Daily Archives: August 25, 2011

Lessons from the Train: writing and life

Four days in Canada wasn’t enough to satisfy my love of mountains, rivers and wide open spaces.  In fact, it was just long enough to whet my appetite for more.  Our trip through the Canadian Rockies was a look, don’t touch kind of experience, as we spent the majority of our time viewing the scenery from the confines of a train car.

I will definitely go back for a more hands on expedition.  In the mean time:

Lessons From The Train

TURN AROUND: As humans, our tendency is to focus on the view right in front of noses.  At times, I would become so enthralled by watching the trees and shrubs eking out a life for themselves on sheer rock faces that I forgot to turn around.  When I did, breathtaking views of  rivers and valleys awaited.  The lesson here is three-fold. 

  1. Literally: The view is always different when we look at it from another angle.  The contour of mountain peaks changes drastically when seen from the front instead of the side.
  2. In Life: Sometimes we need to expand our vision.  We can’t be afraid of seeing the world from someone else’s eyes.  While we don’t always have to agree, we need to realize that every moment and every event looks, feels, tastes and smells different to every single individual person sharing our experiences.   
  3. In Writing: We must never forget that every story can be told from different Points Of View.  By allowing ourselves to consider the story from an alternate character, we can more fully realize the impact of our MC’s actions on a more global level.  This will make for a stronger story.  One filled with nuances that wouldn’t be there if we wrote with tunnel vision.

LET YOUR HAIR DOWN AND KEEP YOUR NOSE CLEAN: Standing on the back of the vestibule created quite the breeze when our train clipped along.  Hair blew, dust whirled and smoke swirled.  At the end of the day, I was a mess, but a happy mess for having watched the scenery pass from outside the train car rather than in it.  I also bonded with unexpected people in a way I never would have if we’d all stayed clean and tidy in our seats.

  1. Literally: Don’t primp.  Some situations in life call for casual and comfortable.  Yet, this doesn’t have to mean dirty.  Q-tips and hair brushes were welcome additions to the trip.
  2. In Life: Go with the flow.  If we worry about dumb things like how we look, we’ll fail to experience how the world looks.  Life is not about us.  It’s about what we do with the life we are given.
  3. In Writing: Often times, characters are luckier than real people.  They get to do and say the things we never allow ourselves the freedom to experience.  They don’t have to worry about the consequences the way we do.  And yet, when we stretch our characters’ comfort zones, we allow for deeper, stronger characters and better opportunities for reader connection.

STOP EVERY NOW AND THEN TO SMELL THE FLOWERS: Cliche, I know, and I bet you already think you know what I’m going to say.  But bear with me.  Our trip was a frenzy of travel.  Airport to train to bus to airport.  My rear end gets wider just thinking about all that seat time.  Yet, every once in a while, we had time to stretch our legs and smell the flowers.


    1. Literally: Sitting forever cramps one’s style–and legs.  Get out, walk around and enjoy the  break in routine.  It keeps the mind fresh and does the body good.
    2. In Life: As a mother of four, my life is a train trip through parenthood.  I get up, get kids up, take care of said kids’ most basic needs, take care of kids’ emotional needs, support kids in their extracurricular needs and go to bed.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  But there are glorious moments–a snuggle on the couch, watching a humming bird flit from one flower to the next, a morning cup of coffee with Dear Hubby–that lend to a sense of well-being.  We need to grab hold of these moments and hold them in our hands like the precious gifts they are. 
    3. In Writing: Pace yourself.  A novel cannot be completed in the first half of the manuscript.  Every scene cannot be a series of high-octane events.  We simply cannot weep through an entire 400 page memoir.  Pace yourself.  Give your characters and your readers a break.  Let them experience ups and downs and little moments of sheer bliss in between. 

    LOOK FOR THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL: I loved watching the tracks stretch out behind the train.  To me, it was almost as cool as watching where the train was going.  In life and in writing, both of these experiences are necessary.  We need to keep our eyes to the future, while being cognizant of just how far we’ve come.  And when we go through periods of anxiety about our journey–physically and metaphorically–it behooves us to remember that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.  Our journeys will always take us someplace new and exciting, as long as we keep our cool through the darkness.

Which of these tips do you already use?  Which ones are easy to forget?  What has been your favorite stage in life and/or writing so far: looking forward, looking back, or enjoying the moment regardless of where you might be?

Curious minds want to know.