We writers have never had it better, easier, or more convenient to write. Laptops are lighter, smaller, thinner, faster and more powerful than ever before. We can write anywhere, anytime. We can send entire manuscripts to our editors from anywhere in the world instantly—assuming wi-fi of course.
So what do you do when you’re in a country where electronics are stolen on a daily basis, you can lose your life for an iPhone, you’re constantly traveling, and you’ve got your toddler and husband with you?
First, you choose the places where you take your laptop very carefully. You pack it up in your oldest, scruffiest backpack, one that ideally you can lock with a small lock. You never take it out in public. In airports, you wear a poncho over your backpack to put one more barrier between you and the people who want to make the load on your back a little lighter (here, pro thieves actually purchase full price airline tickets in order to get into the waiting rooms in airports or the planes themselves—apparently the potential loot is worth the ticket).
Cell phone? Sure, but make sure you lock that brand new iPhone in your suitcase or a safe, and get an outdated old “native” model with a local number. You’ll blend in better that way. Also, be sure to study the facial expressions of the locals walking down the street—and wear that look everywhere.
In some places, you simply don’t take your laptop—or smartphones, tablets, or other devices—at all. Take it from a travel veteran: do leave home without it.
So we writers might ask, OMG how am I going to write? I need to keep writing! I’m on a writing retreat (slash family vacation)!
It’s really very simple—and you can thank your stars that your profession is truly one of the oldest in the world: that of a scribe. All we need to practice our craft are our minds, a writing utensil, and a surface to capture our words. Translation: paper and pen. That’s it.
So when we traveled last week to the Caribbean island of Providencia, which required flying from Bogotà to the island of San Andrés, spending the night in a hotel, then continuing on to Providencia in a little 15-seater (it was either that or braving the wild open sea for 3 hours in a catamaran), I left my beloved laptop in Bogotà. I’m working on a short story and a novella, so I printed out the short story and made notes (for a trip of 5 days with family, I knew I could realistically focus on just one work).
I wrote everywhere. In the airport, on the plane, in the hammock after lunch while my 2-year-old slept cuddled next to me, but above all, I woke up early and went down to the shore to be inspired by the early morning light of the Caribbean sun.
Hard to focus? Yes. Constant background noise and interruptions? Absolutely. But all of this forced me to reach deep into my mental reserves and hold on to that cord of inspiration, hold the hand of the muse that lives within all writers and blocks out all interruption and noise. Some may call it meditation, others willpower; I call it the writer’s zen. Given the challenge, if you rise to it, you’ll find an extraordinary source of internal tranquility you can tap at any time, any place. It’s yours to take with you wherever you go.
And yet… there was plenty of inspiration in watching people milling about in the airport, rushing about their daily lives in the streets on the islands, and all of the mundane interactions I watched unfold as we traveled from airport to airport to hotel to beach to wherever else we went. It was for this reason, for the incessant changes in surroundings and the nearly constant background din I knew would be the status quo of our trip, that I chose to bring along my short story rather than the novella.
I never missed my laptop. Instead, I rediscovered the joy of writing longhand, something I rarely do anymore, and of being able to take my writing with me anywhere without concern about the unfortunate incompatibility of electronics with sand, sun, salt water, or rain—in the tropics it rains hard and without warning—and above all, about having my work stolen along with my laptop.
It was, in a word, idyllic. Now as I type this blog on my computer back here in Bogotà, something seems missing… it could be the salt air, the turquoise waters, and the total, absolute timelessness of the islands.
p.s. Now about the international conflict that the island of Providencia is caught up in—and that I hinted at in my first blog post. The islands of San Andrés and Providencia are Colombian territory, and have been since 1928 as per the Esguerra-Bárcenas Treaty. It’s this treaty that Nicaragua has been disputing since 2001; on November 19 of this year, the International World Court of Justice at the Hague granted to Nicaragua an exclusive economic zone extending 200 nautical miles from its Caribbean coast. This means the fishing population of Providencia and San Andrés will be essentially cut off from their livelihood. Colombia is opposing the decision of the Court, at the highest levels of international governance, and there is potential for an international confrontation between the two countries. We already had our tickets… and weren’t sure what sort of situation we would arrive in: would it be a pleasant island vacation or an international conflict? As it turned out, at least for now, the locals on the islands are fairly relaxed about the situation. But we’ll have to wait and see.