Writer in a Strange Land

It is a truth universally acknowledged that writers are weird creatures. We eavesdrop on conversations, research things that will get us nice phone calls from Interpol just checking up and we make our imaginary friends play out made up conversations in our heads. I can’t necessarily speak for other writers, but I’ve also written stories in some pretty unique and odd places, scribbled out conversations, speed-typed a strand of dialogue onto my phone while I was supposed to be paying attention Chemistry (long, long, long ago…). My odd writing experiences have taken me a great many places, here are just a few of the weird and wonderful spots where I’ve stopped to jot down ideas.


Merrion Square Park, Dublin:

dublin-2344363_1920I was studying abroad and while I loved the other women I was traveling with, we spent an incredible amount of time together, living and traveling. I escaped for a little while and sat on a large stone block near the park’s entrance, watching people coming and going in three directions. That afternoon, I caught characters, shades of hair, whispered snippets of conversations, the way people interacted, the way they didn’t. Just out of sight, the statue of Oscar Wilde continued to watch over his city.

The Brazen Head, Dublin:

A year and several months earlier, I walked down the street from the apartment I shared with my grandparents and mom, and spent several hours at the oldest pub in Ireland, dating back to 1198. We were headed home on a six am flight, but I stayed there too late, writing about the scent of ancient wood and thick inches of ale over so many centuries, how time seems to freeze in a place like that, and how the years pass at a different pace for those from countries so new and young.

The Elephant House Cafe, Edinburgh: 524793_10150601170441442_307506947_n

In the Elephant House Cafe, there are message scrawled on the bathroom doors, Dear Jo, thank you for letting me believe in magic, written in a thousand ways in a thousand hands. The tables and chairs are mismatched, and the ones with drawers have been stuffed with more letters, our love letters to J.K. Rowling, who sat in these seats and imagined a story that would change the world. We wrote our own love letters and shoved them in with the rest.

The Lamborghini After Party, New York City:

A large Murcielago takes up the better part of the back room, and waiters dip and weave between drunk journalists, car models and hangers-on. I am tired. It has been a long day of press conferences and shaking hands and smiling pretty and we still have a midnight train to catch away from these glittering New York lights and back to the suburbs. But stories do not wait, and a love scene for a Work in Progress calls to me. I scribble it right there, at one of the high cocktail tables, out in a notebook filled with industry statistics and car specs. No one bothers me.

In Stokes State Forest, New Jersey:

IMG_2421I am 19, a summer camp counselor at the sleep away camp where I went as a kid. If I thought traveling with my friends was a lesson in no-private time, I am shocked into the reality of a shared bunk bed and a room of a dozen young girls, into twelve hours days and a thousand emotions belonging to a thousand people. 

I write the moments, each time I make a breakthrough with a kid, the feeling of learning I’m allergic to yellow jackets, the sense of freshness that we do not have in the air at home, an understanding that this job is a time in my life I will never be able to get back. I write by flashlight, by the light of an old iPod, I write in the bathroom, when my co-counselor returns and I can leave my cabin. I write by the light of fireflies. I have tried a thousand times to write the book, but I have only ever come up with moments.


Writers spend time alone, in their rooms, in their offices, in their heads. But sometimes it is the outside world that we need most, whether the outside world is a Paris apartment, the back seat of a Mustang in heavy shore traffic or a bathroom at a party when you’re drunk and loquacious. Any writer trying to make a career will self-sabotage if they wait for inspiration to strike. No, we must sit down at our desk every day and bang our heads against the keyboards until sometime comes out.

But sometimes, sometimes we must go out, to listen to those conversations, watch those strangers, check out book covers and read their computer screens over their shoulders. When the well begins to feel low, sometimes the best trick there is is to head out into the world and get drunk on inspiration all around. ♦


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