The Elusive Chapters of Summer
Part confession and part inquiry, today’s little provocation for you is about a long-running fantasy I’ve nourished since my late teens: the idea of a summer vacation on which you make big progress on your work-in-progress.
Being born into a family of tireless workers, I was quite young when I seized on the phrase “working vacation.”
I tweaked it with the concept of getting off to some picturesque spot in the world where I’d spend a week churning out about a chapter an hour while fabled breezes ruffled my hair and cooled my busy brow. A writing vacation.
Sometimes I’d try one of those “writing retreats” in a stately home next to some really good vineyards. You can imagine how well that worked out. Inevitably, the retreat trips were the worst, even if not near the grapes, because they’re always run by strangely punitive “instructors” whose work no one has ever read and who over-schedule everything to within an inch of your sanity.
No, going it alone always proved the best idea. And surely, I reasoned, I’d return, triumphant, a full manuscript in hand, ready for light edits and then quick distribution to adoring agents. So I tried this writing vacation thing
- First on Santorini.
- Then Gran Canaria.
- Then Québec (not an island, big mistake).
- Then Arizona (no ocean, another big mistake).
- Then St. Barts.
- Then Malta.
- Then Crete.
- Then Taormina.
- Then Skiathos.
- Then Corfu.
- Then other places.
The part I got right was about the hair ruffling, My hair was really very well ruffled by some of the most fabled breezes in the world–off the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Ionian, the Aegean, and a couple of disturbingly deep lakes.
But the writing?
Homer Had Zero Frequent Flyer Miles
I’m sorry to report to you that I’ve never gotten any decent writing done on one of these escapes.
I know several reasons these writing vacations don’t work, some of them obvious, most of them the stuff you go into denial about while you book the tickets to the next one.
Once you get to a vacation, you’re usually tired and need to rest. So maybe you’re too tired to do anything good creatively, right?
- The going-to and coming-from those places can be more taxing than you expect. After all, other countries have no TSA Precheck and no Global Entry. Plus luggage. Plus buses, trains, shuttles, taxis, rental cars, villa caretakers (they look like the retreat “instructors”), and hotel hassles. Those all eat up energy you’d thought would go into the work.
- The being-in these exotic places can take its own toll, too. Maybe you’re dealing with another language and bad maps. Or maybe (as on Gran Canaria) the mountainous seaside roads are so scary that just surviving getting to dinner and back without driving the rental right over the cliff requires a day of recovery.
- Fabled breezes are fabled in part because they’re blowing over places (not just your hair) with a lot of history you want to explore. Very distracting.
- And hey, when are you going to be on ______ Island again? It would be a shame not to see some of the place, right?
Etc. and etc. and etc.
And yet, I’m always bothered by stories of greatly admired people who seem to have been able to actually write on the road. I’m determined to figure this out.
So what do you think?
Have you been on a “writing vacation” that worked? If so, tell us your secret. If you’ve tried it and it didn’t work for you, either, what do you think made it go wrong? Maybe there’s a reason that Vikings didn’t really go on river cruises, right?
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!