The Writing Journey

In an August post I compared the writing process to climbing a mountain. Now that I’ve just returned from a trip to Israel—not only the longest trip but also the first international trip I’ve ever taken—I can compare the writing process to making a journey.


With less than three weeks to prepare for this trip, I felt nervous, at times so overcome with anxiety that I didn’t want to go. The journey would be too long. How would I ever manage six- and twelve-hour back-to-back flights? Would I feel claustrophobic? Would I wish I had packed a parachute?


With my arrival in Tel Aviv, going through passport control, being driven from the airport to the hotel, I felt disoriented, fatigued, confused, irritable, also excited and full of anticipation. Discovery came next, followed by falling in love with the place, wanting to stay and learn more, see more, taste more.

Self-portait of Barbara Ann Yoder working on Tel Aviv hotel deck, copyright 2013.

While in Tel Aviv, I managed to write for a couple of hours almost every day. One day I worked on the hotel’s rooftop deck, a nice change from my home office!


A few days before coming home, I did not want the visit to end and imagined living in Tel Aviv, at least for a few months. What would it take to make that happen? Even if a longer stay wasn’t possible, I felt my sense of the world expanding.

Finally, back at home, I felt out of sync, had difficulty digesting, focusing, sleeping. I dreamt of the place that I had just come from, dreamt of the people, the language, the music, the food, the landscape.

Writing and Reading

As I traveled and wrote, it occurred to me that when writers set out to write, we often feel unprepared; at times we may feel overwrought. As we enter the work and begin to find our way, we may come to fall in love with the project—or least with parts of it. As we complete the work, we come back to our lives feeling both exhausted and enlarged. This journey also mirrors our experience as readers entering a book, feeling disoriented, confused, unsure if we’ll commit to it, then falling into the story and not wanting it to be over, feeling full of the story when it ends, transitioning only gradually from the crafted to the physical world, finding that, long after we’ve closed the book, art and life overlap.

A bridge to the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv. Photo copyright 2013 Barbara Ann Yoder.

A bridge to the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv. Photo copyright 2013 Barbara Ann Yoder.


While I was in Israel I began reading Writing the Memoir, by Judith Barrington, a book that had been on my list for years. It’s a book that I quickly came to love, a book than any writer can benefit from since we all draw from our experience. Already I know that I would like to read this book again, as soon as I complete it the first time. But for now I will simply savor it as it spurs my discovery.


I am also reading The Faraway Nearby, by Rebecca Solnit, a book of essays about storytelling that my friend Sandra Hunter recommended. I love this book too. In places the author seems to be telling my life. I appreciate how she draws from myths and fairy tales, opening up new possibilities for ways to understand and tell stories. My curiosity is piqued; I feel the urge to read all of her books.


This afternoon I am heading to the Writing by Writers Workshop at Tomales Bay, where I’ll take a four-day memoir-writing class with Dorothy Allison, who will lead our group in examining elements of the memoir and give us writing prompts and exercises—exactly what I need right now. I’ll also have a chance to see my friend Fenton Johnson and the other workshop leaders, who include Ron Carlson, Pam Houston, Antonya Nelson, and Carl Phillips. This will be fun!


En route to creating a writing practice that will help me write the next book, I am preparing for the journey by giving myself time to write generatively, to work in a setting that I know I’ll enjoy, to forget about planning for now, so that discovery can flourish and the journey can follow its own course, meander, transport, surprise.

How would you describe your writing journey or the journey you are on with your current writing project? What books and teachers do you look to for guidance?