Writers on Vacation – A Contradiction in Terms?

writers on vacation

The minute I saw the cartoon above, I thought “It’s not just me.” What a relief! There’s just something about being away from my computer that seems to bring the desire to be productive rushing in like a huge ocean wave — and just at a time I’m supposed to be checking out for a while. The first time I saw this cartoon I was writing freelance articles, blogging and writing a non-fiction e-book and it really spoke to me. When I was writing for parenting magazines and web sites, every step the family took could be fodder for a story. How to turn off the part of the brain that wants to write? Not only did it seem impossible, it seemed irresponsible. When ideas come,  I like to grab them and see if I can use them.

Now that I’ve moved on to mystery novels, downtime brings the ideas. However, writing mystery does add a more macabre tone to my writing ruminations. Like the woman in the illustration whose thought process goes from appreciating the sun to determining how to use it to help kill off a character, I have found myself scanning a vacation environment for clever ways to execute a murder. I don’t share this with my non-writer friends as they may become alarmed, but hey, it’s part of the territory.

Unplugging and indulging in relaxation is going to be restorative no matter what your profession. For writers, it’s a gift that keeps on giving. Turn off the noise of everyday life and you can better hear your characters speak to you. I look forward to the new ideas that I get when I travel. In fact, the mystery novel I’m currently querying is set in a location loosely based on one of my family’s favorite nearby getaway spots — the Geneva Lakes area in Wisconsin, a hop, skip and jump from Chicago. This beautiful and welcoming place is loaded with historical homes on the water, a town library designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, quaint shops and friendly people. It’s also just a little bit quirky so to me, it was the perfect place for a cozy mystery.

lake geneva public  library
The beautiful view from the Lake Geneva Public Library. I spent some time writing there last summer.

Vacationing as a writer makes me think of my younger daughter, age 11. She’s very engaged with the world and a great reader and she is much less talkative than her older sister. However, when she and I get in the car alone, she starts talking and talking. I hear more about her life in a 20-minute car ride than I do in a week. I don’t know why this phenomenon exists — could be that big sis doesn’t let her get a word in edgewise sometimes — but I’ve started taking her on more solo car rides and outings just to have the chats.

It’s the same way with a writer on vacation. Once you lose the noise and responsibility of everyday life, you can finally hear what your characters are trying to say to you. Removing the distractions (or the talkative older sister!) allows you to discover what you really want to say.

What about you? Do you fight the urge to write while on vacation? Have your vacations or travel inspired your writing?

2 thoughts on “Writers on Vacation – A Contradiction in Terms?

  1. Too true! Even in the midst of exciting or trying or downright tragic times, that writer brain never shuts off. Nice-looking website, Jenny.

    PS: My kids are used to my coming into a new place and saying something like:
    Great place for a murder!
    I could hide two or three bodies in here.

    Dear Homeland Security: Just kidding!

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