Why You Need To Journal When You Travel

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As a writer, I’ve always believed it’s important to keep a travel journal (and any journal, really), but have, sadly, been a little resistant to putting this idea into practice in the past. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that it’s not always easy to remember to journal when you’re on the move.

When I travel, I’m always trying to take things in and am so focused on what I’m experiencing that I ¬†often don’t pay any attention to that blank little notebook in my bag. I want to keep my eyes open. I don’t want to sit down, jot a few notes about what’s happened and risk missing out on what’s happening at the moment.

And yet when I come back from a trip in which I didn’t journal, I tend to feel like… something’s missing.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned: experience is more than just the seeing. It’s the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feelings you have when you encounter new places, people and ideas. And sure, you can just depend on your memory when it comes to remembering and reflecting on the details of your trip. But writing things down brings them back to you in a way that our minds sometimes can’t.

And that’s the first and most basic reason you should journal while you travel: you’ll remember things you would have otherwise forgotten. Names of places, people, what you were wearing, what you ate, what you smelled, what you saw. Even if you’re not writing the most detailed account of your day, you’ll likely end up writing about something that you would have otherwise forgotten.

When you journal, and then re-read what you’ve written a a few months or years down the line, even the mundane details feel exciting. On my first night in Florence, I wrote about my experience eating at my first actual Italian restaurant. Before I read the entry all I’d recalled about that night was that I’d enjoyed the food and had drank maybe a little too much wine that night. But when I read back the entry, I discovered that I’d mentioned certain details that had escaped me since: the menu, hand written and completely in Italian so we’d had to guess with our orders; the children who had stared at us wide eyed and curious throughout the entire dinner; the chill in the air, since we’d chosen to sit outside even though it was a particularly windy night; and a bright white cat who walked back and forth between the tables and seemed to wink at us whenever it passed as if it knew something we didn’t. These had been insignificant little details when I wrote them, and perhaps they still are, but altogether they enrich my memory of the experience. They bring me back.

Being able to relive the experience through your words and getting back into the mindset you were in when you originally wrote the entry can also help when it comes to processing different emotions you might have on your travels. As long as you don’t sensor yourself in your writing (and why should you? This journal is just for you unless you choose to share it), you’ll be able to better understand why you might have particularly liked or disliked a place you went or an experience you had. And it could help you understand some of the difficult emotions you go through too.

Last year in Italy, I was confronted with the reality of my American privilege, something I don’t think of often. Living as a black woman in America where I feel the opposite of privileged, it was strange to have to come to terms with a privilege I do have, but rarely think about. I was angry when I wrote about it and confused and a little ashamed, but having had time to process those emotions since, I’m happy to be able to see how far I’ve come in my understanding since I wrote that hard entry.

So yes, journaling helps you to remember, it helps you relive, and it helps you to process. But more than anything, I think journaling while traveling helps to deepen your love of and appreciation for the place you’re in. Contrary to my initial belief about journaling taking me out of the moment, I find that when I do plan to journal, I’m much more likely to pay attention to the details in anticipation of writing them down later.

When I traveled to Ireland for my study abroad trip, our aim was to do a lot of note-taking, journaling and poetry writing about our experience. To this day, out of all my travels, the things I remember about Ireland are the most vivid. Trying your hardest to see, hear, taste, and smell in anticipation for writing about it later all makes you notice doesn’t take you out of the moment, the experience — it puts you right in.

So make an effort to journal the next time you travel. Take 30 minutes of your day before you go to sleep and jot down five things you did, saw, smelled, tasted, and heard that day and what you thought about them. Or do it while you’re on the bus or train. During breakfast, lunch or dinner. It can be as simple or as detailed as you want. And then, a year later, when you happen to come across those pictures you took again, you’ll be able pick up your journal and travel back to that exact time and place they taken and read a little note from you from the past. And you won’t regret it. I promise.

 

Do you journal when you travel? Why or why not? Do you find it’s as helpful for you when you recount your experiences? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. ūüôā

 

Photo found here.

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The Joys and Woes of Reading Slow

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For the past four years, I have consistently failed my reading challenges. There are a number of contributing factors. It’s partially because I tend to set unreasonably high goals for myself. It’s partially for lack of trying and too much going on in my life. But yet another one of those is the fact that I can’t seem to pick up the pace when it comes to reading.

I’m a slow reader. And it’s not something that’s bothered me too much in the past (even while all my other reader friends zip through book after book as I tread my way through one), but as I see myself already falling almost ten books behind on my reading challenge this year, it’s made me think.

For one thing, it makes me question myself as a book blogger. And it’s also made me question if I can really call myself a voracious reader. After all, all other voracious readers and book bloggers I know can consume and pass through at least three books a week if they really try. And while I certainly do read more and enjoy reading more than a handful of my friends, I feel like without that element of quickness, describing myself as a voracious reader is a bit misleading.

Reading slow, purposefully or not is one thing that’s made me struggle with my perception of myself as a reader, but in brainstorming some reasons for why I don’t mind it (the joys) and why it bothers me (the woes), it’s given me some perspective on why I think this way, and even opened me up to different ideas about my reading style. I’ve listed them below, and I hope that it’ll open you up to exploring your own “reader’s identity” as well.

The Joys:

I have come to appreciate some aspects of being a slow reader. Even though it takes me a little longer to finish books, I tend to remember the books I read a little better. I have a habit of reading in bursts. I’ll pick up a book, read about halfway through and then put it down for a bit. This means when I come back to it, I usually have to skim through the part I’ve already read to get my bearings and remember where I was with the story. And doing this tends to make the story stick a bit better.

I’m not saying I remember every story I’ve ever read perfectly, but this help me when I’m reflecting on the story, remembering why I read it, and other impressions it left on me. I have a few friends who read books so fast, they can barely remember a thing about the book they’ve just read once they’ve finished it. Their method works for them and that’s fine, but when I finish a story, I want to remember why I liked or disliked it. I want to remember as much of it as I can.

Yet another benefit to reading slowly is that you’re¬†maximizing the time you spend with books and characters you love. Ever sunk into a book that you just can’t get enough of and wished it could last even longer? Guess what, reading a book more slowly can do that! And sure I suppose this can work two fold and mean that you’ll also be spending time with characters and books you really don’t like. That’s just unavoidable sometimes. But it does bring me to my next point.

Being a slow reader makes you pickier about what you read since you know you’ll be spending a lot of time with it, and because of this, you’ll be more likely to pick up books you’ll like. ¬†I should say this doesn’t mean that you don’t explore new books or move out of your comfort zone with your reading. But you’ll certainly think a little harder about what you want to read and spend your time with. And while it’s impossible to know whether or not you’ll really like a book until you’re nose-deep in it, it still is nice to have an idea of whether or not what you’re looking at next will be perfect for you.

The Woes:

And then there are the bad things about being a slow reader. For starters, it makes it hard to keep up with the books that are coming out, and easy to get overwhelmed with your reading list. I have no shame when it comes to expanding my book collection, but one thing I don’t like about it is wondering to myself if I’ll¬†ever¬†really¬†get through all of those books. I know it’s not a race, but every added book makes me scratch my head a little more when I contemplate how, when, and if I’ll get through the latest stack.

Not only this, but reading slowly can make it harder to keep up with reading challenges, be they self-imposed, or book club deadlines. I desperately want to finish my 52 in 52 challenge this year, but again, being nearly ten books behind will certainly make that a bit harder than I anticipated. And I’ve been wanting to join a book club, but worry that even if I did a low commitment one, I might not be able to finish the books on time (which, admittedly, also has to do with my procrastination tendencies and my dislike of having other people tell me what and when to read things). Either way, reading slow doesn’t help with these.

And lastly, there are just some books that seem to take forever, and if you’re reading one of these and you don’t particularly like it, sometimes this can cause you to lose your reading mojo. I suppose this particular “woe” will apply more to someone like me who feels guilty if I don’t finish the books I read, but it can be hard to recover from this. Losing your reading mojo¬†is one of the largest contributing factors to making you read even slower.

But even in the face of all these reading slow woes, I have come to realize one thing that stays true no matter what: it’s always better to read slow than to not read at all. So you shouldn’t put yourself down no matter what your reading quirks and habits may be. Just go on and finish that book. And then the next one. And the next one.

So what about you? Do you consider yourself a fast reader or a slow one? And do you see the benefits of either method? Do you like how you read, or wish you could change it up? Let me know in the comments!

 

Photo found here.

How To Read What You Write And Not Despise It

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Have you ever been struck by an idea that inspires you to write without constraint or abandon and suddenly you’ve written a story so fresh and new and beautiful that you’re sure it’s the masterpiece you’ll forever be remembered by?

And then have you ever re-read that little masterpiece of yours right away and thought that it probably wouldn’t hold it’s own against a pile of horseshit?

We’ve all been there. Us writers can be unnecessarily hard on ourselves when it comes to our work, especially if we’re just starting out (and sometimes, in my case, even if you’re not). The problem is that it can be extremely hard to write down and capture the exact story you have in your head on paper and this is frustrating to no end. I can look at a story I’ve written that has received positive feedback from multiple people and still find reasons to despise it if it doesn’t match up exactly with what I wanted it to be.

But sometimes, there are actual moments when I get around that feeling, and can see my writing as something that, while it has its imperfections, isn’t just a steaming pile of hot garbage. These moments are golden. If I’m not busy crying over how much I hate my work and contemplating burning it all, I sometimes make an effort to do things that make me look at it more fairly. So I want to share some of them with those of you who also struggle with this. Because I promise you that unless you’re literally writing with poo, then what you’re writing¬†is better than horse shit.

Time and Distance

I think this is one that is old, tried and true. Don’t read your stories right away if you can help it. Whenever I read the things that I write a day or two after writing them, I always find myself being overly critical, doubting my decisions, and my overall claim as a writer. I’m still too close to the story and still have that idealized version of it in my mind. Because of this I’ve learned to never trust that first read through. Instead, I like to give myself a few weeks or even months to forget it, work on other things, and come back to it with new eyes.

But even if you have read it too soon and decided you hate it immediately, not all is lost. In fact, when this happens, I find it easier to set it aside for a while and forget about it because my enthusiasm for it has waned. Sure, having to set it aside can be a bummer, but then, once I do find it again, I’ve usually forgotten most of what was written. This makes reading it a surprise.

For me, that surprise is the key to not hating a story I worked on. The further you get from a story, the newer it seems to you when you read it. And this newness helps you to look at it with more objectivity so you can approach it in the same way you might a new book — without any sort of preconceived disgust.

Reading Out Loud

Another little trick I have for not despising what I wrote is hearing it read out loud. You have a few different options for this.

First, you can just read it out loud to yourself. You have the benefit when you do this, of knowing exactly how you want it all to sound – the flow and speed of the paragraphs, the exact tone and delivery of the dialogue. Reading things out loud as opposed to in your head makes them sound different, unfamiliar. And again, it’s this unfamiliarity that can help you envision you story in a new way, so you don’t waste your time hating it outright. Not to mention, this is also great for editing.

Your second option is to have an online “narrator” read it. That is, you’ll listen to your work being read by some weird emotionless robot. Although it might be a little strange to listen to (and also a little hilarious for fantasy/sci-fi writers to hear the computer butcher your world names), removing the emotion from the reading process can help you see some of the bare bones of the story (and can help you catch some goofy spelling mistakes). You may have to tinker with a few of the options on these to get a voice that sounds the least robotic and reads at the speed that you want, but eventually you’ll find something you like. I usually use these sites¬†if I’m opting for an online narrator.

Lastly, if your voice and robot voices just don’t cut it for you, you can ask a friend to read your story to you. This helps if you want to see and hear your work through someone else’s eyes. And because whoever reads it likely won’t read it in the same exact way you do, it’ll make your work sound new, unfamiliar, and hopefully, make it a little more interesting for you again. And a bonus for doing it this way: you’ll be able to ask your friend for some feedback on what they’ve just read, so you don’t have to go solely off of what you think.

Focus On the Positive

I know this one may seem hard, but one way to not despise what you write is to just try your hardest not to. Sometimes we get into the habit of disliking our writing so much that we feel like we have no choice in the matter. Well, you’re not pre-programmed to hate what you write. And if you feel that way, it’s time to rewrite the programming.

Instead of listing the things you can’t stand about your writing, how about just listing the things you do like about it. Are you particularly strong with dialogue? Awesome, focus on how you just killed it with that witty banter! Is setting your strong suit? Then admire how you crafted your world. Can’t think of anything? How about the fact that you actually wrote a story? And any story you do write, is one hundred percent better than one that you don’t write. So there, positivity.

Again, while it may feel natural to focus on all the bad stuff when it comes to our writing, taking a moment to look at what you’ve written and appreciating what you can do instead of what you can’t can be very beneficial. Hating your work ain’t going to get you nowhere, but being able to see it’s strong points in conjunction with its weaker ones sure will. No, it’s not easy, but honestly, what about being a writer is?

Know You’re Not Alone

And if all else fails, just know that you’re not alone on this struggle bus. Seriously, even some famous and seriously good authors have really struggled with liking their own work. To prove it (and if you’re the type of person who takes a special comfort in knowing that others who you really admire have the same problems you do) here’s some proof for you:

Octavia Butler hated her third novel¬†Survivor¬†so much that she repudiated it, didn’t allow it to be reprinted, and compared it to the “really offensive garbage” that she’d read when she was younger.

When Mark Twain began working on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he told his friend that he liked it “only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may pigeon hole or burn the MS when it is done.”

Franz Kafka especially hated his work, and asked that all of his work be unread and burned upon his death. And even while he was alive, he apparently burned almost 90% of his work.

Feel any better about your own struggles now? Good. Just don’t go Kafka on us, and burn all of your work. Your writing deserves to live. Promise.

 

How about you? Do you struggle with liking what you write? Do you use any of these techniques when it comes to reading your work objectively or have any tricks I haven’t mentioned here? Let me know in the comments!

 

Photo found here.

What Happened To May and A Short Term Hiatus

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Hello and welcome to the first, last and only blog post I will be putting up during June. While it’s been about a month since my last post, I haven’t completely abandoned this blog for the 3rd (4th? 5th?) time. Instead, I’m doing what I’ve done unintentionally one too many times: I’m taking a hiatus. Like I mentioned on a previous blog post, many of my hiatuses have turned into yearlong stints that have taken me a while to crawl myself out from. But I’ve given it some thought and I truly believe that a hiatus, a short term one anyway, will be beneficial to this blog in the long run.

I’m not tired of blogging, but I realized I grew tired of blogging in the way that I was. At the end of every month, I’ve done my monthly wrap up posts, which I use as an assessment of how I did the previous month as well for setting goals for the current one. Well, after May, I sat down to do this and I had to take a step back because I realized the assessments weren’t working. I wasn’t focusing on my goals and was only taking minimal steps to meet them. My blog was inconsistent, sporadic and not quite what I envisioned.

So I’ve decided this hiatus is necessary. While I won’t be putting up any new blog posts, I will be doing some “behind the scenes” work, to ensure this blog stays alive. Again, it won’t be such a long hiatus (at least it won’t seem all that long once this post goes live, even though it’s been happening the whole month…). ¬†I plan to resume posting in the first week of July and, from there on, have a nice little schedule going that won’t make me want to pull my hair out every time I decide I need to post something.

So I guess that’s that. Not doing a May wrap up or setting June goals for this post, but I’ll see if it feels right to do one next month. So goodbye for a little longer my friends! I hope the rest of the month treats you well, and I will see you again in July.

 

Photo found here!

Awkward Travel With Chels: Accidental Cock-Blocking in Rome

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I look naked. I wasn’t. I promise. Here’s an awkward photo. Below’s an awkward story. All things in harmony.

I wish I could say that I was one of those flawless travelers. You know, those put-together, insta-famous wizards of photography, who manage to charm and entice common folk like me into thinking we can become like just like them and travel the world without abandon or constraint. But that’s just not who I am as a person. ¬†I’m more of the¬†bumbling, nervous¬†type who manages to look lost and confused almost any time I set foot outside my house. And this awkwardness likes to manifest itself when I’m traveling abroad.

So I’ve decided I’m going to share a story of one of my more embarrassing experiences¬†I had while traveling abroad because we all like a good laugh/cringe don’t we? I’d originally planned to compile three of these moments into one post, but I’ll start with just one, so I can keep at least a shred of my dignity. Please do enjoy laughing at my expense, though.

This one happened in Rome, and to be honest, it’s one of those situations where I’m really not sure who it was more embarrassing for.

Peter and I were in Rome during the¬†key month you want to go there weather-wise, which is the beginning of July. Needless to say, we were both sweating buckets on a daily basis. I’d taken to wearing only dresses while there since there really wasn’t anything else I could wear that I didn’t make me want to die as soon as I stepped outside into the lovely, welcoming 90+ degree heat.

Now, I know this probably sounds irrelevant and like way too much information, but I promise I’m going somewhere with it: my thighs touch when I walk. And my fellow thick thighed lady humans will know that the problem of wearing dresses in the heat is that as you’re walking around without pants to keep your thighs from making sweet, sweet love to each other, they rub together to the point where, especially if it’s hot and especially if you’re walking several miles a day, a lovely, burning chafing begins to appear. I’d planned for this and had been wearing spandex under my dresses to avoid it. But on this particular day, in a rush to get to Vatican City early enough to beat the crowds, I’d forgotten. This made for a very painful experience and a very cranky Chelsea.

Once we’d finished our morning extravaganza, I forced my boyfriend and I to walk back to the hostel so that I could have a quick change that would give my poor thighs, some much needed relief. We also thought it might be nice to have a little siesta before we went out to explore again.

Our hostel, like most, was a building that benefited from having an exceptional photographer for their website. The real life version was less modern and more dilapidated. As we walked into the quiet building, smelling the familiar smell of travelers come and gone (a mix of sweaty bodies, old, spilled wine, and dust), I felt as if there was a weird energy in the place that hadn’t been there before, but I shrugged it off. ¬†I think some part of my brain knew what we were about to find.

We chatted quietly as we ascended the stairs, wondering if our hostel mates were going to be there too, which might disrupt our napping plans. There was nothing particularly wrong with the two as we’d discovered when we’d chatted with them the night before. One was a girl who seemed to really like the sound of her voice and enjoyed relaying her travel stories more than any of us enjoyed hearing them. And the other was a guy who didn’t speak nearly as much, but looked at us all with a mix of disinterest and disdain.

As we got to the door, I found myself feeling the same weird energy again, my subconscious giving me another moment to back out, but of course, I ignored it in favor of finally getting my hands on those spandex. My thighs were positively burning. So, I unlocked the door and discovered what the weird energy had been all along.

Our hostel mates were there after all… but at the moment they were both in way less clothing than we needed to see them in and having such a hardcore make out session that I wasn’t sure that they weren’t actually trying to chomp each other’s faces to bits. Neither had bothered to even look up at our sudden, not at all quiet, intrusion.

Now I’m sure most people may have simply backed away, left and ignored the situation (which, to his credit, Peter did), but I was so caught of guard both by what they were doing and their complete nonchalance about being caught, that somehow I managed to convince myself that maybe there wasn’t actually anything weird about this after all. I mean, it’s not like they were having sex… they were clearly about to, but I could easily get in and out before they started that and without making this thing weird, right?

With that thought, I resolved that me getting my spandex was more important than leaving them some privacy to continue their shenanigans (after all, we’d all payed for a¬†shared¬†room and I wasn’t about to be kicked out), I walked into the room, feeling my face burning from more than just the heat, and began sorting through my suitcase for the spandex.

They took a little longer to find than they should have. As I rifled through clothing and the seconds ticked on, the shock began to dissolve to panic as I became relatively certain that I had made the wrong decision. What sort of weirdo was I to stay there in the room while they were clearly trying to get it on? Or were they the weirdos for continuing (and ahem, I could¬†hear them continuing), as we walked in? Did they even know I was still here? And, oh god… did they like that?

I found the spandex. I put them on. My cheeks were still heated from embarrassment as I turned around to leave and discovered that in the time it had taken me to slip on the beloved shorts, the canoodlers had ceased their canoodling and were now staring straight at me. Neither, had bothered to cover up their nakedness. I tried to focus on making eye contact.

“Um… hello,” was the only thing I could think of to say.

“Hey, what’s up?” Was the reply.

We then continued to have a lovely conversation about what Peter and I had done that day, where we were headed next and how fun Rome was. And then, polite and awkward small talk over, I finally rushed out the room, feeling more than a little unsettled about the events that had just transpired.

By the time Peter and I got back that night, they were sleeping, and by the time we woke up in the morning, their suitcases were packed and they were gone.

Looking back, I have to say that I’m fairly certain I handled that entire situation poorly. And if a similar situation arose again, I would most definitely leave any future canoodlers to simply… canoodle.

But we have to look on the bright side of all of this and in the end, hey, at least my thighs were happy.

So, what about you? Do you have any awkward travel stories to share? Has something similar ever happened to you? Either share in the comments of link to a post if you have one. Lord knows I need to read about other people being awkward af to know that I’m not the only one…

 

Best Music For Writing Fantasy Stories

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Ah, fantasy. What fun it is to be spirited away on adventures of magic and mystery through worlds fraught with powerful creatures, enigmatic strangers, and sprawling landscapes! As a writer, music is the number one thing to get me in the mood to write, but when it comes to writing fantasy stories, I find I often have to be a little more choosy.

Is it just me or can it be a little hard to get into the fantasy writing mood when you’re listening to some of the happiest, bounciest pop songs on the radio today? And even if you don’t have terrible taste in music like me and listen to music that’s more words, instrument, and emotion than bounce, sometimes it can be hard to find music that can really transport you into the world of your creation. Which is why I’ve done my best to find the best sources for fantasy inspired music that can do just that.

While I don’t have any specific song recommendations because I tend to just use streaming services and pre-made playlists rather than curate my own stuff, I think that if you’re looking for the perfect songs to go with your fantasy novel, you’ll probably be able to find them through one of these services. Happy listening my fellow fantasy nerds!

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Another Late Wrap-Up Post: April Edition

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Hoo boy. Well. I’ve been avoiding posting this wrap up for a little while now, mostly for pride-related reasons if I’m being honest. But now that we’re ten days into May and I’m finally over myself and over the set-backs of April, I’m ready to just get on with it. I’m hoping this post won’t be too much of a bummer, considering¬†April wasn’t exactly the goal smashing month I hoped it would be. But gotta stay consistent, and I’m gonna do this regardless of how the month went. So here we go.

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