Identify the emergents

Let’s go back to elementary school when you first learned about the rainforest. Just above the forest floor sits the thick understory, followed by the canopy, and the entire rainforest is topped off like sprinkles with the emergent layer. Emergent trees pop up above the vast sea of leaves, and often when one looks at a rainforest photo, their eye quickly finds the tallest tree. 

We don’t often let our minds identify the real emergent memories from a trip or travel experience, because we think we were supposed to focus on the canopy: a.k.a. the landmarks, religions, or beautiful vistas. However, sometimes the most powerful memory is of something seemingly tiny or tangential.

Don’t be pressured to focus on the thing everyone else took away from an experience. If the majesty of Iguazú Falls eluded you due to your disgust at the waste on the footpaths or an intriguing bird that landed on your shoe, let those emergent memories guide your writing from that experience.

This is one of those few areas – in my humble opinion – where reading about a place before you visit can work against you. If St. Peter’s Basilica wasn’t the highlight of your trip to Rome, let your stories of the roaming cats eating your pizza or moped adventures on cobblestone streets fill up your page.

Ask yourself this question: what most impassioned you? …What’s the first story that comes to mind [from your trip]? Focus on that story, because for some reason your internal filter has decided that that particular story embodies the quintessence of your trip.

(George, 2009)