I recently sold my 150th story, which was a very nice feeling indeed and one I’ll explore more in my next newsletter. (I am trying to have somewhat non-overlapping content between my monthly newsletter and this blog. We’ll see how that goes.) But it was also a type of story I wanted to talk about more specifically here.
That is: it’s a story that was inspired by my trip to Finland and Sweden in 2016. It’s the fourth story in that category I’ve written and the fourth I’ve sold, and while it’s two years in the past, I’m pretty sure there are more coming. None of them are related to each other in any other way. Different speculative elements–different genres–different characters and settings. But I couldn’t have gotten to any of them from the same angle without traveling.
I didn’t plan any of them before we went. I just went and looked and listened and smelled and tasted and felt and thought and felt and thought and came home and read and felt and thought some more, and lo, there were some stories there.
I haven’t started on the stories inspired by the trip to Denmark and Iceland yet, but I know they’re there. (I even know the shape of at least two….)
People who don’t write, who are not frequently around writers except when I bring them around–people like my grandma–often think of travel for writing purposes as linear and planned. If I’m doing this trip for writing purposes, it must mean that I intend to set a book in one of the locations and am going to go give it a good hard squint and see what I get out of it. But…a few months ago I outlined a book inspired by these experiences, and it was just as unanticipated as the stories. And while I’m going to use the experience to revise an old book set in various parts of Finland, that’s not what I was there for–I didn’t know I’d ever get the right ideas to revise that book into something coherent.
It’s culturally much harder to say, “I’m going to write what I’m inspired to write.” We’re taught to look down on that kind of vague approach even within creative fields. Have a plan, be able to justify yourself, don’t just…be one of those irresponsible artists who flits around hoping for inspiration, ugh, what is that even. Well, I don’t hope for inspiration, I work for inspiration. I open doors and windows to inspiration, I leave out honey traps for inspiration, I sew gossamer nets to catch the very finest particles and smallest species of inspiration. And this only works if you’re not already convinced of where it isn’t.
Obviously this doesn’t mean that everyone has to travel to be open to new external input. Not everyone has the resources in whatever direction; sometimes I don’t have the resources. But I actually feel that making room for frivolity is essential. For books where you don’t know what chapter will help with your current project–or whether any chapters will help with any projects at all. For other people’s art, primarily as its own thing and only as a jumping-off point later if ever. For finding the road nearest your house that you’ve never been on and taking it and finding out whether there’s a bespoke foam merchant there, an antique shop, a greasy spoon, a park. For going to the free museum night to see an exhibit that has done the traveling for you. Not because you know how it’ll inspire you, but because you don’t.
I went to Montreal two weeks ago. I’ve been to Montreal many times. I love Montreal and have opinions about gelato available near different Metro stops. Vive Montreal. And even on this short trip, mostly full of conventions, I still discovered places I’ve never been, and I still looked at the places I have been and thought of them differently. Not in the “I must look into the Viau Metro and make sure I can put a story thing there” way. Just as: here I am, what else is here, who else. It makes me more able to do more of the same when I get home. I have no idea where it’ll end. And that’s an extremely good thing.
Next time I have a major trip–who knows when that will be–I will get asked whether I’m setting a book there, what book, why. I’m really happy that I don’t know.