First off, let’s make it clear: writers do not need any vacations.
After all, theirs is a dream job.
They get to do what they love precisely when they prefer to.
And if this isn’t the definition of a dream job, I don’t know what else could be.
Ok. Ok. I’m just kidding.
In fact, a lot of writers, also the successful ones, have a day job. Because, you know, it helps pay the bills, and forces some kind of structure on their day, things like these.
Secondly, writers too have families, and pretty much all the same social obligations each of us has. Yes, they learn to say “no” more often to be more productive, but still…
Indeed, apart from those who sell in the millions, writers are just human beings. This means they are strange clusters of idiosyncrasies, fears, addictions, aspirations, noble intents, and bullshit. A lot of bullshit.
Just like we all are.
The only difference is that, for some reason, they feel they need to make their musings public. Usually in a fictionalized way. At least, for sure I do.
Ah, you’re wondering about those who sell in the millions?
Well, I don’t know. I never met one in person. But I’ve been told they too are human. Apparently they have to produce words in the same way everybody else has to. Using their little grey cells, to quote Agatha Chriesties’ famous private investigator, Hercule Poirot.
Because, unless you’re planning on hiring a ghostwriter, there are no shortcuts. A book is made of words, simplistically speaking, and you have to think all of them one after the other, several times over on some occasions.
Now that I’ve made it clear that a writer’s life can be as stressful and hectic as that of everyone else, it’s obvious it is important to go on a vacation every now and then.
Vacations for writers – so many choices, so little time
Of course, vacations come in many flavors.
For example, if Alaska is too cold and wild for your taste, that’s not a problem. You can go south, to Florida. To Brasil. If you’re a bit more daring you can go all the way down till Cape Horn… But then, though the scenery is quite different, the cold is back.
You can also rent a boat and navigate the Rhone in the south of France, in the Camargue. You can hole up in a mountain cabin in the Italian Alps. If the outdoors don’t get you too excited, you can travel around the world to go and see as many museums as you can.
Think of the pyramids. Or of the Guggenheim Museum. Of the big and wild animals of the savannah. Just think of the innumerable concerts and theater events you can attend, lost in oceanic crowds. And then think of those vast expanses of deserted lands where no man is in sight and you end up speaking all day long with your dog.
However, irrespective of the vacations you choose, you can bet they are going to improve your creativity. Sensibly.
A vacation can be a great occasion to experience new perspectives
In fact, if thanks to your vacations you have the opportunity to experience life from a wide range of perspectives, at the very least you’re going to have a lot more raw material you can draw on for your stories.
Here I’m not just speaking about things like settings and descriptions.
I mean, a mystery set in algid Greenland might not work at all if transplanted into stifling hot Mexico. And not only because ice, that is as hard as rock for most of the year in Greenland, and consequently might constitute a potential weapon, is nonexistent in Mexico.
I’m saying so because we humans react to natural stimuli and social relationships alike in a visceral way, and consequently our minds can be sent on line of thoughts we would have never imagined hadn’t we breathed the essence of a place and met its people, even if only for a few days.
Of course with our mind we can imagine a lot of things. And that’s an incredible feat. As far as we know, no other animal comes close to the imaginative powers we are endowed with.
Think of a green polar bear. See? You’ve already done that. Sure enough, your green isn’t exactly the same shade mine is, but what matters is that my idea went straight into your head.
Of course, when we communicate in this way we work on representations and symbols, with streamlined versions of what is out there in the wild.
But the moment we actually experience a place, if we are open and receptive enough, we begin to add textures, irregularities, and a lot of other details to all those symbols and representations we have stored away in our mind. Details we wouldn’t have been able to easily make up.
You want to swim? Then get wet, real wet
There’s also an essential difference between knowing something because we read about it in a book and knowing it first-hand.
For example, we all know that in some countries people live with less than five dollars a day.
That is a bookish notion. But when we go to such a place, and we have a shopping bag full of gifts for the children, and once we have given away all our gifts and the children keep pressing around us and we realize they are waiting for the last gift, the plastic shopping bag we still hold in our hand… Well that’s when experience makes a pulp of our bookish notion.
And rightly so.
Distilling our past experiences
Instead, if in your everyday life you already travel extensively and have the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people. Then maybe what you need more is a vacation to rest and relax. A vacation devoid of any kind of commitment. Two weeks of near perfect isolation.
I know, that is going to sound dreadful to some of you. That’s fine. Obviously that’s not the kind of vacation you need.
Yet just as after a long day spent studying we need a good night sleep to allow our brain to fix all the information it’s been bombarded with during the day, the same goes with vacations.
We might be living lives extremely exciting and interesting, but if we don’t stop now and then to think about what we’ve experienced, chances are we’re going to lose a large part of the good such experiences can do to us.
A vacation based on R&R is great also because it’s only when the brain has no pressing problems to solve, no stupid schedules to follow, that it begins to work more freely and creatively.
So, having a lineup of days perfectly empty awaiting for us can be the best way to tap our creativity. We don’t need to do anything, and precisely for that reason our grateful brain begins offering us new suggestions. Ideas. More ideas. Connections. Interesting musings.
All this only because we offered our brain the opportunity to rest.
Vacations are important but…
We all know. Life doesn’t mind if we are ready or not. Often it throws us sleazy balls. Sure, we can duck. Grab the ball midair. We can run away screaming. Or stand still without making a noise. In any case we have to pay close attention to what is happening.
So, in case vacations look more like a mirage than an actual possibility, you can at least remind yourself throughout the day to stop a minute and think about the moment you’re living.
Call it mindfulness meditation. Call it putting things into perspective. It seems a trifle thing to do. But if you do it often enough your perspective on life is going to change.
Of course, you’ll still have to delve with the sleazy balls. But you’ll get to realize that while you can’t always control what happens to you, you can control your reactions.
Just like in writing. We can’t decide what ideas to come up with, but we can decide which are the ones worth pursuing.