Writing during a vacation might initially sound like a great idea: Having a lot of free time, being in a relaxed environment, and enjoying unusual settings must be great for inspiration. And inspiration is good for writing, most authors would agree. But are writing and vacationing really compatible?
As with virtually anything else related to writing, it’s all a matter of balance. There are neither evident answers, nor easy solutions.
For many authors, combining writing and vacationing might connote an image of someone dragging a laptop to the beach, then ignoring everything and everyone around them to focus on writing.
There are several reasons why this might be unproductive, if not fail altogether: Most typically, it would involve ignoring the people you have traveled with. Few things can increase tension more rapidly than ignoring your friend, family, or partner during a vacation.
But even if you’re vacationing alone, this kind of head-on immersion in writing can cause a lot of stress. You’re basically ordering yourself to be productive, setting high expectations: “You’re on vacation, with tons of free time,” the little voice in your head keeps nagging you, “therefore, you must write a lot. No excuses.”
Such scenarios are recipes for disaster. In most cases, you could end up fighting with your loved ones and produce substandard work—if any at all.
But there is good news: It doesn’t have to be this way!
In this post, I’ll offer you advice that will help you combine writing and vacationing the right way; that is, getting the best of both your vacations and your writing, without feeling stressed.
The key in achieving this lies in approaching writing from a more general, holistic perspective.
At first, this statement might sound odd. “Surely,” you might say, “writing is writing. You put words one after another.” Fair enough; that’s an accurate description of writing as an activity—the way we might describe running, singing, or cooking.
But writing as a process is far more elaborate. It involves several stages that, sometimes maddeningly, are not even entirely separate from one another.
Think of the other activities I just mentioned. Let’s take running, for example. It’s an activity, but it’s a process as well; a lifestyle, in a way. In this context, running is also about buying sneakers, taking care of your diet, planning a route on the map, and many other things.
Treat writing with the same dedication.
Typing words on a laptop is neither the beginning nor the end of the writing process. It could be the most time-consuming, but, ironically enough, it’s also the one least connected with mental processes such as becoming inspired, devising an idea, or making a plan.
A long time ago, I read a book about programming. I remember nothing about it, except the advice to always plan your code using a notepad, never while sitting at the computer. If you sit at the computer, you’ll want to turn it on; and if you do, you’ll want to type.
What this little piece of knowledge reveals—and the reason it’s relevant to writing and vacationing—is that the creative part must precede the practical one; planning must precede writing.
If you recall my article on writing patience, I’ve affirmed that you can’t always type, but you can always “write.” In other words, you can combine your vacation with “writing” even without typing a single word!
“How?” you might justifiably ask. Let’s take a closer look.
Successfully enjoying your vacation while still using it to further your writing project is about combining the right parts of each.
Recall those geometric peg boards meant for toddlers. Isn’t it cute how the little ones try to squeeze an elliptical shape into a rectangular hole, before eventually figuring it out?
As a writer on vacation, you’re facing a similar challenge: You must fit the correct writing “parts” into the matching vacation “holes.” In other words, you need to figure out which parts of writing as a process can be advanced by being on vacation.
Each writing project might have different parts, the way some geometric peg boards might have more unusual shapes. If you’re writing novels, there might be numerically more parts related to abstraction, symbolism, and creativity, though at the same time, the parts related to the activity of writing itself—typing or editing, for instance—are larger and more time-consuming.
Conversely, if you’re writing blog posts, you might have fewer parts related to abstraction or symbolism, but more related to research and criticism.
In any case, the key to successfully combining writing and vacationing is this: Vacationing can promote some of these parts, while it can damage others.
That is, to maximize your writing productivity during your vacation—and still enjoy it, whether alone or with your traveling companions—you should work on some of these aspects of writing, while leaving the rest of them alone.
When it comes to deciding what to pursue and what not to pursue during a vacation, there might be some slight variation between the various kinds of writing. Nonetheless, many elements are common.
Most typically, it’s a matter of nurturing the creative or abstract parts, while leaving the practical but time-consuming ones for later. There is a lot more substance in “doing nothing” than you might think.
The general rule of thumb is this: If it can happen in your head, do it; if it requires your laptop, let it be.
Let’s see some examples of all the wonderful things you can work on during your vacation:
You don’t need anything other than your mind to take care of all these writing parts. You can have a small notepad or your phone by your side, to take some very short notes if needed, but that’s about it. Otherwise, just be present and experience.
Oh, and avoid those things that can damage both your writing and your vacation.
Reaching this section, you probably already have a good idea of what you should avoid. As I mentioned, if the part of writing you plan on doing requires a laptop, it means you shouldn’t do it.
Picture yourself on the beach, enjoying the warm summer sun as the surf rushes to wet the golden sand. There’s a briny scent carried on the wind, mixed with the sweetness of cherry ice cream. The calming ocean song, repetitive, eternal, lulls you to sleep.
Can you really see a laptop belonging to this picture?
If you attempt to bring the practical writing parts into your vacation—for example, typing or browsing the internet for information—you will simply discover that you damage your vacation as well as your writing.
The surrounding environment, rich in interesting stimuli, will constantly distract you. You will be inevitably interrupted in your typing or browsing, making many mistakes along the way. Most likely, you’ll end up having to rewrite or heavily edit any work done.
And let’s not even think of any traveling companions. Imagine how glad they will be, yet again hearing you say “No, I can’t swim now, I’m working.”
Therefore, leave typing—that is, writing as an activity—aside and focus on writing as a process. Focus on becoming inspired, planning, and reassessing.
But what if you have already taken care of this side of writing?
Let’s assume you’re writing a novel. You have already completed designing the plot and the characters. You have already begun typing it. In fact, you might have already advanced quite a lot.
What, then, should you do during your vacation?
The worst thing you can do is continue typing. If you’re absolutely, unequivocally certain that the story is “there” and no changes are required—I can see you smiling!—then simply pat yourself on the back and enjoy this relaxing time. Typing can wait.
More realistically, however, can a text ever be “there?” Personally, I’ve never met an author who didn’t think of improvements even after publication. As Kenneth Branagh has famously said referring to Shakespearean adaptations, “you don’t complete them, you abandon them.”
And so, a vacation is an exceptionally great time for rethinking and reevaluating your project. Think about it: You are outside your routine, experiencing new things away from your usual environment—in terms of settings as well as people.
Vacationing is the perfect time to ponder on what you have produced already and change it, if necessary.
I must have mentioned this before, I’m sure. But only because seeing the bigger picture has helped me understand my writing so much better.
Thinking of writing only as the process of typing, simply adding words after one another, is akin to thinking of painting as placing dyes on a canvas. It is that too, but there is a vast universe of processes and abstract parts around it.
To successfully combine writing and vacationing, getting the best of both of them, it’s important to see this bigger picture. Not typing for a week or two is unimportant—your text will still be there after you get home. But losing out on experiences that can literally change the way you think, that’s inexcusable.
Chris Angelis has a PhD in English literature from the University of Tampere. Besides his academic research in Gothic/horror & science fiction literature, he is also a writer of literary fiction, and the owner of a literature blog, Home For Fiction. Furthermore, he develops programs focusing on literature, writing, and texts in general. Chris is a senior content editor for Craft Your Content.