On the Road and Off-Page

The benefits and challenges of writing on the go.
By Elizabeth Cutright

Once again I find myself cruising in an unfamiliar rental car and living out of a “rolly-bag.” After long stretches of time without a side trip to some conference or convention, it always feels good to shake the wrinkles out of my suit, slap on a sparkly smile, and venture out into the world.

For about five minutes anyway.

Because soon the dress shoes start to pinch my toes, and after the third handshake I remember how hard it is to overcome my introverted tendencies. While I feel energized by the new faces and places, by the end of the day I’m tapped out.

And at that point creative output is near impossible. But I make myself show up to the page whenever possible, because even just a couple of sentences can readjust my inner barometer. Writing can put the day in perspective, help you determine where you stand in the grand scheme and taking a moment to nuture your creative side can be particularly helpful when your schedule’s been jostled and everything suddenly feels open ended and unpredictable.

At least most of the time.

Right now I’m sitting in a hotel lobby waiting to check in. It’s a situation I’ve experienced many times, and it’s hard to avoid feeling frustrated and anxious…especially after a long drive and an empty stomach.

But instead of stewing, I’m taking notes:

I’m building up a visual reservoir pf the hotel’s lobby for some future moment when just such a place appears in one of my stories. I’m paying particular attention to the hotel’s attempt at modern decor… that striving for originality that’s really just a variation of the same eclectic (but totally predictable) juxtaposition of minimalist and baroque I see repeated over and over again throughout the country.

I’m observing the activity at the front desk – valets hustling luggage while a beleaguered, but surprisingly cheerful, clerk pulls out a city map and dutifully details landmarks and points of interest to one early arrival after another – all of us just a couple hours ahead of housekeeping and thus relegated to the free wifi holding pen.

I’m listening to the jangle of the phone and I can hear the smooth clatter of suitcase wheels as they bump along the faux brick floor. In the background, a radio station plays soulful seventies rock in an unending loop. Rush…ELO…the Eagles…Fleetwood Mac. I’m in serious danger of acquiring an indefatigable earworm.

With a buzz, I’m up at bat. My rooms prepared and the day can finally start. And in that pause in between I set a scene, I filled up the well with my observations, I adjusted my creative balance.

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