What I Learned On My Writer’s Vacation

Vacations used to make me feel guilty.

And by “vacation,” I don’t mean my twice or three-times-a-year trips to a writers retreat. Yes, those trips are super relaxing, but only after the day’s writing gets done.  No, I’m talking about those sun, sea and sand trips in which your biggest worry du jour is what to eat for dinner.

Before going back to a regular day job, every vacation was unpaid. So in addition to the travel and accommodation costs, there was all that non-billable time. Back then, I  tried to write every morning and then support myself with a hodge podge of freelancing and teaching gigs.  So from a cost point of view, I felt like I had never really earned a real vakay.

My husband needed and looked forward to vakay.  But then, he kept regular hours and he had a 401(k), while I had … well, I had my attic writing room and my cat and all that time in which to write profound and wonderful things while never having to get out of my p.j.’s  So back then, wasn’t I on a kind of permanent vacation?

I wasn’t.

Shame on me.  I squandered half of that creative time fretting over paying the bills.  I took on some editorial and other projects that neither paid the bills nor advanced or enhanced my own personal writer-goals. In retrospect, this was not a good idea.

So even when we did sneak off on a couple’s trip, I felt like I was stealing even more free and costly time.  I felt like I didn’t deserve it.

This year, after a year of bereavements (his Mum; my Dad) and transatlantic flights and a kitchen makeover (let’s not even go there),  my sweetie and I booked ourselves some (paid) time off from work and rented a beach-front apartment for two.

On a chill New England afternoon, we sat on a stationary airplane and flicked through the in-flight magazine while the maintenance crew de-iced our plane.

But at last we were airborne and headed for warm sunshine and hot sands and ruby-red sunsets.

For 12 blissful days, we ate late breakfasts and went for long walks and sat on the beach with our paperbacks.

Then, on Day 3, here came that old, familiar guilt.  I had nine days left–nine days with no alarm clock and no day job. In other words, nine perfectly good writing days.

Determined to enjoy a digital-free vacation, I had left my laptop at home.

So I went to a store and bought myself an old-fashioned composition notebook. With its wide-lined pages and its hard-back cover, my notebook was perfect for poolside writing.

Morning coffee. Ocean breezes. The scratch of my pen on paper. This plein-air writing retreat couldn’t have been better if I’d planned it this way from the start.

Here’s what I learned on my writer’s vacation:

1. The organic approach:  When I work on my PC or laptop, I try to write Scene 1 + Scene 2, which lead me to Scene 3.  But poolside, I wrote beyond and behind the proposed plot line of my novel-in-progress. I scribbled in the margins. I wrote sudden scenes.  By letting myself color outside the lines, the book-in-progress and my 16-year-old character began to reveal themselves.

2. Shush the inner critic: Maybe it’s the sun. Maybe it’s the palm trees. Maybe it’s the long morning power-walks along the ocean.   Whatever it is, being on vacation makes me feel younger and brighter and more positive.  And that means shutting off the inner critic.   (By the way, for a wonderful essay on the “inner-critic” issue, check out this entry at  Books By Women.)

3. There really are no short cuts:  Turns out, I needed to simply let myself write.  I learned that,  when I’m back home and back at my laptop, I’m often too scared to go mad.  Why? Because in my regular, alarm-clock life, I delude myself that I can and should tame the creative beast. That I can and should whip it into shape and force it forward in a linear trajectory. Big note to self: There are no short cuts. Those rushed, premature parts end up needing a re-do anyway.

Now, wouldn’t you think I’d have learned that from watching the kitchen makeover crew?

How do you manage vacations with family or friends? Do you throw yourself 100% into the communal fun, or can you steal some private writing time?   

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About Aine Greaney

I'm an Irish writer living in greater Boston. I've published four books--two novels, a small collection of short stories and a how-to writing book, "Writer with a Day Job" (Writers Digest Books). I've also published lots of short stories, essays and feature articles. My latest project, "What Brought You Here" is a non-fiction narrative about being an expatriate in America. Find me on Twitter @ainegreaney. Or at my author web page, www.ainegreaney.com. As well as creative writing, I am the communications director for a healthcare non-profit. I also lead creative writing workshops at various libraries, schools and arts programs. At my workshops, I've been inspired by lots of wonderful writers--most of whom work a day job!
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One Response to What I Learned On My Writer’s Vacation

  1. edithmaxwell says:

    I LOVE this post, Aine. I always bring my netbook on vacation. But next time, I’m going to bring a notebook, too, or instead of. It’s true that hand-writing is different. It lets you go a little slower, a little more freely. Thank you for the inspiration! And glad you got some good relaxation AND writing time away from home.

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