We talk a lot about prioritizing writing against other claims on our time. Travel has its own challenges for a writer working to maintain daily writing or editing goals.
On one hand, you’re awash in stimulation while away from the usual daily pressures. If it’s a vacation, time is often not an issue. I say that while luxuriating with the dogs on the quilt covered sofa of my mother’s sunroom, looking out to her gardens. After weeks of 8-hour (or more) writing days, it’s shocking to have this much time on my hands.
On the other hand, travel presents its own set of distractions and obstacles. At home, we don’t mind pushing ourselves to be industrious. But how can you keep productive while surrendering yourself to time off with family or seeing fabulous sites?
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6 Strategies to Keep Writing While on Vacation
1. What Did You Say?
At my family’s Michigan cottage growing up, we went out to swim at sunrise and came back inside when lightning bugs lit the trees. As with many vacations, time was not an issue. But conversation is. I can’t lose myself in novel revisions while in conversation with my mom about a turn in her business, or chatting with the sister-in-law I haven’t seen in 3 years. I might carry my work with me, but it loses out to listening to my niece explain the story behind her doll. For writers traveling with family, my suggestion is to know one activity during every day when no one will be talking, and be sure to have your work with you then. This may be a train ride, lying by the pool or while others are reading or showering.
2. On the Move.
At home, I was working with a printed copy of my novel in a binder, a kit of colored markers and pens and post it notes, my coffee and a laptop… which covered the better part of my couch and adjoining table. I won’t be successful on vacation if I need to spread out like that. On the other hand, I traded documents by email the other day while 30′ off the ground, harnessed to a tree-side platform between legs of a zipline obstacle course, using the phone in my back pocket (pretty much at the point that picture was taken of my sons, above). I can take either my laptop or binder and write on the train into the city, or sitting on the bent limb of a tree fallen across the hidden tidal beach we hiked to yesterday. The key to keep working while traveling is to have work in multiple, portable formats. Think ahead to where you will be and make sure you have some portable piece of your work with you to work on. Depending on how much I want to carry, I can take just my binder or laptop, or a smaller printed section with a pen, or just a notebook, and I always have my phone. Don’t overlook photography, which is great for capturing a thought more quickly than writing.
You have the time, no one’s talking to you and your ideas are flowing… but one obstacle travel tends to throw at writers is that it keeps eyes and hands unavailable to write. Take the 22 hours I spent with my hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, driving up the east coast last week. Holding hands while leading a kid through New York traffic, climbing rocks, swimming in the pool, cooking dinner… all of these come to mind as activities one just can’t write through. In some cases, like during that drive, audio options help make the most of that time. Use Dragon Dictation app on a smart phone to dictate revisions or new material. The app transcribes your spoken words, then you tap to email it to yourself. Or, use the time for reading by downloading an audiobook or podcasts from literary magazines or NPR. Just as often, when the interaction with family or ocean dip or simply marveling at the world justifies dropping all thoughts of writing, throw yourself into it whole-heartedly, without guilt or preoccupation with the work. Claim time later to jot your thoughts when the moment is over.
4. Hold That Thought
Travel can be great for writing, as new settings and experiences and overheard conversations can be unique inspiration to start something new. But, wow, that can be a nightmare if you’re working to stay focused in a story you are revising. Last thing I need right now is for my war-toughened main character’s voice to suddenly lapse toward describing gardens and tea and children playing with plastic boats just because that’s my vacation view. To avoid cross-contamination, be flexible about what you work on. Use a notebook to record those new inspirations for later. If you feel like vacation demeanor is shifting your voice, work outside your main document, so you can decide later if the new material or revisions are a fit. Or, make an effort to write only during staked time, so distractions from the vacation world are reduced (see 5 & 6).
5. Stake Your Claim
There are vacations where you really drop everything to surrender yourself to the holiday. Foreign travel can be like that. This last week, I was visiting with my brother and his family after a long time apart. When that’s the case, don’t regret not writing or waste energy struggling to fit it in that would have been better spent experiencing your travel. But, otherwise, when you have a daily writing goal, let your traveling companions know this and stake the claim for that time. Ask others what the schedule is each day and agree on the time you will spend writing. If you don’t want to draw attention to the writing, disguise it as a daily trip to the coffee shop. But you may be surprised to find someone else relieved for quiet time to read or check email. Buddy up with that person to avoid feeling antisocial. I am writing this morning while my mom catches up on business calls and email, and my sons play a game. Claim time and space with minimal distractions, but where you won’t feel like you’re missing out (see 1 or 6).
6. Don’t Let the Sun Go Down
When all else fails, unless it’s your honeymoon, use that last hour of the day when everyone is falling asleep. My first days on this trip, I fell asleep with my laptop on my knees. It’s prime time: no guilt, no distractions, less influence from the stimulation of the new environment. If this is your plan, watch out for those days when rock climbing or wine tasting might leave you shot by bedtime. If you’re an early riser or it’s not the kind of trip where you have to be out the door early, try writing while everyone else wakes.
That said, I’m due to take my work with me to sit by the pool while my boys swim. One last warning for travelers, to be read in a spectral voice (a la Edgar Allen Poe reciting the Raven): whenever you are traveling with your work, remember to protect against loss by leaving backups behind.
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What About You?
Are you trying to keep up with writing goals while traveling or entertaining company this summer? What challenges or obstacles do you find? Or, what tactics have you found that help you stay productive?
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Or, here is the current series on Novel Revision Strategies: