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This is the second article in the Writing and Traveling series based on the idea that travel stimulates everyone’s creativity.

I am a great fan of the writer Alain De Botton, and particularly of his book  The Art of Travel

novel, susupense, mystery, photography, travel, art, vision, creativity, writing

Parisian Cafe

Once when I spent several weeks in Paris alone, I bought that book which then became my constant companion for the trip.

He makes some excellent points which are relevant to my musings.

Why is it that when we’re on a trip, we take such keen interest in everything we see?  Our senses become acute and we photograph and take notes with great enthusiasm.

Our minds and spirits seem to float freely, without the restrictions of daily life. But when back home, we return to our old closed-in, oblivious selves, scarcely noticing our surroundings which may well be just as interesting, at least to a visitor.

De Botton devised an experiment. He went for a mid-afternoon walk in his own neighbourhood of Hammersmith in London, with the intending to actually paying attention to what was in his path. Of course, he found that if he actually looked at his surroundings [like a traveler], he would find all sorts of interesting things-which he did. His conclusion? It’s not that we live in a dull spot, but that we have become so habituated to it that which we literally do not see it.

De Botton made another discovery. Once he started actually noticing his surroundings, he began to collect ideas and he became aware of feelings which these sights created in him. He began to wonder why he liked the railway arches so much and why the motorway cut across the skyline.

novel, susupense, mystery, photography, travel, art, vision, creativity, writin

The Junk Shop Window, New York

Maybe you’ve walked by that second-hand store a thousand times before and seen nothing. On your way to the subway, you were thinking about that troublesome file waiting for you on your desk. You’re just a worker bee not a traveler.

But today, you clear your mind and, approaching the store, you notice there are actually objects on display. There’s an old sewing machine and a hilarious sign [by today’s standards]about little girls and sewing, a  silver goblet and a flag for sale. Suddenly, you envision your grandmother and then your mind slips to your grandfather, who was a Captain in the Second World War. That stimulates thoughts about your grade ten history teacher you had a crush on-the futility of war [and the crush] and then what was left after getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan. [At least this is how my mind might dance about.]

To this day, I wished I had gone into this shop.The owner might have become  a character in a short story. Maybe he was hoping to keep the sewing machine for his granddaughter whom he was raising alone. But he needed the money for food. If you happen to be a writer, there’s a story right there. All of this comes from taking time to open yourself up to notice an old sewing machine and a flag.

Some people can take their everyday experiences [no mater how dull they may be] and find something truly special in them—even significance and meaning. Paying attention. Sounds like the Buddhist presence in the moment. He or she is the real traveler.

If we become attentive and receptive to our surroundings, people, places and things, perhaps our lives will be enriched with new thoughts, feeling and emotions. Such experiences enliven your existence, no matter how mundane you may feel it is. You become more receptive to it. You can’t help but react to all these impressions and it is your reaction which makes you a person with a richer life.

How much better for a writer [or any creative person] to live this way, whether he or she has never left the hometown or is a world traveller. If we are habituated to our surroundings, then we walk through life with our heads cast down and miss so much. Not good for a writer, who is supposed to be life’s observer. In fact, a writer needs to be keenly aware, on many levels, of what is going on around and within him or her.

So next time, whether we are travelling to the corner store or to the Egyptian pyramids, this is food for thought. By keeping one’s spirit and senses alive, we will be stoking our imaginations with thoughts, feelings and observations-all so very important for a writer.

And by the way—maybe take a camera along. It will help you focus. For me, I find the visual image and the development of written story inseparable.

Below are some photos I took when looking for story ideas. But I think it may turn out even better when you aren’t really looking. You’re just looking around.

novel, susupense, mystery, photography, travel, art, vision, creativity,

Nolita Kids, New York City

This was taken in a part of New York City called Nolita one very hot, early morning. The kids were free and out alone having a great time spraying the water in the fountain. But when they went home, what did they go back to?


novel, susupense, mystery, photography, travel, art, vision, creativity, New York CIty, Nolita

Hey Jude-
Dad in Times Square

This was taken in New York’s Times Square. Again, this man was putting his kids to work by signing while he played. Why is it called Hey Jude? That’s what they were signing. Got to be a story here.

novel, susupense, mystery, photography, travel, art, vision, creativity, writing

Key West Night


Key West at night. Just a tiny theatre on a side street in Key West. Only a few customers. But how many star-crossed lovers will furtively emerge when the lights dim? Surely yet another story.

 Has a photograph or painting [or any other form of art–music perhaps] inspired you to write a story?Love to hear about it. Please leave a comment.

For my novels in The Osgoode Trilogy and The Trilogy of Remembrance.

Print   Martin at Amazon

Download  Mary E Martin on Smashwords


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