How Travel helped me to Write a Book
It can be assumed that if I’m a travel blogger, a Travelette and a perpetual traveller that my one big passion in life is travel.
Except it’s not.
My real passion – and the dream I suspect I’ll spend the rest of my days chasing – is to write stories. For me, there is nothing more rewarding, more exciting and more flipping good fun than making up people, places and putting them all together in a strange little string of scenes that hopefully, maybe, possibly one day ends up in the hands of a reader who will feel moved by what they read.
Yeah, but Frankie, why are you telling me about this? We love travelling? We want to hear your travel stories!! I hear you cry.
Well, I’m sharing this story with you, you wanderlusting, travel-hungry, wonderful world wanderer because this is a story about travel. Because travel helped me write my book. Here are three reasons why…
1. I wrote this book while travelling full-time.
2. Each short story is inspired by travel, in its many forms; holidays, back-packing trips, romantic getaways, journeys of self-discovery and business trips.
3. If I can do use travel to chase a dream, you can too. If putting a book you wrote in the hands of someone else is a dream of yours, I hope this inspires you to do it too. Or if you have another big goal that you’d like to fulfill, I do believe that travel can help you achieve this. (And don’t worry if you don’t currently have plans to travel, that part is actually is optional when it comes to the most important piece of advice I have, see below.)
Take advantage of the freedom of travel
It makes sense that long-term travel allows for a certain freedom that doesn’t exist in “normal life”. You don’t have a 9-5 (or more likely an 8-6) job to go to, you don’t have an apartment to keep tidy and you don’t have a full calendar of social engagements filling your Inbox. When you travel, you are in control of your time and your schedule. It’s up to you not only where you spend your time but how you spend it.
It took me a while to fully appreciate this when I started travelling indefinitely in October 2011. Sure, I filled notebooks with story ideas and first chapters of countless novels as I waited in airport gates, but I didn’t fully realise how much time I really had to play with as I was prioritising setting up a string of reliable income as a freelancer writer.
It wasn’t until a year later that I took a leap of faith, grabbed the freedom I had by the balls and I embarked on NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month is a global initiative that you sign up to along with nearly half a million others around the world in the month of November. The mutual goal everyone shares is to write 50,000 words of a novel, though many participants work on non-fiction books, poetrry, screenplays or in my case, a collection of short stories. While the 53545 words I typed out in November 2012 were far from worthy of any reader’s hands, they were a turning point in my dream chasing. They were the first thing I’d ever finished. It was only because I was travelling and had the freedom to manage my own schedule that I finally felt able to commit to 50,000 words in a month and I susbequently had the flexibility to make sure I finished.
However, it may not be that hard for you. Maybe you have more will power and self-control to JUST START WRITING and to set yourself a goal that you go for. Because finishing really is the most important thing here.
As author Neil Gaiman so wisely says “Whatever it takes to finish thing, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”
Write what you know… and we travellers know a lot more than you think.
They say that you should write what you know. As a wannabe novelist, there is no saying more despondent than this as you look back on your life and realise that it’s not worthy of a single amazing novel idea. I had a happy childhood, a predictable education and a fairly boring string of break-ups in my romantic past; what do I know that I can write about? I’m just a girl with a travel addiction…
That’s how I felt when I juggled the many ideas that popped into my head; I couldn’t help but feel that I wouldn’t be writing what I knew if I pursued them, because the things I wanted to write about hadn’t happened to me. This was when I realised that I was interpreting “write what you know” to literally.
For example, in one of the stories in Shy Feet, The Flowers Sleep Tonight, an Australian backpacker and a German traveller are reunited in slightly bizarre circumstances in Barcelona and they spend the night drinking, exploring the city together and discussing what it means to travel. It’s a sort of will-they-won’t they mini romance. This has (sadly) never happened to me… but I have walked the streets of Barcelona late at night, I have had a fling (or two!) with a fellow traveller and I have learned that my opinion of long-term travel has changed. So I included these things in the story (which you can read here).
In See the Amalfi Coast I wrote about my love-hate-love relationship with Naples and in All the Beaches are Made of Pebbles I described a beautiful sunset behind the skeletal West Pier in Brighton & Hove, which I witnessed for myself last summer.
That is how you should write what you know…while also encouraging the most important weapon in your writing armoury; your imagination.
There’s never been a better time for you to publish a book. Yes, you!
In an ideal world, I’d have agents battling over me and a long list of New York Publishers waiting to buy my a First Class ticket to their office. But in an ideal world, I’d also have legs like Beyonce and be able to eradicate world poverty with the snap of my finger.
In the real world, short stories don’t sell; they do not appeal to the mass market and so I always knew I was going to have a battle trying to find representation. So I didn’t bother. Instead I studied the growing trend of self-published authors and decided that this was the route I wanted to go. I already had a small audience with my blog and I wanted them to read my words, something that could happen in just a series of clicks and formatting steps via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service. Once Shy Feet was ready – which took nine months of editing, re-writing, copy-editing, formatting and proofreading, not to mention hiring a designer for the front cover and a developer for the final ebook and print layout formatting (phew!) – it was just hours before the first readers were downloading it to their Kindles and my stories unfolded in the palm of their hands.
And then I released the paperback version (again via Amazon’s print on demand service, CreateSpace) and suddenly my book was popping up in some of the most amazing locations in the world, the evidence sent back to me by wonderful readers.
If you’re interested in finding out more about self-publishing you can read this post about being an indie author.
I want to write a book too! How long is this really going to take me? And will my travel suffer?
I can’t answer that for you, unfortunately. I’m not sure I can even add up all the hours I spent on writing, editing, re-writing, bludgeoning and resuscitating Shy Feet: Short Stories Inspired by Travel, because whether your travelling or not, writing and publishing a book is a very hard and time-consuming thing to do. But I can tell you the following which may help, because if you do want to write a book while travelling, this will help you plan your time wisely so your travel experiences aren’t diminished.
* The first 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo took me around 60 hours to write, based on it taking me an average of 2 hours to write the daily target of 1667 words (which I didn’t always meet, and so some days I wrote nothing and on other days I wrote for 4-5 hours.)
* From writing the first words of the stories to publishing the ebook in August 2013, I travelled to over 20 countries and worked from over 50 hotel beds, apartment desks and other places! The longest I spent in one place was around six weeks. I worked on the book while also working full-time as a freelancer and squeezing in time to write my blog, so I did NOT work on Shy Feet full time. That’s the dream I’m still chasing!
* It’s fair to say writing Shy Feet cost me on average 1-2 hours of sleep a night. I was also fairly anti-social on occasion, not speaking to friends and family as often as I should have. (Sorry, Mum.)
* Yes, if you plan to write a book while travelling the world, it will impact how you travel. There are countries I’ve visited that I regret not seeing more of because there was simply not enough time, but when I question if that travel was still fulfilling, I only have to look at a paperback copy of my book and I can confidently say HELL YES! If this is your dream, you’ll feel the same way too.
* I outsourced the copy-editing, proofreading, cover design and formatting, which cost me around 650 Euros in total, and I called in a lot of favours to keep the cost that low. I see my books as a business and these costs are an essential investment.
The secret to writing a book while travelling… or not.
My final piece of advice is the most important. If you want to write a book, and publish it, and chase that dream you think about all the time, there are two things you must do.
1. START IT.
2. FINISH IT.
Sit down. Start writing. Right now. Stop reading this. Open a Word document or a new notebook and write. And do the same every day (you can) until it’s finished.
Travel won’t make writing a book really easy. For some people it may even be harder because they thrive on routine. Personally, writing and publishing Shy Feet is still the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but travel did allow me the freedom to make sure I finished what I started and it also gave me a world of inspiration to write about. It still does…
And just for Travelettes readers, here’s a free preview pdf featuring three of the stories from the collection. Let me know what you think! (I also have a few signed copies available if you’d like to tweet me.)
Now, what are you doing still reading this? Start writing and chase your dreams!