Backpack Writing: My Process for Capturing Life on the Go by Ryan Hicks

Backpack Writing: My Process for Capturing Life on the Go

I use my computer to do my backpack writing. It’s a medium-sized, inexpensive HP Windows touchscreen 2-in-1 laptop that I bought just for this trip. I had used a smaller laptop for traveling before, but in this case, screen size does matter! Too small of a screen gave me a headache. A medium-sized laptop suits my eyes and it’s not too bad to carry around in a typical backpack.

I take some notes on my cell phone, but what’s funny is I rarely go back to them. Just the fact that I jotted something down quickly as I was having a thought is usually good enough for me to remember it when I’m thinking later about what I want to write. I’ve also taken voice notes on my phone. But again, I don’t think I’ve ever listened back to any of them.

Just the fact that I spoke it imprints the idea well enough into my brain. One specific reason I chose an inexpensive computer is so that I’m not worried about it getting damaged, lost, or stolen. Getting a budget computer that works well enough to type with is a good combination of having a tool that works to write with, but having a tool that you don’t have to worry about when you’re backpack writing and moving locations.

How do you choose what to write about from your daily adventures?

I try letting my subjects choose me. Some event, object, person, or concept will poke me when the time is right. If I try to force anything by saying, “hmmm, what do I want to write about?” I usually end up with a void in my head. If instead, I just relax and let something ask me to write about it, that’s when I’m the most inspired to do the best backpack writing.

Because I rarely write about connected topics or themes from one day to the next, this way of letting the brightest bubble to the surface of my mind come up and yell to be discovered keeps me on my toes as a creative writer. The subjects mostly want to be talked about in a stream-of-consciousness style, but sometimes they ask for poetry, dialogue, or some other specific format. I let them tell me what to do. 

Ryan Christopher Hicks

What is your process for recording these experiences?

Taking notes while having experiences has turned into kind of a puzzle for me. If I want to fully experience something, I can’t be worried about what I’m going to say about it later. So I try to fully dive into whatever is going on first, and the first break I get, I’ll collect my thoughts. Sometimes that means taking notes on my cell phone. Sometimes, it means recording voice notes, sometimes handwritten notes, but rarely anything that looks like a journal.

I take lots and lots of photos, and sometimes that’s so I know that I have time stamps for events later. I’ll take boring photos of bus trips, but when I go back through my camera, I know the time that I was on the bus. Same for photos of food. It gives me an archived stamp of when something was, and if GPS metadata for photos works, it gives me a location as well.

How do you integrate images into your work?

I definitely use my phone as a camera. I just checked, and as of June 20, 2024, I’ve taken 6,687 photos in Taiwan since November 16, 2023. There are also a few hundred photos from Hong Kong and Cebu that you can add to the mix. I rarely integrate my photos into my story posts, and I have kind of a stubborn reason for it. I don’t want people to need the photos to understand the stories that I’m telling. I want to be descriptive enough that you can imagine everything you need to experience my narrative journeys.

I love using AI art as primary sketches for my online blog posts. I like the idea of prompt engineering. AI programs help me make really dreamy sketches that I would love to make myself. I don’t aim for realism, but I want to know how to use AI prompts to take what’s in my head and get it on the screen with my words.

How do you handle Wi-Fi on the road and uploads for your Patreon?

In Taiwan, I’ve had no problems finding Wi-Fi to connect when I need it to. All the places that I’ve stayed have had Wi-Fi. So, when I schedule a Patreon upload to Ink Trails: the Art of Wandering, there’s never been a problem. Even if there were an outage at an Airbnb, hotel, or couch where I’m surfing, everywhere I’ve been in Taiwan has some sort of business that can let you log on to Wi-Fi for a minute that you can use if you really need it. Spending most of my time in city areas as a writer means that technology isn’t an issue.

Do you do much research before publishing, or do you rely mainly on your own experiences?

I put my research number at about zero. Or at 100, maybe, but that research just consists of waking up and living. I am my own research project about myself. My backpack writing is an essay about what I’ve discovered through my own sensory input. I’m never going to convince someone of the validity of my experiences–or at least, not how I do my travel writing now. The most research that I do is something like typing in “tourist locations near me” or “best hamburger.” There’s a good chance that on my way to whatever I choose, I’ll find something else that I want to do more and never make it to my researched location.

What is it like to be a backpack writer who carries pretty much everything you own in a few bags?

If I were just backpack writing, I could get even slimmer. Because I’ve been in Taiwan for over seven months now, my backpack has grown. Doing things like random odd jobs, going out on dates, and trying to look reasonable in certain social situations, life has gotten heavier. This extra weight doesn’t help me write. The only things I really need are my laptop, my phone, and a small notebook and some pens. I could get back down to my three-day pack instead of a seven-day pack. And if anything, my chances for writing better and more consistently would probably improve.

There have been times that I lost track of writing. I was too exhausted from doing things to have the energy to sit down and gather my thoughts in a way to present them. I’ve known since the beginning of this trip that my balance hasn’t been quite right if I want to call myself a travel-writer. I’m definitely more of just a traveler right now. I’ve lost some of the efficiency of a disciplined schedule. Because of that, there are stories that I won’t ever tell because I can’t quite remember details, or some I already can’t remember at all. I look at photos and think “amazing!” but have no concept of actually being there. Had I written down the story that night or the next day, there would be one more butterfly made of words and whispers to share with the world. 

But there is always tomorrow!

Click here to follow Ryan’s backpack writing adventures at his Patreon site Ink Trails: the Art of Wandering.

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