In a recent Travel Touchstones: Transformative Travel through Creative Journal Writing workshop with lively participants, I explained that I developed the writing exercises as a result of not having the right kind of material from my journals when drafting my coming-of-age travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away.
I offered a flow writing activity. 1) Describe a memory from a notable trip. 2) Before writing, prime the pump (brain) with six words that convey feelings about the memory. 3) Then write fast and wild and free without stopping, editing, or rethinking. I allowed them about eight minutes and called time.
I’ll share my timed, flow writing as an example that I wrote during the last three minutes of their writing. Here I write about the new yoga studio I visited on Isla Mujeres this year.
Feelings: calm, quiet, dark, serene, zen, meditative
Flow Writing Example (think-rough draft)
The new indoor yoga studio is rather zen-like. It’s quiet and serene, like a church. Reverence for the body, the movement, the breath. The others are there for the same. We love Meg. Like a goddess, she floats through the room and offers instruction, like a midwife — birthing her first one-thousandth baby or asana. The space is sparse, empty, ready, waiting for the baby. Nothing to impede our progress. The music relaxes us, Meg’s voice focuses us, and we move to the joy of the breath.
Next I suggested a three-step revision process to illustrate that our first draft is never what we want it to be.
Look for any noun that is general and make it more specific. If you have written the word “car,” now replace it with a make or model, Lexus or F-150.
Strike every verb that is not an action verb (was, had been, would have been), and rewrite it so you use an active, powerful, explicit verb. (My example will show what I mean below.)
Then add at least one simile or metaphor to give the reader a deeper understanding of what you are describing.
The interior room at the Red Buddha Yoga Studio stands rather zen-like. The space feels quiet and serene, much like a chapel. Reverence for the body, the yoga poses, the breath. The other yogis arrived this morning for the same experience I expected. We adore Meg and her unique skill of guiding us through yoga poses. Meg, the goddess, golden and lithe, floats through the room and offers instruction, like a midwife, birthing her one-thousanth asana. The chamber sits with a bare floor wall-to-wall, empty, ready, waiting for the baby. With nothing to impede our progress, the music relaxes us, Meg’s voice focuses us, and we move to the breath that entrains us.
From this example, I hope you can see how using a few emotion-packed words before writing focuses the brain on the outcome of a description you want to write. Allowing the mind to write freely without the “editor” stopping or slowing you, gets words on the page from a travel experience.
Then a simple revision of replacing general nouns and passive verbs with specific, precise and meaningful substitutions can bring the writing to life. Add a simile or metaphor for color and interest.
Do you have other simple ways to edit your work to make it more dynamic and readable?