to the music of a swing band. We have cross country skied through a blizzard in Canada and driven an hour out of our way to see a “castle” in England—or so the signs said—that ended up to be little more than four cornerstones and some rubble.
These unexpected adventures are sometimes scary, sometimes mundane, sometimes magnificent, but always memorable. We come back from our vacations with stories to tell—often stories that scare anybody else off from wanting to travel with us. We don’t mind. Our adventures make life exciting and interesting. As I like to tell my children, “Always be the person playing in the waves, instead of the person sitting on the beach.”
Writing can be like this. You follow the path of your words to unexpected places. The ideas lead, and you aren’t always sure where you are going. You might end up on a wild ride, which is a little scary because of the uncertainty, but it is usually exciting. New ideas and perspectives emerge out of the words because you leave yourself open to following without a plan. You can play in the waves of your words and create something enchanting and entertaining.
Of course, when you write like this, you have to go back over your words and make them clear, interesting, and detailed. The stories we tell of our travels have been refined and organized into engaging tales because we have elaborated on the details. We have peopled them with characters, like the older woman who insisted that she should be the lead on the raft in spite of the guide’s attempt to recruit someone younger and stronger; the crew in the pub in Dover who went from raucous cheer to complete silence at the sight of a woman (that would be me) walking through the door; and the man at the foot of Mount Vesuvius who passed out walking sticks and gave us free lava rocks because he was impressed that I tried to speak Italian, however poorly. When we tell our stories, we try to make a point, pass on some lesson, and leave a lasting impression. The same things make for good writing.