When a kid starts acting up, say in a public place, experts used to suggest that a mom or dad do “a geographical” — that is, remove them from the spot where they’re howling or complaining and take them to a new physical location. Just the act of shifting from one place to another is supposed to disrupt the unwanted pattern of behavior and help the child regain equilibrium.
Doing “a geographical” can also be a great idea when you’re writing. Pulling yourself out of one locale and temporarily transplanting yourself in another can often help you see more clearly or write about something that seems too close for comfort at home.
There are many storied followers of this strategy. Thomas Wolfe, for example, wrote most of Look Homeward, Angel, his amazing biographical novel not in North Carolina, where his story is based, but in Paris. Later, he talked about the fact that he needed to leave, not just his hometown and state, but the United States, in order to gain the perspective he needed to write his masterpiece. Another case in point: Alex Haley wrote most of his classic Roots while traveling the ocean on cargo ships.
Just last year, I visited my darling sister Stephanie and her husband Luis down in Virginia for a few days’ vacation. While there, I was inspired to come up with a couple of very promising ideas for my YA novel, and even put in sometime working on them. One piece became a fun poem that I love and another, a critical plot point for my story — a thread that will continue to unspool.
I don’t know why it is, but there’s something about being in a different place that can set you free to wander from your prescribed path. So the next time you get stuck or feel frustrated with how things are going, try giving yourself “a geographical” and see if it helps you get back on track. The results can be surprising — and serendipitous. Write on!