Five writing lessons from Australia & New Zealand

Reading time: Less than 4 minutes

Travel can be relaxing but it’s also invigorating. And, against all odds, it might even teach you some writing lessons….

One way I amuse myself is by finding writing lessons in unusual places or situations. My husband and I recently spent four weeks in New Zealand & Australia. And guess what? I discovered five writing lessons in our time otherwise devoted to travel.

It was a busy trip with lots of stops. Some hiking, some driving, lots of flights between cities. There was one horrible moment on a sailboat (more on that later) and lots of highlights including seeing Sopranos star and E-Street band regular Steve Van Zandt perform at a blues festival. We also had a delightful afternoon at an animal conservatory near Adelaide (no zoos for me!) with koalas, kangaroos and emus.

Phew! Quite a trip. And my writing lessons?

1. Writing always has its own fashion

I like to read local authors from the country in which I’m travelling and in Australia settled on Helen Garner and her non-fiction book about a famous murder trial, This House of Grief.

 I also spent some time browsing bookstores where I noticed that some of Garner’s techniques — clear declarative sentences, basic vocabulary and an utterly straightforward approach — might even be considered the Aussie “style.” The Australian writing I saw struck me as clearer and plainer than much North American or European writing I’ve read. Once again, I was reminded that writing is as subject to fashion as clothing and wall covering. Much of what we choose to call “good” or “bad” arises from our own expectations and tastes — many of which are imposed on us by society. Message? Be sensitive to the societal expectations under which you are writing.

2. Nothing is forever

Our two days of sailing through the Whitsunday Islands revealed some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. But the trip home involved a terrifying boat ride in 30-knot+ winds and metre-and-a-half (five-foot) high waves. Our catamaran bobbed in the ocean like a cork while it made a series of alarming creaks and groans. Unlike some others, I wasn’t seasick (a transdermal scopolamine patch prevented that fresh horror), but I spent about two hours curled in a fetal position, convinced we were likely to die at sea. Of course, we didn’t. And the trip reminded me that every life experience has its good moments and its almost-unbearable ones. And the unbearable ones don’t last forever. Remember this the next time you’re editing a chunk of your manuscript that’s especially awful. Soon you will be on solid land once again.

3. Write and edit like a hawk

When we toured Stradbroke Island (near Brisbane) with friends Don and Julia, we stopped to observe some birds. “Look at the osprey [a type of hawk],” said Don. “The crows flap like mad and the osprey just tilt their wings.” Don’s observation provided an excellent metaphor for life — and, for writing. Don’t try too hard. Don’t decide you need to write the best possible post, essay or article. Instead, relax and let the words flow out of you. And, in particular, don’t get into a flap over editing. Often the necessary changes are small and subtle. They’re not hard to accomplish; they just require patience. Take a deep breath and tilt your wings.

4. After a break, get yourself back to writing gradually

During our 32 days away, I stayed in touch with my Get It Done group, answered email daily and I spent a total of about an hour responding to questions from the copy editor of my upcoming book Your Happy First Draft. But otherwise, I took a break from work. Most notably, I did not write a single word. This kind of break is invaluable for writers and, for me, represents the longest sabbatical I’ve taken in 25 years. Although I know this will ultimately help my writing, it won’t make it easy to get started again. But that’s okay. I expect the work to be challenging, and I won’t engage in self-doubt or spend pointless time questioning my abilities. I allowed myself double the typical time for this column, for example, and I don’t expect to be back to my previous level of writing for at least several weeks.

5. Build a sustainable habit

Even though I didn’t do much “work” while on holiday, I spent a good chunk of time trying to improve my French (admittedly, a language not spoken much in New Zealand/Australia), simply because I had the opportunity. I’ve been using the free software DuoLingo for the last two years and decided to increase my time commitment to it when I had less competition from other tasks. Sometimes, especially in the evenings, I spent more than an hour a day — a time commitment that dramatically improved my facility with the language. Before the holiday, I was completing only one brief lesson a day (a three- to five-minute time commitment.) Moving forward, I’m going to spend 30 minutes each day (time enough to complete at least 10 lessons.)  If you want to improve your writing, start small and then gradually ratchet up the amount of time you devote to the task. Guaranteed, you will improve.

The habit of writing is not a big, “impossible” job requiring expertise and talent. Instead, it’s work requiring no more than persistence and determination and the ability to show up regularly to do it.

*

If you want some help developing a writing routine, consider applying to my Get It Done program.  For readers of this blog, I’m extending the application deadline for the May program until end of business today (April 30).  To apply, go here and scroll down the very end and select the bright green “click here to apply now” button.

*

What writing lessons have you picked up while on holiday?  We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section of my blog.  Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by April 30/19. will be put in a draw for a copy of the non-fiction book Organized Enough by Amanda Sullivan. To enter, please go to my blog (and scroll to the end for the “comments” section.) You don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.