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Our Process: How We Write, Notes & Bloobs

by Tyler

This entry is part of an ongoing series about how we've documented our adventure.

A couple months ago, we decided to start recording the ever-evolving process by which we've been wrestling a page or more of writing from every day of our lives. Having successfully documented, in very general terms, the last two years of our effort, we now want to capture a bit more closely the methods by which we are currently writing.

So, here we go!

At the end of every day, if we don't have the energy or mental awareness needed to crank out an entire journal entry, we make extensive notes. For us, this is not an optional task, it is a daily necessity. Though we've never tried to forgo the notes, I feel sure it would be nearly impossible to accurately write anything that would do our experiences justice without this step.

Note-taking is usually a stream-of-consciousness affair, with both of us piping up to offer our differing perspectives on the events of the day that we don't want forgotten. Spelling doesn't matter, nor does grammar, nor do complete sentences. The name of the game is to type fast enough to keep up with the onslaught of details and thoughts pouring out.

Here is a sample, a few raw lines from a page of notes about a difficult day we had in Vietnam. Due to the nature of our backdated publishing, this digital chicken scratch comes from an actual as-yet-to-be-written entry:

struggling with this place don't like it, but trying not to totally write it off i miss cambodia ladies barging in our room to start cleaning it, waving BYE BYE in my face, ushering me out… dude, i'm not done yet, chill out, i need to get my things out


try to keep calm, bike off in search of ferry find ferry, get on lots of "hellos" stopped for coffee, don't have coffee. friendly guy gave us ice water, felt like a zoo animal on display, stopped for coffee again.

feel so inept because we can't say anything, language has never been this hard. even with guidebook, nobody understands us, tonal language, etc.

keep biking holy shit tiny road with scooters zooming and banana trees and kids bikingandchickensrunningandbasketweavingandsofreakingmuchgoingoooooonnnnn, lots of horns, lots of piercing beeps arrive in town, supposed to be nice, kind of a dirty town crap hotel, searching for other hotel

found hotel, pretty nice, no electricity,sound of loud generators everywhere. out to dinner, thank god it was a good one, so, end of the day, it's a sleepy day, rainy, dark, sort of bla, don't really want to be here, but at least we have clean sheets, a cool shower, and a big meal.

was afraid we were going to wander around for an hours, cobbling together a meal of street food when all we want is huge plates of starch and protein

When we're settled somewhere nice for a few days, and journaling becomes our top priority, we'll fire up our laptops, open a local copy of our GSDB, and survey the deluge of writing samples like this that await us.

We used to be just a few entries behind. Now, thanks to Mongolia, the list of daily notes is a mammoth hydra-like beast fifty entries strong that laughs in the face of any illusions we might have about quickly and easily completing the work before us.

Well over a year ago (though we can't pinpoint exactly when), I was delirious from lack of sleep, and feeling completely immobilized by the enormity of the task of turning our notes for what was probably an "easy" day, into real writing. I had intended on asking Tara to write some "blurbs" for me, but it came out "bloobs!" By the time we were done laughing, the word had been slated to become a daily part of our vernacular.

Bloobing is the separating of our notes into relevant chunks, and the early stage of forming our brain-dump mess into usable written material. It also involves importing our photos (an entirely automated process), and organizing the bite-sized sentences around them in a relatively logical, organized fashion.

Bloobing is what we do when inspiration just isn't striking, when we can't just sit down and miraculously have beautifully formed paragraphs emerge. We've found it an effective way to pretend we aren't doing the work of writing, while we're actually getting some writing done. Sometimes, in order to do the things we said we would do, we have to trick ourselves into it!

Here is a small example of Tara's efforts on the previous notes, with a few photos thrown in for fun:

I'm struggling with this place. I don't like it yet, but I'm trying not to totally write it off. I miss Cambodia and all of the friendly smiles.

This morning we start our day with some unfriendly ladies who barge into our room to start cleaning it. We are clearly not ready to leave, but they wave us goodbye, trying to usher us out. If I could speak Vietnamese, I'd say "dude, i'm not done yet, chill out, I need to get my things"

We get packed up and walk outside and immediately everything raises about fifty decibel levels. It's a zoo of beeping and cars and scooters driving every which way. I want to cover my ears and hide in the corner and yell "GET OUT OF MY FACE GET OUT GET OUT OF MY FACE".

As we bike, I'm really frustrated because of all the bicycles and scooters coming straight at me, in my lane. I know I'm the foreigner here, but but I want to shout at everyone and tell them to get in their own lane. It makes cycling really nervewracking and not enjoyable at all.

I try to keep calm as we bike off in search of a ferry to cross one of the many Mekong delta branches. We successfully find the ferry and buy tickets from a friendly rice-hat wearing lady.

Vietnamese Ferry Ticket Seller

We get on, along with hundreds of other people, who look like they're on their way to work and school.

Tyler on Vietnamese Ferry

As we chug across the water, a lady lifts her little toddler girl, and bends her like a jacknife, pressing the girl's back against her, crooking her arms under the girl's knees. Now, the little girl essentially squatting in mid air, the mom utters a "psssss, psssss, pssss" sound, until the girl starts peeing. On the floor of the boat. The pee trickles to the side and collects where the floor meets the wall. When she's done, the mom pulls up the girl's panties, sets her back on the scooter, and then we've landed on the other side of the narrow river and it's time to disembark.

There are so many hellos as we ride along, but this time it feels like we're on display. We stop for coffee at a coffeeshop, but they don't have any coffee, so we watch a highschool soccer match instead and awkwardly try to chat to a friendly guy who gives us free ice water.

We just feel on display, and we feel so inept because we can't say anything, even with guidebook, nobody understands us, tonal language, etc. We're stopped for coffee for real this time, and someone asks to take a picture of us, which is kind of weird but kind of fun, because we do it all the time.

keep biking holy shit tiny road with scooters zooming and banana trees and kids bikingandchickensrunningandbasketweavingandsofreakingmuchgoingoooooonnnnn, lots of horns, lots of piercing beeps. Can't even stop to take a picture because there is so little room on the road, and we'll be run over if we try to cross the street.

arrive in town, supposed to be nice, kind of a crap town crap hotel, searching for other hotel, found hotel, pretty nice

no electricity,sound of loud generators everywhere. WHY IS THERE CONSTANT NOISE


out to dinner, end of the day, it's a sleepy day, rainy, dark, sort of bla,

Cycling in the Rain

don't really want to be here, but at least we have clean sheets, a cool shower, and a big meal. i was afraid we were going to wander around for an hour, starving, cobbling together a meal of street food when what we want are huge plates of starch and protein

With such detailed notes, a slew of photos, and sometimes even audio, it is surprisingly easy to get back into the spirit of the day, reliving exactly how it felt. We remember the hill climbs, the wind in our faces, the taste of the food, the feel of our sweat-coated backs, the friendly smiles and interesting encounters.

In fact, in bloobing about the notes we wrote over a month ago, Tara remembered and added several interesting things about the day which were never mentioned in the notes.

Once we're "in the zone" of a day, the actual writing begins, starting with The Shitty First Draft.

I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident.

Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her.

(Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said that you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

…more on that next time.

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This is totally what I needed - what I knew I needed, and what I need to do. I just can't get into the routine, but I know I've got to. I think that you're lucky that the both of you work together on it, and that it's important to the both of you. It makes it easier to stay motivated I'm sure... sharing the load would be grand. I'm finally somewhere good, so I just hope that I can catch up and start cultivating good habits. So many things happen everyday it's so easy to forget if you're not on top of things.
Catching up, isn't that what we're all after?
Posted by Magalie on January 21st, 2011 at 5:31 PM

We don't envy you the task of journaling by yourself. We are indeed fortunate in that we decided to create this project together, and we are equally committed to it.

But even with two people, even with all of the automated processes we have in place to speed things along, creating our journals the way we have has required borderline workaholic tendencies (thankfully, we really enjoy the work). It is almost too much, even for two people.

The best advice we can give is this:

Learn to be at peace with being behind. Past a point, there is no catching up until the trip is over. From what we've read, you're past that point (and so are we).

Develop a discipline of detailed note-taking. Even if you don't have time for anything else, make time for that. If our experience is any indication, you can recapture a day after as long as two months (probably even longer!), provided you have pictures and good notes.

Write for yourself. You don't owe anyone a story. Relying on the approval of others for motivation is a slippery slope. No matter how many comments you get, there could always be more.

I guess what we're really trying to say is... don't be too hard on yourself. Be realistic about the time and energy you have.

Good luck!

T & T
Posted by Going Slowly on January 22nd, 2011 at 1:11 PM
So true! I am being way too hard on myself, but that's because I'm an obsessive compulsive perfectionist! The comments are just a ice perk, but the real drive is just my own craziness. I'll figure out a balance at some point!
Posted by Magalie on January 24th, 2011 at 3:51 PM
How do you go about getting your visas? Do you just ride up to a border and fill out forms, or do you have to get them in advance, or what? Just curious about logistics. Are you going to go to China?

I'm sure you've answered these questions in the past, so I hope I'm not a bother (smile).

Cheers from snowy, rainy Nashville Tennessee!
Posted by Lowell on January 25th, 2011 at 2:13 AM
Hi Lowell,

No bother!

Before we enter a new country we do a bit of research online about visa requirements. We found Visa HQ to be a good resource. As Americans we are obscenely lucky, for presently there are many places that we do not need a visa to visit.

In western Europe, we didn't worry too much as we were issued a Schengen visa on arrival. In the Eastern European countries we visited, we didn't need visas so we just showed up at the border.

Mongolia, Thailand, and Cambodia were also visas on arrival, and our Vietnam visa we got from a travel agency in Cambodia. Once you're in SE Asia, visas are easy, and can generally be processed by your hotel or one of zillions of travel agencies. Our Lao visa we will obtain on arrival.

The only seriously complicated visa we've encountered was for Russia. It would have been much easier to get if we had been at home, but processing it from Athens was a bit of a hassle.

We are not heading into China on this trip. Maybe next time!
Posted by Tara on January 25th, 2011 at 3:47 AM
I'm super impressed with how well and how frequently you guys blog. Thanks for the notes on the process. I think for our next long trip we'll bring two laptops - only having one certainly slowed down our writing process!
Posted by Becky on January 29th, 2011 at 1:13 PM
I love the entries about your journaling process, thank you!
Posted by Mia on January 29th, 2011 at 4:40 PM
Becky & Mia - I'm so glad you're enjoying the entries about writing! Yeah, having a backup laptop definitely helps. Although, sometimes it feels like the extra computer actually doubled our workload instead of halving it! :-)
Posted by Tara on February 9th, 2011 at 10:53 AM