When I followed him up the stairs and onto the terrace, I knew I had I found the perfect Caribbean writer’s haven before he even opened the door. It was up a hill with a balcony overlooking a tiny bay with mountains that held the blue sea in a sweet little embrace. It was dry season, so the hills were a rusty, brambly tangle of bare branches and tall cacti…not the tropical green I was expecting. From my vantage point, the tree tops hid the shabby town below and hosted big iguanas that would sometimes climb to the top branches. The place was small, open air with a beautiful view, and it was my retreat. It was so wonderfully situated that the sun set over the sea even when I imagined we were facing east. Magic! This is where I would write my book, in Taganga, Colombia.
The best way for me to make the transition from being a nomad to having a place is to populate the bathroom with the contents of my toiletry bag (I cannot overly express what a luxury this is), unpack my clothes, and decorate a little bit with the odd painting, photograph, or rock that I’ve collected along the way. This is the second time I’ve settled somewhere to work on my book and I have found this little nesting ritual to be important for feeling good about my writing space.
Writing a book is hard, but it is a good kind of hard in the way it feels good to have your muscles burn after you’ve given everything to a workout. You earn it. You have to show up fully and willingly, and be open to working with the page and playing with words. Sometimes I physically grab the air with my hands when I’m trying to pull the words I want into existence.
It is important to me to feel good while writing this book and to keep some of the feelings alive that are crucial for the book…adventure, immersion, nature, action, curiosity, creativity. So I invent ways to keep these things going while also being settled in a place.
My adventures there in Taganga were on a smaller scale, like trying to construct a grill out of some bricks and scrap metal. I admit, I ended up buying a cheap one made out of the wiring from the back of a refrigerator and the adventure was really in the cultural immersion. I loved going to the market in Santa Marta, the next bay over…everything so wonderfully chaotic and colorful. “A la orden! A la orden!” shouted at you everywhere. What started out as a charming, “At your service!” quickly came to feel more like a demanding “Give me what’s in your wallet!” But I loved all of the fruit piled up high, natural and bruised. They would ask when you were planning to eat it to select the fruit at the exact tipping point of ripeness for you and for managing their stock. I loved getting an extra mango for change when they didn’t have the exact money. They would sometimes giggle when I was enchanted by a new fruit I’d never seen before. Writing can be a lonely process sometimes, so these interactions were priceless to me.
If I were still comparing Argentina and Colombia, which I most definitely am not, Argentina would get the easy ace for wine and Colombia would earn the point in coffee. I started my mornings with a little meditation, followed by a cup of this goodness and a TED talk overlooking the water. I tried experimenting with corn dough and making my own arepas. The true luxury was to head to the beach at sunset as the boats were coming in and see what the fishermen had caught that day. I would then try to get creative with the limited ingredients, making different salsas and concoctions to go with fish, vegetables, and fruit I’d grill on the fire…OMG, grilled fruit, yum! Bonus, I got to sit around a fire on the terrace at night. Double bonus, the amazing fruit and a little rum blended together made an excellent happy hour…fresh coconut blended with the sweetest pineapple was my personal favorite. There might not be anything more essential to have in a kitchen in Colombia, then a blender and a hard stone for cracking open coconuts.
It’s been fascinating to learn how much these things…exploring, creating, playing…are actually a part of my writing process. I even started writing a cook book to keep track of my experiments. My writing flows the most when it’s aligned with my energy and the rhythms of the day. So I would write morning, afternoon, and evening, which would include running the stairs or swimming laps across the bay, doing yoga on the terrace, practicing my guitar or Spanish…depending on the day and my energy. If I don’t do these things then my brain runs meaningless laps in my head instead and barely a word makes it to the page. This is the lifestyle design I had dreamed of, merged work and play.
While I’m writing I use an outline, thousands of pages of notes and journals from the last few years, and a ‘clipboard’ type document where I record my mood and relevant information that might influence my writing that day, including notes, ideas, questions, and tangents. This has helped me learn my process and what helps me flow. My biggest challenge is probably that I am such a relational person, and so I like to talk to someone about my writing as I’m doing it, but I also want to protect it and nurture it on my own. It is the closest thing I have to a child or a pet. It is most definitely my job, I’m just not paid for it yet. That is a job you love. I do, I love it, and I can’t wait to share my book with you.