While accompanying my husband on a business trip to London this summer, I took the opportunity to turn the trip into a bit of a literary tour for myself. When you’re a writer, English major, word-lover, and avid reader, and you have a chance to visit the homes of the authors whose words you’ve read, studied, and been shaped by for years, of course, you go.
Feeling like the cliche kid in a candy store and full-on tourist, I wondered what walking into the worlds of authors whom I’ve long admired would be like. I truly had no idea what I might think or feel.
I set the intention to simply be present and pay attention to what the experiences had to offer me.
Jane Austen – Chawton, England
On our first full day in London, I dropped my husband off at work, and I drove our little blue rental car through the tight and windy roads of the English countryside to visit Jane Austen’s house in Chawton.
Stepping onto the grounds and inside Austen’s home certainly felt like traveling back in time. To my surprise, most of the photos I took while inside the home were of the colorful, patterned wallpaper adorning the various rooms. And I took one photo of the tiny, wooden round table that served as Jane’s writing desk. I spent most of my time in the lush green backyard, where I sat on a bench and journaled and sketched a quick ink drawing of the Austen family’s two-story red-brick home in front of me.
In case you’re curious, Austen’s house and yard smell deeply of fresh lavender. (I’ve never been a fan of lavender, but there was something about breathing in its sweet scent there in the English countryside that turned my heart over towards it.)
Before I headed to the church where Austen’s body now rests, I learned that my visit serendipitously happened to fall on the anniversary of her death. I listened with reverence and delight as a local school choir of young girls and boys all dressed in white and baby blue-colored clothing sang a sweet memorial song. (An unknown illness (at the time and speculated now) took Austen’s life at 41 years old, just 4 years older than I am now.)
William Shakespeare – London, England
Two evenings later, I rode in an Uber with my husband across the Thames River in London to see Shakespeare’s King Lear performed at The Globe Theater. (I couldn’t stop reminiscing about creating a replica of the Globe Theater out of popsicle sticks and other crafts as part of a high school English project). My husband and I sat on the smallest, hardest wood bench you could imagine, uncomfortably packed in with hundreds of other people there to witness the timeless genius of Shakespeare and be transported into the worlds he wrote.
C.S. Lewis – Oxford, England
The following morning, my husband and I drove from London to Oxford to visit the home of C.S. Lewis. Lewis happens to be one of my all-time favorite thinkers and writers. Touring Lewis’ home felt remarkably similar to my experience at Austen’s house. This time the floors unexpectedly captured my attention. I marveled at the beauty of the original hardwood herringbone design of the floor I stood upon. The two-story home was just as quaint, with another idyllic yard adorned with ivy and wisteria and lush greenery sprinkled with colorful flowers. My husband and I later walked some of the same streets Lewis, Tolkien, and the other Inklings would have walked.
To imagine Austen, Shakespeare, and Lewis living and writing in the spaces I visited left me full of wonder and inspiration (this is likely surprising to no one).
But the way in which I felt inspired, kindly surprised me.
As a writer with the hopes of writing and publishing books, the experiences didn’t leave me comparing myself to or wanting to be the next Austen, Shakespeare, or Lewis. A part of me wants to chuckle at that ridiculous expectation, but the honest story is that a younger version of me probably would have had that experience. That path would have led quickly to the entrapment of comparison and left me falling down the banks of discouragement.
Because the truth, of course, is that I could never be an Austen, Shakespeare, or Lewis. I could never write such words as theirs—because I am not them.
And this, for me, is not the disheartening discouragement—but the heartening encouragement—the inspiration—the hope I left with and like to think that I will always carry with me.
What happened to me as I toured these places where these literary greats lived and wrote was not a twisted wishing of wanting to be like them.
What happened was a strengthening of my own inner writer. A clear separation of my own writing identity that indeed has been shaped by the likes of Austen and Lewis.
Each experience left me with a greater knowledge of who I am and a clarifying vision of the words I am meant to write.
I will never write like Austen, Shakespeare, or Lewis because I am not them. It is as simple and freeing and wonderful as that.
I am Kristin Vanderlip—and, therefore, I write like Kristin Vanderlip.
Experiencing the worlds of Austen, Shakespeare, and Lewis helped me move past their lofty words to understand them more as fellow humans and creatives, which in turn helped me lean into my own personhood and creativity. Touring their homes continued me forward on the journey of coming home to myself, on the journey of learning who I am as a person and a writer, and on the journey of recovering my creativity and finding my voice.
I write like me, and my life and writing path are my own. This is the greatest encouragement, wonder, and inspiration I brought home with me from my time in England.
May these words serve as an encouragement to you as well, whether you’re a writer or a word-lover on a different path.
May you see the lives, legacies, words, and worlds you encounter as inspiration to refine and step more fully forward into your own.
Knowing who you’re not can help you live as who you are. The world needs you and your unique voice to come alive and be set free in this world, whether you’re writing or not—though I hope you do write.
P.S. You can find more photos from these places and more saved to my Instagram highlights (see UK Trip Vols I-IV).
P.P.S. If you’re interested in moving forward in your writing life and recovering your creativity, please check out my coaching services for writers.