Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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July 25, 2022

Research Your Novel on a Rambling Road Trip

By Kris Maze

Summertime is fun time, but it can also provide useful insights to your writing. I’m planning my next minor road trip close to home (*ahem, looking at you, gas pump) and making the most of these opportunities away from my writing desk. In past posts I’ve included tips about making your writing fresh by taking a writing vacation. In today’s post we will list ways you can take your writing on the road.

Make the most of your time and have fun researching your next novel with these tips.

Organize Your Tools

Old school notebook

One may not have access to all the digital tools you are used to inside a vehicle. Try using good ol' fashioned paper and consider keeping a few of these items near as you travel.

Keep a field notes book or notebook on your person. Have your favorite pencils or pens to capture the ideas as they come. I am a fan of Moleskine notebooks and carry one in my purse. Prepare for many as you experience new sights and scenes from each step of your road trip.

Sticky Notes

I love my sticky notes. Take down mini ideas and keep them in a notebook. Later, when you get back home, organize them and incorporate them into your working novel. What are tiny sized ideas for sticky notes? Here are some I frequently use:

  • Working titles
  • Poetic devices
  • Rhetorical device sentences
  • Descriptions of a scene, person, setting on the road
  • Quotes from readings
  • Dialogue or sayings unique to an area
  • Any idea you don’t want to forget!

Digital Tools

Most digital tools can be accessed during your road trip with a little preparation. If you are a fan of OneNote or Evernote, or prefer to type in Word or Google Docs, you can from inside your car. Try the following ideas and dig around your current tools for some of these. You may have them at your fingertips already.

12 volt chargers

Many vehicles have regular plugs for using a standard wall plug for a laptop or other device. Try plugging in your device while the car is running and see if it keeps your battery charged and ready to write.

If your car doesn't have a regular sized outlet you can use, try getting an adaptor. I purchased one that came with a tiny blue case. And now I can pull the laptop in while working on the road in almost any car.

Wi-Fi hotspots

Consider having a hotspot on your phone to connect your laptop or iPad to the internet while on the road. Most phones offer a hotspot option. This could be an add on for as little as $10 per month. Many plans already include it and allow you to remove the service after a month or two. It may work well for you and could be something you use to write anywhere. I now use mine instead of connecting to public Wi-Fi as added security.

Social Media tools

You never know who you may get for an interview, and it is good to be prepared as the old Scouts mantra states. Read through Eldred Bird’s recent Writer’s in the Storm post about how to create your own Mobile Media Kit here, and always capture the moments that will inspire and inform your writing.

Map it

What is a road trip without a map? We may like to wander, but keeping track of the trip will help our writing succeed. Some writers may want the adventure of the open road, not planning the stops in advance. Others want to have the stops as carefully scheduled as they can to avoid stress and to optimize their experience.

Neither are incorrect approaches and both have benefits to your overall enjoyment of the road trip research. Whether you are a road trip pantser or planner, I recommend you keep track of your adventure so you can look back on your research and use it after summer has long passed us into fall.

Pinbox

One product I am trying this summer is Pinbox. This app works with an iPhone but can be shared with Android users. This versatile mapping tool can plan many things from errand trips to locations you have spent with family or friends.

Pinbox allows you to take pictures and notes as you visit to reference later. Another nice feature is to see the distance between each location which could be used for planning the trip. After the trip is over, it could help you write more authentic adventures as you see the trip as it unfolded.

Map Ideas to Enhance Your Writing

Many ways a map can add to your writing include:

Note the distance, time, and topography of the road between locales on your trip. Match them up to your novel.

Topography and Special Features

What special land features are common stopping grounds? What unique aspects of driving through an area stood out to you? What smells, sounds, and general vibe does an area give you?

If you are lucky enough to have someone else driving while you take notes, add these to your writing log between stops. If you are the driver (or like people in my family—are prone to carsickness if you write or read) then make stops and write in between.

Taking time to process each stop can make the setting and special parts of these stops sink in. Allow yourself time and space to absorb the details and get them down on paper. You won’t regret it later when you add them to your work in progress.

Read Other Books on Your Topic

Are there popular books about the area you are visiting? Is where you are going a known part of a novel in your genre? Read these in advance or bring the book along to absorb while taking your road trip.

How is your book like these novels? How will yours be different? What types of information are expected to make your book more interesting? What else could you find out while on the road to add unusual and new ideas to your writing?

In person Research

Find museums

There are many museums across the United States and here is a handy website to help you find the perfect one for your research. Type in a keyword or browse by state or category. The results may be road trip worthy in themselves. There are dedicated museums to ships or banjos or the Underground Railroad to name only a few. So if you want inspiration to pack up - there are interesting places to dive deep into your book research.

Find historical societies

Historical societies are prevalent throughout the world. If you are visiting outside your native country try looking up a local society in the place you are writing about. Many small towns in the United States have historical groups that are run by volunteers. You can find these with a simple search online. Try calling ahead and let them know what you are researching. This could the insights to elevate your novel.

Strike up a conversation at a local diner or shop

Visit parks and talk to the rangers or caretakers for story ideas and background information. Many shop owners are used to tourist traveling through during road trip seasons, They often know the best places to get the real local scoop.

Keep Receipts

Writers are able to deduct a certain amount of costs associated with the business of being a writer. Check with your accountant or tax specialist and see which items could benefit you the most. Potential items could include mileages, overnight stays, entrance fees, materials used to research like books purchased on your topic.

Photography

Take pictures of everything along the way. It records your adventure for future reflection and could save you money on your writing projects. Here are some uses of snapshots or profession level work (if you are lucky enough to have these talents along with writing!)

  • Use them in social media. Create posts, tweets, and short videos of where you have been.
  • Use them for cover art. Find the perfect backdrop for a novel? An aesthetic that conveys your book's feeling? Use your own photography.
  • Use them for websites and personalized backgrounds. Even if you are used to creating with digital sources like Canva.com, using your own pictures adds your own style to your projects.

Be Flexible

Enjoy the trip. The best stories include conflict and problem solving. Most fun road trips include several stories about what doesn’t go well. Keep the messy process of a traveling in mind as fodder for good story telling. As the wheels roll down the road, may your mind be rolling into a fantastic flow of novel writing!

Are you planning a trip? Local or off to fulfil a trip you intended to take but couldn't over the last two years? Let us know your fun plans and tell us whether you plan to simply recharge during this trip or to research for a writing project.

About Kris

Kris Maze is an author, writing coach, and teacher. She has worked in education for many years and writes for various publications including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and the award-winning blog Writers in the Storm where she is also a host. You can find her horror stories and keep up with her author events at her website.

See her new website under the penname Krissy Knoxx here.

A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, playing violin and piano, and spending time outdoors.

And occasionally, she knits.

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12 comments on “Research Your Novel on a Rambling Road Trip”

  1. The hubster and I took an anniversary trip to the British Isles. I wasn't as efficient as I should have been about keeping a diary of everything, and I should have taken more pictures of the "mundane", but I wrote a book (Heather's Chase) utilizing the experience when I got home. Great tax write-off. Right now, I'm in the final phase of Cruising Undercover, the book I'm releasing after a photo safari on a Croatian cruise. I've got a couple local trips coming up in the next couple of months, and I'm going to save your tips so I don't forget anything. For me, I never have a book/plot/story in mind until after I get home.

    1. HI Terry,
      Each of us has a different process to form a story, too. And it sounds like you have a good method of percolating the ideas during your trip and letting them settle after you are home. I tend to process the little scraps of goodness from my trip afterwards as well.
      I'm glad you are out and traveling once again. The Croatian cost sounds absolutely wonderful. I hope you enjoy your upcoming travels!
      Kris

  2. Fantastic suggestions, Kris!

    I tend to take a lot of photos and document them at the end of the day, either as a social media post or in ColorNote.

    The images trigger memories, but the added notes help a good deal.

    1. I love taking photos, sometime just of a texture or color background. It often ends up with my phone filled with interesting aesthetic pix. Now the challenge is to remember to organize them. 🙂

  3. The whole idea for what turned into my James McCarthy series was born on a road trip. When my wife's favorite uncle padded away, we decided to drive from Arizona to the service in Pennsylvania. As a way to cheer her up and give her something else to focus on, I started discussing the idea for the main character and what he might experience. Five days on the road and I had a book ready to write when we arrived back home.
    I also like the idea of visiting the locations that the stories will be set. I do this all the time. it adds depth when you can describe the scene for m personal experience rather that using Google and Street View (I'm guilty of this one).

    1. Hi Bob,
      What a lovely way to start a series and a great way to honor your uncle, Bob.
      The details on Google street view are a good idea, but hardly as good as getting up close and in person.
      Thanks for the ideas for when travel just isn't an option.

  4. Hi Kris- you are very right.It's so important to get away and recharge, but also hard to leave the writing alone. Taking a notebook along can give peace of mind that you won't forget those sudden fantastic ideas while keeping you disconnected from the temptation of opening social media if that phone is in your hand to take notes (just this one little Tweet, I swear...). I'm planning a long awaited trip to include Honduras and Belize. Somewhere between snorkeling shipwrecks and zip-lining through jungles, I hope to refresh creativity, snap some gorgeous pics, and just enjoy life. Hopefully, that will translate into my writing momentum once I'm back home.

    1. Belize and Honduras sound like a fabulous getaway, Miffie!
      I've spent several summer trips there during the Hurricane Mitch days, but it wasn't as much fun as ziplining and tours. There are some amazing ruins and beaches in that area too.

      Have fun and I hope you will use it in your writing as well. 🙂

    1. Hi Barb,
      I hear ya! Even with gas prices soaring, it would still be great to get a simple trip in. Making more of it, too, by adding value to the trip. I hope you can go and explore soon!
      Kris

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