Monday, July 16, 2012


  The whole world is not on vacation this month, at least half the world is in the middle of winter, but for the purposes of this blog, think summer. Where I live the sun in shining, the ocean is a lazy blue and the smell of fresh cut hay fills the air.  School's out, children are cycling and running on the street.  Neighbours chat over the back fence and shake their heads at the size of the mosquitoes. 
     It is summer time and that means a change in the rhythm of life.  Instead of grocery shopping, I go to my garden and collect the harvest -- and do some weeding and replanting.  Instead of waiting all day for my laundry to dry, I hang the clothes on the line and bring them in after only an hour or two.  Instead of making soup for lunch, I make a salad.  The days are long.  Instead of settling in with a book or needlework after supper, I may play golf or go for a swim, or make jam.  The day job may still be nine-to-five, but the summer pace is different.
    Now, here's my question.  What happens to my writing when I'm literally on vacation?  Sometime over the next two months, we'll be away from home, visiting new locations, connecting with old friends.  What happens to the writing routine in those times? 

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     Plenty of writing gurus proclaim that "to be a writer, you must write everyday."  Julia Cameron insists on "morning pages" every day.   I found the same advice in Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande, copyright 1934.    This same book advocates that to write as a profession, we must be a writer in personality and temperament.  Until we have achieved the state of being a writer, Ms Brande contends, exercises and workshops on craft are a waste of time and money. 
   In her view, the true writer is a split personality, one part child, imaginative, temperamental, tender, undisciplined and creative.  The other part is like the older brother, focussed, determined, organized, tough, and protective.  She emphasises the need for the "artist" personality to have free rein to explore, dream and play.  It is the job of the "older brother" to keep track of royalities, check contracts, deal with rejection slips, set a timetable, send out queries -- all to protect the creative side from harm. 
    If her thesis holds true, I would suggest the older brother needs a vacation now and again.  Even big business knows that employees who have frequent breaks are more productive.
   So, if the "older brother" goes on vacation, what happens to the artist/child?  Should we free ourselves from the discipline of morning pages or daily word counts?  Can we spend time to explore, soak up new landscapes, listen to unfamiliar accents, see stories emerge from the waves on a sandy beach without the requirement to write it down? To use another of Julia Cameron's precepts, is a vacation from writing is just an extended artist's date?

   Or, having spent weeks and months training our unconscious to see and record and imagine, will a vacation put us back to square one, stemming the flow of the unconscious writer, pushing the creative side into inaccessible corners of the mind?
   So, dear readers, I ask you.  Do I take a pen and notebook on vacation, get up early and write morning pages, or do I dance on the beach and weave daydreams in the clouds?

Alice Valdal is usually a disciplined writer, but summer time does bring out the carefree child.  She counters this tendency by rising early but it's hard to stay at the computer when sunshine and birdsong fill the back deck.  Pen and paper or an alphasmart let her keep up the work side of writing while still enjoying the light.

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  1. Alice, thanks for this thought-provoking post. I have to admit, I've tried both. But I find if I don't at least keep up to date with my writing world, I battle for days, weeks even, to get back into gear. So I prefer to keep my laptop with me, and even if it's only email, I write SOMETHING every day.

  2. Wow. Huh. Hm.. you know, I could never be one of those people who write every single day. I used to be. I used to keep a journal faithfully and not just write what happen, but things I would think about, things that caught my fancy. But life gets busy and it's hard to say, 'ok, so now I have to write'. I can't do that. I'm more of a... inspiration hits me, so I write it down. Which is why I have little pieces of paper everywhere in the house... I recommend you bring a notebook and pen. And do it when you feel like it! Maybe you need a vacation from writing? teeheeee....

  3. I write this while I'm on vacation and I admit, I didn't write. :-( I've done a little pondering on the WIP, even had an idea or two, but the only writing I've done is to sign my name to the visa bills! Back home today and then back to routine. Let's hope my brain revived from its vacation and my output doubles. Thanks Jenn and Shirley. Two points of view, just like the question. : -)

    1. But that relaxed pondering is important, Alice. It is when things can come together in your mind and turn real.

  4. Interesting question, Alice.I think it may depend on the individual. Sometimes the things we see while on vacation(Aussies call them holidays)will appear later in writing but it's good to make a few notes at the time so the impression is not lost.

  5. Oh my. I'm not a writer because I don't write every day? Ah-hah, but I mull over things when I'm not writing. The ideas simmer until I finally get to put them down. As far as my business side goes, I'm totally lacking and I know that will come against me. Never mind, somehow I'll muddle through!