Below is part two of a three part series in which I interviewed travel writer Tui Snider. See part one of this interview if you haven’t read it yet.
For part two, Tui and I discuss powerful yet free writing productivity tools that you should check out, how to cultivate healthy expectations as a writer, what to call that feeling of “fresh yet familiar”, how to be mindful in your travels, and how to leverage your site to meet other people in that amazing realm known as “real life.”
Tui Snider Interview
Part 2: How to be Mindful & Make Hypothetical Pie
33. I’m curious how your journey has been with building your website. What was it like navigating all of this complexity and finally building your site with WordPress, as I have. You put a lot of yourself into the design, and I’ve seen the design change over time.
Yeah, it has! I’ve gotten more and more into the photographs because I realized how that’s a big part of travel. Instagram was such a leap for me because I like the immediacy of being able look at something and then post it right away. And then connect with people, too. Like I could say: “I wonder who made this sculpture.” And someone will say, “Oh, I know.” And two seconds later on Instagram, I’ve learned something. “Oh, and while you’re there make sure you eat at such and such.” But about the website journey: I always keep it up in HTML when I’m writing, but I don’t get too carried away with it. I’ve backed off from getting too deep into PHP, because it can suck you in too much. I’m like, “Okay, how much time do I want to spend on that side of it? I wanna make sure that I’ve got a finished product!”
34. That’s the really interesting thing about having your own website, isn’t it? You can wear so many hats. There’s a side of you that’s the designer side, the crazy mad-scientist writing side, and the editor side. And then there’s the socializing side, making sure that you show up on people’s radar. There are all these facets. Did you realize that going in? Did you have a plan of how you were going to grow? Or was it sort of a playful experiment to see where it was going to go? Or a bit of both?
It was, yeah. I didn’t really have a clear business plan, which I thought I should at the beginning. I wanted to have something different than a LiveJournal. It was going to be a blog, so I felt like I needed to share information and be helpful to people, which at times kind of crippled me and made my writing voice a little stilted. And then, when I would just let loose and write something kind of silly, then I would get more feedback from that. I would enjoy it more, and I would connect with people more. So I just let go of that and decided to have fun with it.
At the time, it was just a way to make friends and meet other people living in Italy, and elsewhere, too. I never really expected people in real life to read my blog. And I’ve known other people who start blogs, and then they get all bummed out because no one they know in real life reads their blog. I’m like, “That’s a different thing. You’re gonna meet bloggers.” Some people read books. People get their social input from different places. It never bothered me that my family doesn’t often read my blog or that some of my friends don’t check it out. Other friends do, but I never felt like that was my audience. I was just putting things out there, and hopefully I’d meet some people I could relate to and would understand my sense of humor.
And the slogan “Even Home is a Travel Destination”—that slowly became apparent to me. Because I was living in Italy, and I was engaged. But it was actually a very lonely time over there. I realized, “Oh, everyone thinks I’m living this great, exotic life.” And I thought, “Well, I could just as well be living in Kansas in an apartment complex, and no one would think it’s exotic. But I could have the same exact situation.” There’s always something exotic, too, about where you live. I remember a conversation with someone in Belgium. We posted a picture of our house, and the Belgian guy goes, “Your house! It looks like it’s made of wood!” And we were like, “Yeah!” And he said, “Wow, that’s weird.” That made me realize that what’s exotic to one person isn’t exotic to another.
35. Dare I ask what houses are made out of in Belgium?
Oh, a lot of stone, a lot of brick.
36. “We use all the wood for ottomans and dressers here!”
Yeah! That’s right, the wood is for chopsticks! Hah!
37. “Even home is a travel destination.” That’s a good point. Because once you get used to something, almost anything that seemed exotic to you at first can become almost mundane in time. But you can also reverse that and see your home through new eyes, as well.
That was something I’d noticed as a kid. My family would travel a lot because we lived in Virginia and one grandma lived in New Mexico, which meant a big long car trip to get there. And then we’d come home, and I just loved that feeling of how the house was so familiar but so foreign at the same time. Made me feel really awake to my house, and I would be so happy to see my little room again. I was like, “Hello room, and now I’m really seeing you.” And I always liked that.
38. I love that. I know exactly what you mean. That sense of freshness to something that’s also familiar is a lovely feeling isn’t it?
Yeah, and it kind of stimulated me in a philosophical way as a kid. I would try to be mindful. I would come home and think, “Now when I eat dinner, I’m going to pay attention to every bite!” I’d try to stay awake for longer. It just made me aware of that idea of being awake versus being asleep to your life.
39. I wish we had like 3 hours to talk because I think we could go for an hour just on mindfulness.
Yeah, I think that’s one reason why I always really liked your blog, because I could always sense that mindful aspect to what you write. And that’s a real common denominator to the type of writing I like. It could be about anything, but if you present it in a mindful manner suddenly I’m like, “Velvet paintings! Tell me more!”
40. Since you bring it up, what do you think is a good way for travel writers to be mindful in their writing?
Oh, gosh! Let me think on this. I do think that whole idea of treating your—I know it sounds corny to say “staycation”—but I do this at work. If I’m on hold, I look around the office and try to describe it as if I were telling someone else. You know, I keep my good friend Woofmutt in my mind a lot when I’m writing, I guess because he always appreciates those mindful details, those quirky things that you see. I know he’ll appreciate it, so even if I’m in a mundane situation, like at the office, I’ll think of how I’d describe it to him in that moment.
41. How do you find the act of being mindful affects you? That act of describing or being present?
It makes me feel exhilarated. I feel happy! It makes me feel kinder towards everyone else, too, for some reason. It puts me in a better mood, for sure. I can just be mindful. “This is life, I’m experiencing it.” Even if it’s not pleasant. Most of the time it’s pleasant, but yeah that’s a really good question! I’ll have to think on that one some more.
42. I know that not everyone is familiar with your site. (Which should change after this interview, because literally everyone should check out your Ren Fair Wedding article because your fairy outfit is adorable.) But how would you recommend someone bring mindfulness to their writing?
Start by doing freewriting first thing in the morning, preferably if you’re still kind of sleepy because you won’t be so judgmental. Write as fast as you can for a set period of time. Don’t let yourself stop to edit it. Just write, and then go back and look at what you have. And you’d be surprised. There will be some cool stuff. There will be some crap, but at least you’ll have something to work with. It could be two sentences that you like. That can really be enough to set you off on another word rampage.
43. Is that how a lot of your articles begin, or do you go in with a set purpose and write to that purpose? Or do you freewrite and articles come out of that?
I get ideas for them, and then I always have a little notebook on me so I’ll write down topics. And I have tons of topics. Some I haven’t even written yet. Then when I start to write, I always end up wanting to write too much, and I realize it’s too long for a blog and I need to cut it down to just one idea. And then I realize, “Well now I’ve got enough for five things to blog about!” A lot of times picking photos helps me narrow it down. I just write a whole bunch and discard the rest. I have one little file that I called compost. I also use this thing called Yarny.me, and I love it. If I think of something at my work computer, I can just type it in. Or if I think of something on my iPhone. Whichever computer I’m on, as long as I go to Yarny.me and login, I have my whole memoir on there. And I have a bunch of idea files in there. It’s a great way to keep my stuff in the cloud.
44. Have you heard of SimpleNote? That sounds a lot like SimpleNote.app that I use on the Mac and iOS. It’s free, and it synchronizes between the two. And it sounds like Yarny. But I completely agree. It’s so important to have a place to put those ideas when they come. You can’t put a pause button on that. If you don’t capture it, it’s gone.
In fact, when I was a barista and I would be talking to people and suddenly get an idea, I would write it on a scrap of paper and shove it in my tip jar. And at the end of the day I’d have this pile of little notes from my tip jar, ideas of things I wanted to write about. But I called this Hypothetical Pie because sometimes I would get back, and I would not know what my little cryptic note meant. And one of them, that I still never figured out, just said ‘Hypothetical Pie’ on it. “That’s my handwriting. What did I mean by that?” I still don’t know what I meant by that!
45. I wish I couldn’t relate to finding inscrutable notes, but I can totally relate. And I find it interesting that you use photos to inform your articles. I use a similar technique with most of my review articles since I find photography very useful to frame an article and constrain what I’m going to discuss. Do you use photos to “reel things in”, too?
Yeah, to keep me on topic. I’ll just be like, “I’m going to write about these three things.” Not always, though. Sometimes the picture doesn’t always relate directly, because I like to have a picture with every post. Although sometimes it ends up relating, later on. It ends up being a metaphor.
46. I’m curious how you use your website to meet people. A lot of people that I meet might have a website, but they haven’t met any human beings through it. It just remains virtual for most people, so how do you use it to meet people?
You know, for three years in a row I did NaBloPoMo, where you would try to post something on your blog every day for a month. And for the first few years that went on, it had a lot of energy to it. People would come by, and they would start conversations on your blog. I really connected with a couple people that way. I met Paula from Texas through that, and we actually got to have lunch over in Dallas together. We really connected. Because something about posting something every day and the people who would start conversations with you… Some of them you would really connect with. We stayed in touch a lot through Twitter, and it kind of grew from there.
47. Yeah, I think it can be challenging, because it’s such a global audience. The odds of somebody being really passionate about what you write within 50 miles of you is statistically… not great. Unless you’re super popular, that can be rare.
The nice thing was that when I moved so much (there was a period of time when I moved 16 times in a period of 10 years), having the internet was nice because I got to take my friends with me. I got to “pack my friends up”; it wasn’t like I was constantly leaving friends behind. Now I’ve been in Texas for 2 ½ years, but still the majority of my friends that I feel the closest to are online or in another time zone. I’m always homesick for someplace, it seems like!
That’s all for now. I hope you’ll join me in the 3rd and final installment of my interview with Tui Snider, coming next week!
Coming up in Part 3: The principles behind social interaction, how to find balance when using social networking, how to leverage Twitter’s big energy pool, and Tui’s advice for those of you who are thinking of starting a blog yourself.