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 nurture 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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