In last week’s trip to a national mountain park, our plan was simple: By day, the ToolMaster and Frank would bike the highway while I wrote to my self-imposed deadline. At night we’d have family time.

I loved this arrangement. I thought it especially great because this book I’m drafting still has sizeable gaps, and since it takes place in an alpine community, my surroundings would inspire me through osmosis.

Great ideas, but have you noticed when you’re desperate for writing content, every activity becomes imbued with Deep and Artificial Significance? For example, while handing over cash for a pastry, you will be struck with that act’s sheer profundity: “OMG! That lacklustre scene in chapter ten was only missing a quarrel over cinnamon buns! This is it. This is the missing ingredient.”

Yeah. Need I elaborate?

So there I was by week’s end, frustrated from continuous and trivial revelations, telling myself to just relax already because no one can be creative when they are this uptight. To add insult to injury, while I’d been in the mountains, I hadn’t been of the mountains, if you know what I mean. They felt academic, removed. Since Kootenay Park is one of my absolute favourite places to recharge, this felt almost psychically wounding.

Thank goodness for the drive home.

We stopped briefly at MarbleCanyon, intending to use the facilities and continue, but the trail called me. It’s only a 1 km hike which snakes along the top of a deep canyon carved by the Tokumm Creek, but oh the scents, peeps. Sun-warmed pine needles, ripe raspberries, glacial water whipped and foamed by a series of falls…

I started on the trail, still pushing to find literary merit in everything I encountered. I wrote brilliant prose in my head about the blushing pink of clover juxtaposed against the violet of fireweed. I plotted murder while leaning against the railing of the trestle bridge that traversed the canyon. I debated, if I were going to push someone over, which side would suffice. (The west side. Definitely. Fewer ledges for a resourceful victim to discover a handhold, less forensic evidence.) I watched water race over the falls and while I inhaled mist, tested words to describe the rococo nature of the spume.

Maybe ten minutes later it struck me: somewhere between committing murder and observing the water, I had slipped into holiday mode.

So, a few conclusions about writing and holidays from all of this:

  1. Cinnamon buns, in themselves, do not great plot-holes-filler make. (For more thorough analysis, I’ll experiment with cinnamon raisin and get back to you.)
  2. While you can put butt in chair or feet on trail, you probably can’t will yourself into inspiration or relaxation. There is a certain element of surrender involved and I’m still learning what allows me to let go of self-consciousness and let my muse swoop into action.
  3. In retrospect, it wasn’t the brightest decision to push through this book during a family holiday. (See #2.)
  4. For me, writing a piece can be a bit like walking this path. You can be absorbed in minutia, certain you are getting nowhere, then blammo. You’re not certain which specific element pushed you from the level of detail to summative experience, but suddenly you have yourself a book, or a holiday, or a contented state of mind.
  5. Nature is a huge asset in determining your compatibility with a non-writing partner. For instance, when you want to know if the hollow-melon sound of a head striking rock can be heard above the thundering falls, can your companion render a scientifically valid verdict? Afterwards, will they accompany you across the bridge or scurry back to the car? When you settle down to write upon a boulder at the melting toe of a glacier, where will your companion’s attention rest? Upon the birthplace of a true Canadian wonder? Or on the river, source of the drinking water for a hundred million people?

Let nature help you sort the wheat from the chaff.

Now, fellow Unboxeders, I’d love to hear about your holiday-born writing insights. And I can’t be alone in my ghoulish tendencies – what was the best murder you plotted in the most inappropriate setting?

About Jan O'Hara

Jan O'Hara left her writing dreams behind for years to practice family medicine, but has found her way back to the world of fiction. Currently the voice of the Unpublished Writer here at Writer Unboxed, she hopes one day soon to become unqualified for the position.