I recently had the pleasure of attending two noteworthy conferences. The first was the Meet, Plan, Go! forum that took place two weeks ago in 13 cities in an effort to promote career breaks and extended travel. I was honored to be a speaker at the Boston event. The second was the Wrangling with Writing conference that just took place in Tucson, Arizona, at which I was an interested attendee.
Two very different meetings, and yet there were striking similarities in what I took away from the two events. So here are five lessons learned about travel and writing from two September conferences.
1. Sometimes a break from work is needed before you can take things to the next level. – First of all, who knew so many people were interested in taking a career break to travel? The Boston Meet, Plan, Go! event drew well over 100 people on a weeknight, and when Amanda Pressner (of Lost Girls fame) asked how many of them were actually thinking about taking time off from their jobs in order to travel, about 70 percent of the audience shot their hands in the air.
Now, not every one of these individuals will follow through. But one of the points I made during my own talk was this: Each of us is growing and evolving. Five or 10 years from now, we’re going to be a different person than we are today, and that person is going to be partly the product of experiences that we’re having now. In which case, it certainly makes sense to choose interesting experiences for ourselves today! One of the ways to do that is to take a career break to focus on something you’re enthusiastic about, particularly if you feel passion for your work waning.
But what does any of this have to do with writing? Well, interestingly enough, more than one speaker at the writer’s conference mentioned the benefit of taking time away from a manuscript. Allan Hamilton (author, neurosurgeon and Grey’s Anatomy consultant) went so far as to say “the desk drawer is the ICU for manuscripts”- a place for them to rest and revive while the author’s inner voice becomes clearer over time. And travel writer Stephanie Elizondo Griest said her first book benefited from being rejected by 18 publishers and then being put away for a year. She eventually gained a new perspective on it, then rewrote the book and got it published.
2. Fear is one of the biggest obstacles we have to overcome. – So what is stopping all those Meet, Plan, Go! attendees from quitting their jobs and buying a backpack? Finances and relationships no doubt play a decisive role for some people, but for others it’s simply a matter of overcoming fear. Fear of changing jobs, fear of upsetting the status quo, fear of reaction from friends and family.
And for writers? Author Bob Mayer suggested that fear is actually what holds back many writers. Fear of failure, fear of success, even fear of being truly honest on the page. “The thing most people fear writing about is what they should be writing about,” he said. “That’s where their best writing will come from.” He quoted the writer Anais Nin, who said: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
3. If there is no action or meaning, it’s difficult for there to be emotional involvement. – Is your life about taking action and living your dreams or about getting through the day? If it’s the latter, then maybe – like countless other career breakers and travelers before you – it’s time to mix things up, cut out the boring stuff, and inject some different or more meaningful activities into your life. Lillie Marshall (teacher, blogger, and the enthusiastic organizer of Boston’s Meet, Plan, Go!) has noted that she was “falling into a rut at home” prior to her own career break and that she returned home after nine months on the road “energized, full of perspective, and brimming with new skills.”
And yes, writers, this goes for words on a page, too. Chuck Sambuchino (editor, author and blogger) gave a conference talk entitled “Chapter One Do’s and Don’ts.” His advice: Cut out the boring stuff and get some action, tension or interactions going on page one. “If you get a reader emotionally invested in the main character in the first pages, then you have them.”
Hmmm, get a reader interested in a character, get yourself more interested in your own life. How? Oh right, cut out the boring stuff and throw in some action and meaning. Travel, life, writing – the same lessons apply.
4. Persistence, persistence, persistence. – Travelers and career breakers: Persistence is Jessica McHugh and Tim McGregor putting themselves on an ultra-frugal budget and saving money for two years so they’d have the opportunity to travel. Which they then did for 18 months!
Writers: Persistence is Stephanie Elizondo Griest quitting her job so she could write her first book, overcoming countless agent rejections, rewriting the book, finding an agent, enduring 18 publisher rejections, putting the manuscript in a drawer, getting a new job, revisiting and rewriting the book a year later, and then finally getting it published. Her advice to writers? “Apply, apply, apply, till you get it or you die.”
5. Social media, social media, social media. – It was interesting how much social media was discussed during the writer’s conference. Not only were there workshops on the topic, but agents, editors and publishers all brought up the role of social media in building a platform for your writing.
In fact, if you want to see an agent’s eyes glaze over, look at them as I mention my 12 years of experience in journalism, corporate communications and cross-cultural consulting. But if you want to see them perk up, watch as I mention my blog and my presence on Twitter and Facebook. “Well, it’s nothing to sneeze at. It’s something we can work with.” Ah, so sad to see 12 years of on-the-job writing experience count for almost nothing. But, hey, at least I’ve figured it out and am on the right track.
As far as the Meet, Plan, Go! event? The role of social media in travel planning has already been well documented, but what was interesting about this forum was the way in which online connections suddenly became personal. “Around the World Lillie, I’ve been following your blog, so great to meet you.” “Oh, you’re Nomadic Matt!” “Hey, it’s Lost Girl Amanda!” “Jessica and Tim, so this is what hedgehogs look like in person!” Yes, we all develop online personas and identities, and we get to know each other via online communities of travelers and writers, but it’s always nice to know in the end that there are real (and really interesting) people behind the Twitter names and the blog entries.
So there you have it: lessons on travel, writing and life from two September conferences. Here’s wishing you interesting travels if you’re a traveler, courage if you’re a potential career breaker, and many hours of inspired writing if you’re a writer.
Photo credits: Meet, Plan, Go! photo by Caitlin King; Stephanie Elizondo Griest photo by Mike Rom.