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On Not Writing

Memoir writer Tina Goodyear examines why on a recent trip to Scotland she didn't take many photos or notes but yet her trip was productive for her writing.

By Tina Goodyear

October 26, 2023

When I was in high school in the early-80’s, people took photographs with actual cameras untethered from phones and their intrusive apps. On vacation, we hung cameras around our necks or carried cumbersome camera bags with us wherever we went, except for my high school English teacher, Woody. One of the most beautiful ideas he ever shared was this: instead of taking pictures on trips, he wrote poems, little exquisite snapshots of memory.

He didn’t know, of course, that iPhones would soon take over our lives. Now, I can’t stop myself from taking pictures when I’m on a trip; it’s too easy. Yet, something odd has happened. On a recent trip to Scotland, I took only a fraction of the number of pictures I would normally take. And despite hearing Woody’s sage advice still rebounding in my head, I didn’t write poems or anything else for that matter. And yet, my trip was actually productive for my writing.

We writers tend to look at all experiences as fodder. It was hard not to form opening lines in my head as I took in the Tuscan sunset on a trip this past summer, for example. No matter where I go, there’s always a blank notebook waiting impatiently in the folds of my suitcase. There’s also a pressure: hurry, write before the idea disappears, write, write, write.

But in the somewhat untamed Scottish isles this past month, writing seemed like tyranny, an insult to the rugged beauty of untouched hills, to the mundane but purposeful life of sheep, to the craggy ruins of castles built by brawn and sheer tenacity. How could my words possibly capture such things? Why should they? When I stood on the very spot where dozens of nuns were buried under an abbey in Iona built in 1203, I wept. I needed time to figure out why before I could even begin to put words on paper.

The trip was about much more than Scotland, of course. It was about friendship, about still having adventures even as aches and pains make their way into my once supple joints. I’ll write about those things, I suppose, one day. Maybe I just did. But sometimes, a trip leaves an indelible mark that belies words. And sometimes, not writing about memories makes them even more dear.

Tina Goodyear

Tina Goodyear is a board member of Project Write Now and a book inc Peer Artist Leader. She recently completed a draft of her memoir, FROM THE NECK DOWN. When not writing or teaching the art of writing, she helps adult students earn college credit for their work and life experiences.

Tina Goodyear is a board member of Project Write Now and a book inc Peer Artist Leader. She recently completed a draft of her memoir, FROM THE NECK DOWN. When not writing or teaching the art of writing, she helps adult students earn college credit for their work and life experiences.