View this post on Instagram
A spur-of-the-moment research trip to the Bay Area was just what I needed for my new pilot. From the fog to firepits to tunnels of trees, I walked where my characters walk and got curious about who these people are and how to tell this story in a way that feels as authentic and real as it feels in my head. This translation process to the page is challenging, but part of why I love this work. Rejoining society tomorrow for a day before we head to Arizona and shoot our sizzle reel in Anthem with a killer team. Hope your week is filled with inspiration and joy, friends ✨ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . #amwriting #travel #writersofinstagram #writer #books #scriptchat #wga #photooftheday #travelphotography
I’ve been lucky to travel a lot this year. So far I’ve gotten to DC, NYC, San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Phoenix/Arcosanti, Reno & Tahoe, Temecula — and most of those were “work” trips where I was visiting clients or doing research for my projects.
Traveling for your story is a must. I’m not saying that because I need to rationalize my spending on the travel that isn’t subsidized by my freelancing. (Okay, maybe that’s part of it!)
In the past few months, I’ve been writing and rewriting my new pilot that’s set in the Bay Area. Hitting the road and visiting the places my script is set in transformed my story. I also got to see some dope sea lions, and briefly considered whether or not my cat would be cool if I adopted one.
Find Inspiring Writing Spaces
There’s a beautiful AirBnb in La Honda that’s a cottage on a gorgeous ranch with horses and an acre or so of grasslands. You can wander the property, say hey — or hay 😉 — to the horses, or take a short drive to the cliffs where you can ponder life’s darkest secrets across the glittering tidepools. To get to this space, you drive through forest tunnels, and it feels as if you’re entering another dimension. My host was also kind enough to help me build a firepit so I could sit outside by the fire and do my writing with a glass of wine. This place is my go-to writing retreat, especially since there’s no wi-fi and had to use data to get my daily dose of the garbage fire that are Twitter memes. (I almost avoided the 30-50 feral hogs meme, but alas.)
When we’re in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city, things can get pretty intense. Getting away to refreshing writing spaces is key to finding that mental space and creativity — even if it is only for a day or two.
Try and spend at least 3-4 hours per day on your research trip freewriting, journaling, and reflecting on your story or any part of your story you’re trying to unspool. Having these moments allows you to fully process the trip and be in the moment. If you can, try and take time off of work, or relegate your work time to a separate part of the day so that you can leave space for creative exploration. I struggle with this on my trips — I still feel tied to my inbox and can’t always clear my work from my travel schedule. Just be kind to yourself and absorb and reflect as much as you can on the trip so you can get the most out of it.
The spaces you choose to write in should also echo the sense of place of your story. Even if you can’t get to the exact place where your story occurs, try and find similar environments so you can let the world seep into your writing in interesting ways.
Discover Local Textures and Stories
I find that my scenes are so enriched by the experiences I have on my travels. In this last trip in particular, a scene I wrote completely switched locations and gained new meaning when I found the perfect spot for it.
Allow yourself time to explore and rethink your outline or story locations with a curious mind. Walk where your characters would walk. Explore the world like they would. That will help you create a feeling of authenticity and a sense of place.
I also find that exploring and taking specific details from what you observe adds an incredible dynamic layer to your work.
The more people you can meet who live in work where your characters do, the better. Environments shape people, and people self-select what environments fit us best. Someone who lives in a New York high rise is going to be a very different person than someone who lives in a ranch in the Southwest.
The reasons why people move to different cities is also an interesting aspect of their backstory. Do people in this town or environment grow up here and never leave? Are they mostly transplants? Try and get a sense of “origin stories” in your conversations, if you can. They’ll inform your own characters’ backstories.
Plan Your Adventures Ahead of Time
I knew I wanted to get on the water, so I planned time to spend by the beach and on the ferry on the second leg of my trip. The ferry was incredible: we went through walls of fog as we passed Alcatraz, and I saw sailboats battling insane wind.
The more you can plan the highlights and “can’t-miss” moments of your trip, the more you can leave up to spontaneity knowing you’re going to hit everything on your list.
Try and seek out unique experiences. These experiences can be as simple as walking down a street you haven’t been to before, or taking a sailing class. See what you can learn, and let your curiosity be your guide.
Keep a Record of Your Notes and Experiences
I use Evernote to help me document passing thoughts, moments, and ideas as I spend time in a place. That way, if I’m writing a scene in the catacombs in a Cathedral in NYC or on the cliffs of La Honda, I can go back to my notes for those moments I spent in the real places and add “had-to-have-been-there” details like the musty smell of dead bodies or the salty spray of seawater.
It’s often just one key detail that can ring true with a reader, so act almost as if you’re a “detail scout” on the hunt for the authenticity of your experience.
And, above all, enjoy your travels. Who knows how long we have until the human folly of global warming destroys everything we hold dear.
Happy travels 🙂
Want to read more about writing? Check out my most popular posts!