Go West, Young Writer

Whatever your writing goals, you can realize them on the road.

Take the scenic routes and the shortcuts. Park in the city, stay at the parks, and explore the countryside. Or, keep driving. It doesn’t matter.

When it comes to kindling curiosity and stoking imagination, sometimes the “passing by” is more than enough. For me, it’s both the journey and the destinations that motivate me to produce as a writer.

I’ve bled the most ink and left the longest paper trail in the Western United States. Its oceans, mountains, wilderness and wildness unfailingly compel me to narrate and create. That’s why I’m making a case for the Pacific Northwest and the California coastline. And why I’m recommending the majesty of Montana and the wildness of Wyoming...

By the way, it doesn't matter whether you’re a writer, traveler, artist, or random reader that happened upon this post. If you’re willing to wander and you’re wondering where to start, here’s a look at the best places to get a little lost and find a lot of inspiration.


Characters in the Cascade Mountains

If your topic sentence is about Leavenworth, the supporting evidence might include Bavarian sausages, river-rafting, skiing, nutcrackers, hiking and German beer. A charming village nestled in Washington state’s Cascade Mountains - this is a wooden fairytale destination I visit everytime I’m back home in Seattle.

From the city, it’s a two and a half hour drive worth taking your time along. Campgrounds start popping up along both Highway 2 and US-97 as you make your final approach from the mountain roads following a river stuffed with sockeye salmon, trout and tall trees. If you’re into the rod and reel as much as the pen and paper - welcome to paradise. This area of the Wenatchee National Forest has some of the best spring fly-fishing in West.

I love the contrast here. You can stay in the sticks or be in the story. A 10 minute drive takes you  to solitude or brings you back with society. I’m a bit of a soloist myself but after a night alone, writing under the stars along Icicle River, I enjoy coming into town for hot chocolate and casual conversation with the local characters - Washington natives, wide-eyed tourists and outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world.

Although it’s a small town of less than 2,000, there’s never a dull season. Be prepared for heavy snow in the winter and reserving accommodations ahead of time in the summer. Otherwise, Leavenworth is an unfussy getaway, affording you plenty of time and space to write.


Booking it to Big Bear Lake

As a writer, I'm attracted to major cities because of their hustle and bustle, their vibrancy and cultural diversity and the pride shared by its people. Los Angeles and San Diego have bottomless pockets when it comes to urban neighborhoods. Reach down and you pull up up something different every time. Sometimes, all it takes to fuel my writing is taking my journal to a marina park or trendy cafe in the heart of metropolitan areas. But when I want to move on, it’s the forests, lakes and mountain country that beckon me.

It only takes one to three hours from most Southland cities to get to Big Bear Lake. Overflowing with tranquility and adventure, Big Bear boasts four seasons, a rarity in Southern California. The horseshoe shaped U-Turns winding into the mountains make for a dramatic drive into the sky. The small town is situated around the 14 mile perimeter of a pristine alpine lake. Skier friendly in the winter, biker friendly in the summer;  lush mountains rise up all around you. Keep in mind that you’re going to be at elevations of 6,000 to over 8,000 feet.

While thinner air might make for interesting stories, a big reason mountain folk seem to be healthier is because they live more active lifestyles. Big Bear attracts residents passionate about the great outdoors and its activities. The slower pace of small-town life is evident in the community as well. When you want to be surrounded by people, enjoy lake views along the jetty and post up with a good book and your journal at Pine Knot Landing. Don’t miss strolling the main village, lined with artisan shops, galleries, cafes eateries and watering holes (stocked with California wines and craft beers). Every Tuesday in the summer, there’s a farmer's market worth waking up for. I recommend stocking up on fresh breads and pastries from the Muffin Top Bakery stand.  


Love Letters from Laguna Beach

Along the infamous Highway 1, between Newport Beach and Dana Point, lies Laguna Beach. I’ve traveled here so many times and still, I can’t nail down exactly why this Orange County town has such a magnetic allure to me. Or why, I've sent more postcards and letters from here, than anywhere else. 

I’ve been to Laguna Beach with family and for romance. Mostly, I’ve been there alone with my dog. On deadline or between projects, I've found this perch along the Pacific Ocean to be an incomparable spot for getting a lot of independent work done.  

If you go anywhere, start at Heisler Park on foot. Wind along well-maintained walkways above the cliffs that overlook coves of white sand, immaculate gardenscapes, and iconic California sunsets. There are too many public benches to count! These are where I pause and take in the views of passerbys and crashing waves - and write for uninterrupted hours.

Known for its Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters, Laguna Beach swells in size during the summer to accommodate artists from all over the world. There’s no wrong time of year to visit Laguna Beach for its many museums, artist workshops and boutiques.

Forgot to bring a sweater for the breezy evenings? Fair warning: things are expensive along this stretch of Southern California. I recommend packing well and saving your money for when the lights from popular restaurants dim and the volume from local bars ratchets up. Laguna Beach has an entertaining nightlife with something for everyone along Ocean Avenue.

Lock in a vacation rental, condo or villa is an option ahead of time, especially in the spring and summer. There are a surprising many dog-friendly hotels (not to mention shops and restaurants) in Laguna Beach. Airbnb is a great alternative to rental properties and may save you money. If you don’t want to flex your wallet, cut costs on lodging by staying at a big chain hotel outside of town. A good map can point you to some of the best beach camping up and down Highway 1.


YOLO in Yellowstone  

Sometimes, I crave an extremely  primitive environment  in order to clear my mind and write.  Interestingly, I’ve found the best way to experience the outer limits of backcountry is by  joining a guided tour group. I am not referring to artist-in-residence programs that house writers in remote settings, allowing them to practice their craft in isolation and take classes with fellow writers in the program. I’m sure these are valuable and unparalleled opportunities but I’ve never done one myself.

For me, it seems suffocating, or too specific, to travel with other writers with the shared purpose to write. I’d rather get  to know people as strangers. I’d rather listen to their stories instead of compare tactics about how to write stories.

There are 57 reasons to have an adventure in Yellowstone. Of the 58 National Parks in the US it’s the best on almost every list. Planning a day trip to one of its many attractions is very different than deciding to spend a week backpacking. The logistics of what to pack, where to stay and how to coordinate getting from point A to point B can be complicated. That’s when hiring a guide or joining an expedition is your best bet for experiencing many days of awesomeness in Wyoming and Montana’s high mountain wilderness.

It may seem contradictory to getting away from civilization, but in reality an experienced leader can get you farther off the map than you’d be able to  on your own. Adventure companies often provide meals and gear for getting around, saving you enormous time and energy for experiencing Yellowstone, not to mention writing about it.

Avoid the mistakes of the inexperienced tourist and be prepared from the getgo. Yellowstone terrain is impressive but dangerous. Local experts know the areas well, and most importantly, are familiar with weather conditions and seasonal cues. Nobody wants to wake up to bears because they misjudged where to to pitch their tent. Speaking of shelter, group tours often offer options when it comes to overnight stays. If you want to float a river and stay in a cabin rather than a campsite, it can be arranged!


Above All

I realize how simple writing is when I’m out of my comfort zone. There’s always a visitor information booth that sells pens. And all you have to do is look up to see how much paper can be made from trees. Getting away promotes getting in touch with your inner artist, your muse, your imagination and creativity. And when the travel bug bites, hopefully you’re on the West Coast because beyond the places I recommend, there are countless others!

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