If you ever need one or a thousand writing ideas, drive across the country. Seriously. I can tell you it works, because as you read this, I’m on the road—quite literally. In fact, I just finished a 4000-mile road trip, and I’m sitting in a house overlooking the Pacific Ocean, on the opposite coast from where I live in Maine.
You see, my daughter graduated from college last week, and as a gift she asked for a mother-daughter cross-country road trip to her new job in San Francisco. I happily obliged. Mostly because my daughter and I always have a wonderful time on trips like these. But also because I love road trips and I knew it would give me lots of ideas for things to write about…
And I was right. Here are just a few of the things that have sparked story ideas:
- A guy in Las Vegas sitting on a bench right inside a casino entrance—he was sitting there when we entered the casino and he was still sitting there when we left (an hour later), staring at some distant spot on the wall. He looked as though he lost his best friend…or his car…or his house…
- The Noah’s Ark of animals we’ve seen along the way: a coyote, three bald eagles, many hawks, lots of magpies and swallows (and many other birds), several deer, two burros, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, many thousands of cows, many hundreds of sheep, tens of hundreds of horses, and a baby praying mantis.
- Driving through the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains it was 113 degrees with no cell phone service for hundreds of miles, and we saw many abandoned cars. I couldn’t help but wonder what might happen to someone whose car broke down…how would they get help? What would they do if they couldn’t?
- The Blue Earth Rest Area in Minnesota—the name alone sparks the imagination, but the place is a beautiful study in nature, and it made me wonder what would happen if someone actually had a longer-than-one-hour stop at a rest stop? What if someone decided to make their home at a rest area? Maybe the guy from Las Vegas? If I had to live at a rest area, Blue Earth would be a good place to be. And it certainly conjured up some great story ideas.
- Driving through remote areas in the beautiful rugged countryside of South Dakota and Nebraska, made me think about wagon trains going across the country—how much more difficult our trip might have been—and I also couldn’t help but imagine seeing a wagon train or a cowboy on horseback coming over the crest of a craggy mountain, like in the photo I took in Utah. As my daughter an I marveled—how on earth did those wagons make it across—what stories they could tell!
But that’s not all. The characters are endless. In addition to the aforementioned guy, there were many others in Vegas alone, like people gambling in casinos with toddlers in tow or young men who looked like they were on their sixth or seventh beer at nine in the morning. Weary souls in rest areas—where did they come from, how far had they driven? The hotel clerk in Utah who told us about his own cross-country trip memories visiting his father who was estranged from his family, the cowboy in South Dakota driving the muddiest truck I’ve ever seen pulling the rustiest horse trailer, the woman in the rest stop in Wisconsin who almost knocked us over in her haste to get out the door and back to her car—why the rush? The tired waiter at the truck stop in Utah who looked at his wit’s end and issued huge sighs whenever he came to deliver something we ordered…these are only a few of the many people who gave me character ideas.
To make sure I don’t forget things I might want to write about, I’ve been taking lots of photos and making audio recordings with my iPhone. In addition, my daughter and I write down “funny things” that happen along the way—because we wonder if these things would still seem funny when we weren’t on the road, for instance… the French fry we saw on the floor in the hallway of our first hotel—as soon as we saw it we turned to each other and said “breakfast” at the very same time—funny or had-to-be-there?
In addition to the great ideas I’m getting for future fiction, I’m also blogging almost every day. The trip has given me lots to write about, and writing a blog helps seal the memories…there are a lot of them.
Tomorrow there will be even more—because that’s when I start the long drive home, another 4000 or so miles. I fully expect to get even more great ideas as I make my way. I’m telling you: endless—just like the winding road ahead. So, next time you have writer’s block or can’t think of what to write, take my advice and hit the road!
Have you ever been inspired by something you’ve seen while on the road?