Recharging our writing batteries

I’m currently on holiday with my wife, staying in a rented condo on the Alabama coast of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s commonly known as the ‘Redneck Riviera’, and one can see why from the tall blocks of condominiums lining parts of the coast. Here’s the view from our balcony shortly after sunrise yesterday.

 

Dawn on the Gulf Coast - 500 pixel

 

Lovely, isn’t it? But thereby hangs a question for you.

I’m continuing to write while on holiday. In my case it’s really force majeure, because ten years ago a serious injury left me partly disabled. One of the consequences is that I suffer from back and leg pain 24/7/365. I can’t sleep for more than a few hours before my back stiffens into a locked position and the pain wakes me. I’m usually awake by 3-4 a.m. Rather than waste the time until my wife gets up or I can get on with other things, I use the time to write. That’s what I’m doing even while on vacation.

On the other hand, I know some authors believe this to be a very bad thing. They say they need to ‘switch off’ their writing brain and relax completely, not thinking about their books or stories at all. They’d rather set them aside, go on holiday, and pick them up again when they get back.

What say you? Is writing something you can, or want to, set aside while you’re on vacation; or do you regard it as a daily occupation or task, irrespective of whatever else you’re doing?

There’s also the question of what we do to ‘switch off’, and how much time we need to do so. I’ve been influenced since the 1980’s by an article that claimed it takes most of us a week to properly relax after a long period at work or under stress. It stated that if we took one week’s vacation, we’d have only just achieved an initial state of relaxation by the time we had to get back to work. On the other hand, if we took two weeks off, the second week would be truly relaxing because we’d be able to thoroughly enjoy ourselves, having ‘sloughed off’ the stresses and tensions of work and home. However, a third week of vacation might be ‘too much of a good thing’, because we’d be ‘holidayed out’ by then and no longer enjoying ourselves as much. The author suggested instead a second two-week vacation in due course.

Again, I’d like your opinion as writers. Is a week off enough time to relax, or do you need more? I find two weeks to be a very good break, and during the years I was working I saved up my vacation hours until I had enough to take a fortnight off. However, I know others disagree. They’d rather take a long weekend or a week here and there, enjoying more frequent vacations at the expense of longer ones. I don’t think that’s the right approach to getting fully relaxed and recharged, but ‘to each his own’, as they say in the classics.

What works for you to restore your creativity?

22 comments

  1. The first two or three days of vacation I can totally veg out. Then I’m right back to writing. Writing, especially the creative part of the process, is not stressful to me. Now a deadline . . . that could turn pleasure to work, but it would also probably involve the editing part of the process which while it’s interesting, isn’t the same.

  2. I’m retired, but I think I could probably take some time away. My family used to own a summer camp on a lake not too far from where I live. If that were still an option, I think i would go there but take my computer and putter around. Maybe review a chapter and make little corrections or brainstorm ways to get better descriptions into scenes, especially with a lake at my front door. I am mildly hopeful that my writing will prove sufficiently lucrative that I can buy a place on the lake in my city. Then I wouldn’t need a lake vacation, and would only have to wait till the snowmelt had stopped and the water began to warm up! I wasn’t blessed with warm water at my old lake, but these aged bones want something a little more comforting now.

  3. Why would I stop escaping into my escapist fictional world just because I’ve escaped from the day-to-day drudgery of my pay-the-bills job in software development? On my last vacation, I was up at 5am every morning (for similar, though less debilitating, reasons as you, Peter), writing away on both new material and the final rewrite of my latest novel (due out pretty much as soon as the artist finishes the cover, which should be any day now). The writing had a ‘work’ element to it, since I had a deadline for the rewrite, but it was also like a visit with an old friend.

    I can’t speak for other writers who have full time jobs, but writing IS my vacation. Better, it’s one I get to take every day if I choose to. To paraphrase a saying about fishing, a bad day writing is better than a good day working. As long as that holds true, I’ll keep writing every day.

  4. Got those same pains, Peter; in my case, age and diabetes have a lot to do with it.
    But once I started writing, I found I didn’t want to stop. It’s habit forming, and I’m hooked.
    Restore creativity? I read another author, including you. Or work on a different writing project. Answer questions on this blog occasionally, write essays on Facebook between. Those aren’t fiction, they’re about economics, physics, maths (as an Australian correspondent insists is correct), history, you name it. Occasionally I even blog about writing.
    For nonfiction, I try to avoid being creative, opting instead for being analytical.
    And after an hour, sometimes three, of doing this, I’m ready to take a break and go back to mining my imagination.
    This approach works for me; I’ve never yet suffered from ‘writer’s block’. If a book isn’t grabbing me by my enthusiasm, I’ve got a series of novellas cooking that I write just for fun, comedy written in ‘Elizabethan’, e.g. forsoothly style. They won’t ever be bestsellers, but just writing them recharges my batteries.
    And now, fairly bursting with loose electrons, I’m off to do something productive! 😀

  5. I attempted to not write on the trip last month. Instead I had entire scenes playing themselves out, and other scenes leaping up from the landscape. I just took what I got hit with and wrote everything down, but didn’t try and work the bits into a plot or story at that point. It seems to have worked, and I wager I’d have a nice large chunk of that project done, except that I’ve been called in to my other job almost every day since I got back.

    Recharging my batteries involved reading for a project but NOT writing it, in a different location (i.e. not my office or residence). For example, reading about Ottoman logistics after a day in the archives in [redacted] was refreshing, not draining, and because I was working on research all day, it let the really creative part of my brain rest. When I did get back to fiction, things flowed very easily. Physical activity like hiking also helps.

  6. What I found in my workaholic days was that it took a minimum of three weeks. One week to decompress, ten days of time to actually relax and three or four days of getting wound up around the axle for the return. Have to agree with Henry… Writing was what kept me sane while the Pigmys were biting my ankles and setting fires in the cafeteria.

  7. Enjoy the Alabama National Shrimp Festival while you are here. Watching the people and listening to the conversations will give all kinds of new characters to add “color” to your stories. Hope you get better.

  8. Taking a vacation and forgetting everything, what a concept.

    I couldn’t if I wanted to. I’m obsessive to an extreme, and my obsessions rule me. Oddly enough, the life I’ve led, my obsessions haven’t been that obvious to others.

    Over the last fifteen years, making swords was my strongest obsession. But then a stroke, and age, and fighting neighbors to keep my doors clear {I grind at the big bay door} have abraded that obsession, so I’d say that obsession is weakened.

    Writing is my obsession now. I run the lathe most of the day, the work a day world, then try and get 4 hours in every evening, writing. Get at least 2.5 in most evenings. Have written five novels this year, and think I can get two more. {Am waiting for two covers to be finished, then the first two “go up”}

    I’ve worn out one keyboard {laptop}, and the only reason it hasn’t been two is I’ve started rotating my writing over four laptops. You can still see some wear showing up on the keyboards…….

  9. It’sa blood sugar thing, and caffeine. I have this story in my head. Ok, not a ‘story’ but characters in my head. When the news gets too bad I retreat from the news and watch my characters as they act out situations.

    So I’ve been writing, and rewriting, and proof reading, and rewriting, and formatting and converting one format to another, and proof reading again and again, over and over, but those characters are still in my head and I can’t get them out.

    When I’m sitting at the keyboard looking at the screen thinking of the next scene. . . I get up and run the carpet sweeper, do dishes, or cook something. Until the blood sugar and the caffeine are just right. I have no control over it. It just happens.

    Maybe one day I’ll have a finished product, and it will flop terribly to ugly reviews by ugly people.

    I might be crazy, who can tell.

  10. I just came off a terrible dry spell. I bring my iPad (thanks to the Apple gods for the iPages upgrade) _everywhere._ (Well, not choir practice, or church.) Mostly editing the sequel to the first book now, but scenes from other stories, other worlds are starting to creep in around the edges. I put out saucers of milk and cookies for them…

  11. Oddly, I can never write when I’m relaxing–only when I’m stressed out with other responsibilities. Put me out on a hiking trail with a good pair of boots and nothing to worry about, and every productive or creative thought flees.

  12. I suspect it’s very much “whatever works for you.” J Michael Straczynski says he writes every single day, Christmas included. I almost always need to take one day a week off from my writing/designing projects; other people work solidly for months and then not at all for weeks.

    1. We’re enjoying it; but then, it’s the first real holiday we’ve taken since we married four and a half years ago. We’ve had shorter breaks, but they were never long enough to relax properly. Dot was getting pretty burned out, and fortunately we’d saved enough royalty income (after taxes and suchlike) that we could afford a decent break, so we took the plunge. Both of us are finding it a real blessing.

      Tomorrow morning we’re off for an airboat ride through the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta. Lots of birds, alligators and so on, followed by the chance to eat a lot of what we’ve just seen!

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile-Tensaw_River_Delta

      http://www.airboatexpress.com/

  13. When I had a horse it was riding or just being with him in the field. Out in the field he was so peaceful, occasionally he’d lift his head to see if I was still there but he was hell to ride. He’d start out dancing this way and that followed by long stretches of calm broken up by the occasional wrestling match to get him to walk when he wanted to run. He wasn’t high strung or shy but he had a rough gate and always wanted to run. Especially when the day was done and he knew it was time to go home. 🙂

    I like swimming now. During the summer I have a tendency to swim until I can barely stagger home. There is something about both activities that triggers a meditative state. Pursuing that state to the point where I can’t walk straight results in a deep sleep I can’t get any other way.

  14. What is this vacation of which you speak? I have heard tales of something of that sort… seriously, I haven’t had one for about 18 years. Trips away have always been for a reason. But I find frightening myself silly works best for me. The fierce intense concentration to stay alive for the next five minutes makes me recharge.

  15. Every time we save up for a “real” vacation, something breaks, the basement floods, or the roof needs something, or… something. This happened to our honeymoon, it happened to about every trip– even for a friends’ wedding! Only the road trips are exempt, some reason. (Libertycon being the only other exception, and that was a close one!) So we take weekend road trips. “In the car” seems to be the only place I can’t write. But seeing new places and watching new people seems to restore my creative mind, and takes me out of my head.

    I can go for a week without being able to stand writing at all, then wake up the next night at 4 am desperate to get things down on paper.

    The “less stressful version of NANO” doesn’t seem to work for me. I get lots of disconnected bits, but nothing really builds for the long term. I may have to up my game and use the same NANO strategy, which is not something I can do every day. Maybe it’s just building discipline until it becomes a real habit.

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