Help Wanted: Writing The Writers’ Bucket List

Hemingway photographed reading at Le Deux Magots in Paris, where he often hung out. When you are photographed thusly and you are a writer, it is known as an "action shot".

When I first clicked into this post, “A Bucket List for Writers”, I didn’t realize it was about Larry Brooks’ new book on writing, Story Engineering. Great book for novelists, BTW – I’m reading it right now. His central tenet is that everything you need to craft a story falls into one of six core competencies – six “buckets”, hence the name of the post.

Although good for Larry, I won’t lie: I was secretly disappointed. I thought that it would be a list of things writers have to do before they die. You, know, like the movie. But for writers.

Of course, I livened up when I realized: Hey, that’s a great idea anyway. Why don’t I start my own Writer’s Bucket List?

And that’s what I’m going to do – hopefully with some help from you as well…!

Below are my first few items on the quintessential Writers’ Bucket List. You’ll note that there are things to do, places to go, things to read, experiences to experience. They are all things meant to inspire and encourage in some writerly way. I’d like to think that it connects us as well — some of these items are things that only writers would identify with and understand anyway. Nice to think we’re not off our rocker in that respect.

They are in no particular order, just things that I have done (or would like to do) that I find to be creatively inspiring in some literary way.

So without further adieu, here are a baker’s dozen (plus one) to kick us off:

  1. Write in a café in Paris (à la Hemingway)
  2. Sit in the Zen Garden while visiting the Dublin Writers Museum
  3. Read The Great Gatsby
  4. Visit Oscar Wilde’s grave
  5. Picnic at Walden Pond
  6. Watch the sunrise from the top of Mount Sinai
  7. Visit Karen von Blixen’s farm (at the foot of the Ngong Hills)
  8. Visit F. Scott Fitzgerald’s house (or the birthplace of your favourite writer)
  9. Write a novel
  10. Camp out on January 19 to catch a glimpse of the Poe Toaster
  11. Do the Sideways wine route (with Rex Pickett)
  12. Visit the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, MO
  13. See Winnie the Pooh in White River, ON
  14. See the Reichenbach Falls, where Sherlock Holmes dies
  15. Visit the House of the Seven Gables and the Nathaniel Hawthorne birthplace in Salem, MA http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_the_Seven_Gables
  16. Visit the Edgar Allen Poe house in Philadelphia http://www.nps.gov/edal/index.htm
  17. Visit the Edgar Allen Poe house in Baltimore http://www.eapoe.org/balt/poehse.htm
  18. Have a drink at the last place that Poe drank (and maybe have one with his ghost…) http://www.thehorsebaltimore.com/Site/About.html
  19. Passionately kiss a lover on a foggy evening in London
  20. Gaze moonily over the wine-dark Aegean
  21. Hike an epic trail
  22. Successfully rear an amazing daughter
  23. Meet an interesting stranger in a rare book store
  24. Follow Jack Kerouac’s road trip from On the Road
  25. Follow Steinbeck’s route from Travels with Charley
  26. Follow Thor Heyerdahl’s Fatu Hiva journey
  27. Create a deep map of home county or region the way William Least Heat Moon did in “Prairyerth”
  28. Compile “found poetry” the way Annie Dillard did in “Mornings Like This”
  29. Talk to people about their work the way Studs Terkel did in “Working”
  30. Write the book in your head that demands to be written, even if you think you’re only writing it for an audience of one: yourself.
  31. Read The Canterbury Tales.
  32. Take a sabbatical.
  33. Take a walking tour of the Lake District.
  34. iPod swap with a spouse, partner or friend.
  35. Try a reading ban (just for a short time!). It is so hard to do for writers.
  36. Read “Crime and Punishment” in St. Petersburgh…
  37. Read “I am David” in Poland.
  38. Walk the streets portrayed in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
  39. Write Poetry on the Spanish Steps.
  40. Visit Pete’s Tavern on Irving Place in NYC—O Henry’s old haunt http://www.petestavern.com/history.html
  41. Have a retreat with Jennifer Louden in New Mexico.
  42. Publish your own novel.
  43. Go scuba diving with James Rollins + Clive Cussler
  44. Speak at the Hay on Wye literary festival
  45. Buy a great leather writer’s bag like this one http://www.etsy.com/listing/71100172/175-inch-classic-rustic-writers-bag-175
  46. Hike in the Alps, like Heidi
  47. Drink a coffee in every city, like all the writers who have walked the streets before us.
  48. Soak up every interesting experience
  49. Visit the Globe Theatre in London – http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/
  50. Watch movies you loved in your childhood (eg. The Princess Bride, Goonies, The Lost Boys,The Neverending Story, Back to the Future)
  51. Go to workshops & learn how to do other stuff (eg. claymation movies at the National Film Board or lumpy clay stuff at the Museum for Ceramics)
  52. Travel on your own with limited money, relying only wits, instinct, good will and tips from other travellers to experience the best the region has to offer
  53. Explore the power of the mind through self-hypnosis facilitated by a professional (this is cool for labour, but pain management for surgery would be even more interesting)
  54. Read for hours in an unusual spot knowing no one can find you (eg. sit fully-clothed in a cold cedar sauna or at the top of a tree)
  55. Learn new languages and understand culture and customs by speaking to people using their first language
  56. Expand interests by immersing yourself in things you are not so keen on (eg. seek out sporting events and sporty people, if you`re not personally interested in those activities)
  57. Take a horseback riding lesson in a foreign country where you have a tenuous grasp of the language (particularly fun if the horses are half-size such as Norweigan fjord horses)
  58. Brainstorm story ideas with young children in a group setting
  59. Eavesdrop on intimate conversations in the subway, doctor`s offices, hair salons etc.
  60. Play imagination games or create multi-media artwork with young children
  61. Pursue passion in relationships
  62. Stay in B&Bs/hostels/hotels that reflect an interesting history (for example the hostel in Ottawa that used to be an old jail)
  63. Ignore social conventions about how you should act, be or do things
  64. Cook without recipes, adding ingredients based on a loose idea of how they might taste when combined and baked (and learn from mistakes)
  65. Develop knowledge and discipline by studying and working in fields other than creative writing
  66. Live instead of watching other people living on TV  (if TV is necessary, limit to 2-3 hours per week; average Canadian adults spend 20-25 hours watching TV per week)
  67. Swim in the Blue Grotto (Capri, Italy) early in the morning before the rest of the tourists come on the boat
  68. Cultivate a range of interests and seek out one or more friends with whom to share the (bonus if you find friends who love rock climbing AND poetry AND philosophy AND…)
  69. Finish a manuscript that you think is worth submitting
  70. Obtain 100 rejection letters. Arrange these in a growing collage
  71. Obtain 1 acceptance letter. Post this in the very center of the rejection collage, with a comic book KAPOW background/frame
  72. Spend a day with uber-fly fishing writer John Gierach on a stream, talking writing and fishing
  73. BookCross your own book like Tara did.
  74. Finally finding the perfect fountain pen
  75. Touring Paris using Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast as my guidebook
  76. Write a novel while looking out the window to the sea (or any large body of water for that matter)
  77. Write on a project alongside another writer you admire.

Now it’s your turn! I’m hoping to get a list of 100 ideas here. What have I forgotten? What are your top things to do, see, read? Even if you consider yourself to be more of a reader than a writer, is there anything you find inspiring? Give me as many ideas as you have: five, six, one, 20… or just go crazy!

How to help build the list:

Feel free to add (or link to) pictures, YouTube videos, graphics, whatever you think works!

Don’t forget — share this with other writerly types as well. There are some social media links below, or just email/tweet it along. The more the merrier!

I’m looking forward to it already…

Literally yours,

~Graham

50. Watch movies you loved in your childhood (eg. The Princess Bride, Goonies, The Lost Boys,The Neverending Story, Back to the Future)

51. Go to workshops & learn how to do other stuff (eg. claymation movies at the National Film Board or lumpy clay stuff at the Museum for Ceramics)

52. Travel on your own with limited money, relying only wits, instinct, good will and tips from other travellers to experience the best the region has to offer

53. Explore the power of the mind through self-hypnosis facilitated by a professional (this is cool for labour, but pain management for surgery would be even more interesting)

54. Read for hours in an unusual spot knowing no one can find you (eg. sit fully-clothed in a cold cedar sauna or at the top of a tree)

55. Learn new languages and understand culture and customs by speaking to people using their first language

56. Expand interests by immersing yourself in things you are not so keen on (eg. seek out sporting events and sporty people, if you`re not personally interested in those activities)

57. Take a horseback riding lesson in a foreign country where you have a tenuous grasp of the language (particularly fun if the horses are half-size such as Norweigan fjord horses)

58. Brainstorm story ideas with young children in a group setting

59. Eavesdrop on intimate conversations in the subway, doctor`s offices, hair salons etc.

60. Play imagination games or create multi-media artwork with young children

61. Pursue passion in relationships

62. Stay in B&Bs/hostels/hotels that reflect an interesting history (for example the hostel in Ottawa that used to be an old jail)

63. Ignore social conventions about how you should act, be or do things

64. Cook without recipes, adding ingredients based on a loose idea of how they might taste when combined and baked (and learn from mistakes)

65. Develop knowledge and discipline by studying and working in fields other than creative writing

66. Live instead of watching other people living on TV  (if TV is necessary, limit to 2-3 hours per week; average Canadian adults spend 20-25 hours watching TV per week)

67. Swim in the Blue Grotto (Capri, Italy) early in the morning before the rest of the tourists come on the boat

68. Cultivate a range of interests and seek out one or more friends with whom to share the (bonus if you find friends who love rock climbing AND poetry AND philosophy AND…)

69. Finish a manuscript that you think is worth submitting

70. Obtain 100 rejection letters. Arrange these in a growing collage

71. Obtain 1 acceptance letter. Post this in the very center of the rejection collage, with a comic book KAPOW background/frame

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21 Responses to Help Wanted: Writing The Writers’ Bucket List

  1. Ken says:

    Read “Crime and Punishment” in St. Petersburgh…
    Soma in London
    I am David in poland.
    walking the streets portrayed in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

    Write Poetry on the spanish steps.

    • Graham Strong says:

      Hey Ken,

      Those are great ones. Makes me wish we’d made it to St. Petersburg…

      I’ll add these to the list — thanks!

      ~Graham

  2. Kelly says:

    Graham,

    Oh, you reminded me of one of my fave writer (and reader) experiences: A couple of years ago I visited Winnie-the-Pooh in New York City along with several of his friends.
    http://www.nypl.org/events/exhibition/2009/05/31/winnie-pooh-and-friends-original-toys

    I was surprised at how mystical the experience was for me. I felt like I could hear them whispering to Milne.

    Another must, for me: visit Pete’s Tavern on Irving Place in NYC—O Henry’s old haunt (he lived above the place for a while and wrote The Gift of the Magi at a table in the front room; they still hold a place for him to this day… though I must say he should demand a better table)
    http://www.petestavern.com/history.html

    I’ll have to think on this a bit… a writer’s bucket list is a great idea!!

    Regards,

    Kelly

    P.S. This question would be *great* for Quora! Ask it and give the starting answer and I’m sure you’ll have a ton of Wow ideas in no time.
    Kelly’s most recent blog post: If You Gotta Have It and Can’t Wait To Talk About It- It’s Because…

    • Graham Strong says:

      That’s super cool Kelly! I didn’t know those existed!

      White River is where the original black bear came from that was the inspiration for the story. Lieutenant Harry Colebourn was on the way to WWI — he picked up the bear there, called it Winnie after his hometown of Winnipeg, and brought it to England. He left it at the London Zoo while he was at war, where A.A. Milne and his son saw it. Apparently it was making some sort of “pooh” sound, hence the name.

      Today there’s a huge statue to him. The irony is that the Disney Corporation tried to shut it all down, saying that they owned the rights to Winnie-the-Pooh, so White River couldn’t lay any claims to it. I’m not sure of all the ins and outs, but White River eventually won and got to keep its statue and history.

      (Of course the double irony is that the gift shop there is the best place I’ve ever been to in the world for Winnie-the-Pooh stuff — all licensed by Disney of course…)

      Thanks too for the Quora tip — I’ll post it there and see what I get!

      Glad you like the idea — I think it’s kind of fun!

      ~Graham

  3. Tara Benwell says:

    I just tweeted a few! This is a fantastic idea for a post. I hope this becomes a writers’ manifesto. Personally I also want to go to New Mexico and have a retreat with Jennifer Louden. Also, you could add “publish a novel” because we don’t have to wait for the big guys anymore. Check!

    • Graham Strong says:

      Thanks Tara — I thought it was fun, but you never know until you put it out there…

      Thanks too for the ideas — consider them added!

      ~Graham

  4. Joanna Penn says:

    Hi Graham,
    I want to
    * go scuba diving with James Rollins + Clive Cussler
    * speak at the Hay on Wye literary festival
    That’s just for starters.. I’ll think of some more 🙂
    Thanks, Joanna
    Joanna Penn’s most recent blog post: Secrets of an Aspiring Novelist

    • Graham Strong says:

      Perfect!

      I’d never heard of the Hay Festival before — I guess it started since I was there last. Very cool!

      Thanks for adding to the list!

      ~Graham

  5. Hi Graham,

    This is great! Thank you for your add to my Essentials of a Writer’s Bag post– absolutely add it here. It’s true, a great leather writer’s bag should be on the list.

    Gosh, for my adds to your Bucket List, I think I have to say 1) hiking in the Alps, like HEIDI; 2) Coffee in every city I love here in Europe, like all the writers who have walked the streets and had coffee at cafes for years and years before me. I’m biased to Prague (my current hometown) like Kafka and Mozart, and have to add Vienna, Salzburg, Rome, Venice, and soon, Barcelona. Love these cities, their rivers and seas, because they ooze literary inspiration. 3) Soak up every interesting experience I can (to use in my work)…

    Maybe those add a little. Thanks for stopping by my site– great to meet you, Graham. Write on!

    -Jennifer
    Jennifer Lyn King’s most recent blog post: The Essentials of a Writer’s Bag

    • Graham Strong says:

      Thanks Jennifer — those are perfect!

      I’m so jealous of you living in Prague. I was there just after the wall came down (me and my friend Ken, who commented above), so we had an apartment for like $4 per night. I remember there was an artist selling paintings on the Charles Bridge (?) and there was one that caught my eye that I couldn’t buy because (a) my tight budget and (b) too hard to stuff into a backpack. That’s one of my regrets from that trip.

      (Just as well though, Noël, my wife, would have hated it anyway…)

      Actually, it was so cheap to live there that I heard about a bunch of writers living there in the early 90s, kind of like the Lost Generation in Paris after WWI (almost did that myself). Turned out to be not a big a thing I suppose. But that would have been an experience in itself! I also hear the prices have gone up since then…

      Thanks for the ideas, and for dropping by!

      ~Graham

  6. Hi Graham — I want to do most of the things on your list!
    A few of my own:
    *Visit all of the places Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about from The Little House on the Prairie books
    *Finally make it to the big SCBWI summer conference
    *Try my hand at writing a non-fiction book for a change
    *See The Rock Bottom Remainders perform (although from what info I can find, not sure they’re still performing) http://www.rockbottomremainders.com/

    • Graham Strong says:

      I forgot all about the Rock Bottom Remainders… just might have to add that to my list too!

      Thanks Amanda — great additions!

      ~Graham

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  8. Spend a day with uber-fly fishing writer John Gierach on a stream, talking writing and fishing (these are a few of my favorite things).
    TC/The Writer Underground’s most recent blog post: A Year In The Life of a TV Writer Uhh- no paycheck this year…

    • Graham Strong says:

      I like that one Tom. I’m actually surprised — yours is the first to suggest talking with other authors, which you’d think would be a gimme for writers. Gets me to thinking, it’s much easier to meet and talk with our author heroes I think, than say actors or musicians. I mean, it might be hard to convince Stephen King to travel out into the backwoods to go fishing, but I think the average author is extremely approachable. The whole Internet thing certainly helps too.

      I’ll add that one right now — and I think amend one of my own ideas to add the author…

      Thanks for that one!

      ~Graham

      • Kelly says:

        Graham,

        It hasn’t happened to me, but I’ve heard that if you *do* run into Stephen King at the QuikEMart or whatever, up there in Maine, he’s actually quite nice. Don’t know if he’d go fly-fishing, though… 🙂

        Until later,

        Kelly
        Kelly’s most recent blog post: Inspiration Points- Experts- Sandwiches- and Mustard With Your WOM

        • Graham Strong says:

          Hi Kelly,

          Yes, I’ve heard similar. But wouldn’t that be so cool if he said yes, and you hike up into the woods to some remote creek in the foothills and it’s all quiet and pre-dawn-dim with a Blair-Witchy feel — the unnerving sound of a raven cawing in the distance maybe — and it’s chilly but not too cold, just icy enough to remind you that Death reins here too, along with Life, and you turn to him a say “Wow, this is like a scene out of a Stephen King novel” and he turns to look at you, looking embarrassed for you…

          I imagine it’s the corny, awkward attempts at ironic engagements like that he’s most afraid of.

          ~Graham

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