Every writer I know maintains a writing schedule, or at least, some semblance of one. When, where, and how frequently a writer writes is as personal and individual as the writer. However, despite any differences in preferences and practices. a writer never really gets a day off. Vacation? What vacation? I believe that if a writer is breathing, they are technically “on the job.”
Oh sure, we all have control over shutting down the keyboard and putting away the pen and the pencil. Writers draw from a blend of memories, moments of inspiration, and personal or research-based experiences. We hope, wait for, and welcome that bit of magic that manifests when our words and ideas come with seemingly minimal effort. This phase of the writing process, the actual act of writing, is the part we can turn on or off. This is the aspect we can consciously opt to engage in, or not.
Writers who are active in their practice understand that an essential part of being a writer takes place away from the pen and the paper, the keyboard and the screen. Much of what manifests in an initial piece of writing, by way of style or voice or format, is seeded in the writer's consciousness when said writer engages in activities away from the actual act of writing. To the unsuspecting writer, these observations, experiences, and emotions, once felt, percolate within, waiting for a chance to spill out in written form. Let's hear it for the nonlinear, messy first draft or, for those moments when the muse is most definitely present, gifting us with a draft that rings solidly of potential from the get go.
So, a writer may think they are on vacation and may wholeheartedly believe that they are taking a break. Unbeknownst to them, in most cases, they are not.
My own recent experience as a "vacationing" writer, supports this point. Consider how I spent my morning just shortly after the Fourth of July. At the time, I did not realize I was working. I believed I was on vacation, meaning off from work and glad to be home. Some might call this a staycation. Nonetheless, I was not doing much of anything aside from taking the dog outside for his early morning constitutional. The day was young. It was slightly after 6:00 a.m.. Our dog is a retired racing greyhound and is as sweet, calm and good natured as they come. He seemed taken with the silence and coolness of this particularly peaceful morning. We had both endured a Fourth of July holiday week of impromptu fireworks cracking at odd hours and above normal heat and humidity that had been prefaced by rain, rain, and more rain. So the dog and I were both momentarily surprised and pleased when we stepped outside and into a lovely expanse of summer a.m. light and quiet. I took pause to enjoy the moment. All of it, the colors in the sky, the dog next to me, the coolness of the air seemed beautiful to me. Someone might have said this is how things always are on an ordinary typical July morning and that the light and the coolness were to be expected. And I might, at first, have agreed. It was only in retrospect that I realized the true specialness of the moment and saw how the experience worked its way into my writing.
There was the mist rising from the river over the hills.There was the dog, quiet and happy. His nose rising in the air as he caught one interesting scent or another. At one point, we both settled onto the double folded terry cloth beach blanket I spread out in the yard for him. Picture the two of us, sitting side-by-side on the blanket, taking in the images around us. Both of us, quiet and watching. Up above, a distant Delaware River mist lifted and swirled and hung low in the sky. Green hills sloped lazily in the distance, the sun was at the mid-point of its rise. And, for once, I didn’t have to be anywhere else. I certainly didn’t have to rush off like I normally do on most other mornings.
I was on vacation.
I sat there, on the blanket, with my dog. We sat for way longer than we would have if I had to catch a train or get to an appointment, or be anywhere other than where I was. The dog and I remained side-by-side, looking out toward the hills for some time. We watched the sun come up. We looked at one another once or twice. We took in the cool breeze. We watched the grey-white mist curling up and around a peach colored sky. This served as the simple start to our collective day. It wasn’t so simple, so matter-of-fact or expected. I didn’t realize this first. All I knew was that I was enjoying the moment and I think the dog was too. It was what it was, merely a fine start to a fine morning. Eventually, we both went inside, had breakfast, got on with our day.
Later, during a late evening writing session, the writer in me started pulling strings and strands from that memory and working those images and feelings from that morning's moment into lines which might remain in first draft form forever or, they very well might be further developed into something more significant. I feel I am on to something with my recollections from that morning. So technically, on my day off, when I believed I was on vacation, and was taking time away from the screen, from the pen and paper, I was, essentially, working.
And, when any other vacationing writer is walking down any Main Street, USA, randomly noticing passerby, or sitting on a beach, quietly watching a seagull strut across a jetty, or even keeping an eye on the pulsing traffic during a drive along the Interstate, they are working. If a writer is observing, thinking, reflecting, they are working.
Let’s imagine a "vacationing" writer randomly glimpsing a passerby who is merrily strolling along and wearing a tee shirt that reads, "Life Happens,". Let’s imagine that this experience is nothing more than a seemingly insignificant moment, nothing more than an informal and fleeting observation. Writers know that observations and considerations of our experiences pave the way for images to poke through in the imaginative writing process.
There is no way to put this process on hiatus. Who is to say then, that these observed images won't turn up in last line of the the third stanza of the vacationing writer's newest poem? Who is to say that this new poem won't be titled, "Life Happens" and won't be full of meaning and references to chance encounters? Has the writer, then, really been vacationing? Ah, no.
There is mystery to this aspect of the job, since so much of it requires that the writer remain blissfully unaware of the realization that every living moment experienced in some way could eventually be worked into something, a line, a phrase, a description. All and any of it, these life experiences and reflections, could eventually, and often do, find their way into a finalized piece of writing.
And isn't that delightful? The images, the gathering of sense recollection, the details that make up our real and our imagined lives, all coming to fruition out on the paper or up on the screen. While I was not writing, in some form, I was. And chances are, you are doing the same with the your unique moments of observation, engagement, and living of your own life.
There are no days off for writers. Thank goodness.
There is no such thing as a writers' vacation. Let's not only face that fact, but embrace, enjoy, and use it.
Happy summer. Happy writing.
~J. Adams Lagana