The Power of Routine; or, Why I Can’t Write on Vacation

Last week was our week long vacation down on Cape Cod, and as usual I had more plans for myself than I actually understood what to do with. I was going to do my new book research, read most of my critique partner’s novel, catch up on a bunch of books. Instead I went to the beach, walked the dog, and did an intense amount of napping.

Despite how strapped for time I sometimes feel with my normal schedule — near full time work, taking care of the house, making myself exercise — the regular happenings of my week actually help my writing projects, in that I know what time I have set aside to work on them. Generally mornings, before and maybe just after breakfast, and then until noon if I’m not going to my job until later that day. On vacation, despite all this open time, I manage to spend less on work, I think because I lack part of the urgency. I don’t get up as early, I don’t have a desk to sit at and get me in the right mindset. Also my husband, and often his family, is right there, waiting for me to spend time with them and state what I want to do that day.

photo credit: visualpanic via photopin cc
photo credit: visualpanic via photopin cc

So, on vacation, my regular routine won’t work. And that’s fine. There are plenty of times in my life where my routine has morphed to fit the lifestyle I’m living, like how I work in the morning now rather than night when the family slept like I did when I lived with my parents. The problem is, with a vacation, it’s a short term change that I have to get into right away and try to keep up, until I quickly ditch it again for the old one I’ve grown so accustomed to when I get home. I figured out how to make it work a little better by the end of the week, and while I still didn’t get as much done as I wished, I was able to complete something.

  • Figure out your new writing time. Is there an hour when everyone’s in the shower and you know you won’t be bothered? A period right after lunch when you would normally just rest? Can you go to bed a half hour later? It’s your vacation, but maybe waking yourself up before everyone else stumbles to the coffee is the only thing you can do. I did that a bit, forcing myself up at 7:00 with the dog, so I could do my research and make my notes.
  • Don’t give up that time. It’s a vacation, plans are fluid, you might feel you need to give up late night writing in favor of ice cream, or the morning for a big out-to-eat breakfast. Guard that time, though, or set aside something else specific. I’ve found that when writing time is a “when I get to it” kind of deal, it tends to not get done.
  • Separate yourself. Maybe you can write within a crowd. I can’t. Depending on what kind of project I’m working on, the more activity going on around me, the harder it is to focus on the story at hand. It doesn’t help that everyone suddenly shows interest in what you’re working on once you crack open a notebook in their presence. Hide in your bed, walk to the coffee shop. I’ve gotten work done while curling up in a chair opposite someone taking a nap — no one’s going to be too loud in that room.
  • Small goals, please. You’re probably not going to write as much as you would at home, despite your lofty intentions. Set little goals: I’ll write a page, I’ll annotate this chapter, I’ll edit 5 pages. Then you’re not stressing yourself out (you’re on vacation, man) and you’ll close the laptop with a little sense of accomplishment.
  • Relax. Writing on vacation is not the same thing as taking time off specifically to write. You won’t finish your great amazing novel now; this is just to keep your head in the game, keep your wordsmithing sharp. Worry about marathon sessions and intense edits when you get back to the dusty corner of your own house, not when you’re supposed to be choking on sea water and crisping your lily-white skin at the beach.

Do you try to keep up a writing routine when you go away, or do you treat it like any other job and leave it all behind? How do you keep up the quota on your vacation?


4 thoughts on “The Power of Routine; or, Why I Can’t Write on Vacation

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