How to Write a Book on Vacation
I love to travel, my family loves to travel, and every time I go away (being a writer, and having people in my life who know I'm a writer because I tell them, stupidly, and I wrote a book, also stupidly, also click here to read it I guess) people always say to me, "I bet you write so much on vacation! Being in those new and beautiful places must be so inspiring!"
And, like...you would think.
I actually have a pretty bad record of getting any meaningful writing accomplished whilst on a vacation of any sort, for a multitude of reasons.
The first and foremost reason being that I'm in a new and interesting place, which can be very distracting. Writing can be a beautiful escape from reality, that is...unless you DON'T want to escape from reality. Sometimes I just don't feel like escaping to the island nation of Petra when I want to actually be IN SPAIN.
Secondly, I'm never on vacation alone. There are usually other human beings there, like my husband, or my friends, or my family, who all want to do things, and talk about things, and talk about doing things—all of which are lovely and fun, but don't really create an environment conducive to completing a manuscript.
Thirdly, finally, and hopefully most obviously...I'm on vacation. Simply put, writing is my work but living is my life. People aren't wrong; travel is incredibly inspiring to me, and I believe it makes me a better writer, but the writing part usually comes later, when I've returned home and don't have to contend with the distraction of living my life.
I am painfully familiar with the romantic, movie, instagram, TikTok image of a writer who travels to a villa in Italy or a cottage in the English countryside to finish their novel (lookin' at you, Colin Firth in Love Actually) and yeah—if you've got the time and money for that kind of thing, I'm sure it's wonderful to be completely removed from your familiar day to day context, with no distractions, in some beautiful corner of the world, all for the sake of your newest Sci-Fi Romance/Thriller featuring a snail man and the treasure of Inig Mora, bro.
For many writers I'm sure, myself included, that's basically the dream. But it's not necessarily reality. The reality is often far less glamorous. Hopefully we have a nice, quiet place in our world in which to create—like an office or the corner of the living room, or a broom cupboard somewhere—and hopefully we can get a few hours with few distractions...or at least 20 minutes. At that point, hopefully we can turn that quiet, distraction-free time into a productive writing session without getting sidetracked by the thousand daily things that can derail a panicking brain while it's being asked to do something creative.
Maybe we'll write some stuff. Maybe we won't. But no matter what, we'll likely try again tomorrow. Most days, writing fantastical things isn't fantastical at all. Most days, it's a grind like anything else.
That all being said, the idea of writing on vacation is so romantic, and I'll admit that it gets me every time. I always end up lugging my laptop and journals all over the planet on the off-chance I'll happen upon one of those perfect, movie moments where I (the writer) will be so inspired by some city or vista or passing falcon that I'll have to stop dead in my tracks, whip out the tools of my trade, and compose a f%&king sonnet or something.
I have been a passionate world traveler for at least fifteen years of my life, and I've only ever had one of those moments maybe twice.
One time, when I was in Paris with a friend who is a visual artist, she was so inspired by this fountain in the Luxembourg gardens that she had to sit and sketch it (some people just have it, I guess).
Aha! But I had just acquired a new pen! And with said pen had come the invisible but far more valuable burning desire to write! Anything! Everything! Wherever! Whenever! So I sat down next to my friend and we pretended we were Rodin and Sartre for a good hour and a half.
At the end of our time, she had a series of stunning, incredibly realistic sketches of the fountain...and I had half a page of the beginning of maybe a short story, I think.
So. Yeah. I am clearly a creative genius. *Hair flip.*
Look...I kept getting distracted by people, and birds, and the whole parkness of the park. Maybe that makes me a bad writer or artist or whatever, but there's nothing I can do about that. It is simply who I am to get caught up in the romance of being in Paris.
It wasn't until later that night, after we'd gone back to our hotel, and my friend was sound asleep in the bed next to mine, that I snuck into the bathroom with my notebook and new pen and wrote a twenty page short story inspired by the fountain and the garden.
You see, while I was having the experience there was nowhere I would rather be. Afterward, however, I was ensnared by the memory of the place, and sought to recreate the magic in my imagination. When it was finally dark, and Paris had gone to sleep for the night, spending my time in a magical garden seemed preferable to the stuffy room at the auberge.
So, that was the first time I was struck by the writerly desire to be writerly and write whilst abroad, darling.
The second time happened last week. And I've been so very inspired by my success at finally becoming the movie version of a writer to which I've always aspired that I just had to share my success, as well as some tips, just in case you too dream of being the kind of person who writes in impractical and unusual places.
Without further preamble or ado, here are my 5 Top Tips for How to Write a Book on Vacation:
1. Location, location, location!
As I mentioned before, travel can be distracting, and often you will find that any old castle or beach or villa in the south of France just won't do. When you find your writer's escape less than inspiring, I suggest packing up your typewriter and venturing out into nature itself! A boulder or a stump can be just as good as a desk in a pinch, and getting bitten by insects just adds drama and adversity to your experience—which we all know are essential to any artistic expression.
2. The pen is mightier than the sword!
Writing implements are a writer's tools...and weapons...and cookware. I've already mentioned the typewriter—an essential piece of any true writer's kit—but fountain pens, quills, reeds, and sticks of burned wood will also do. When in doubt, ask yourself: has there been a modern invention that has rendered this tool not only obsolete but overcomplicated, messy, and wholly unnecessary? If the answer is yes, that is likely the writing tool for you!
3. Space out, man!
As all writers know, our spaces are important to us, and creation simply cannot happen unless the aesthetic is just right. In order to recreate the same environment on vacation, bring some cherished possessions on the road with you! I find that traveling with a few houseplants, a suitcase of crystals, and my favorite mahogany desk is just the thing to keep the muses on my side.
4. Take the road less traveled!
Like Robert Frost before you, strap your knapsack to your back and head down the unbeaten track in search of more inspirational corners of the planet. Just remember, if you decide to take this particular route, to leave the satellite phone at home. Nothing really dampens the creative mood like modern technology...and safety.
5. When in doubt, GTFO!
If all else fails, you can always try my "break glass in case of emergency" solution: total and complete isolation. Because, as we all know, when Thoreau wrote Walden he was completely alone, with nobody to help him, or cook for him, or like...do his laundry. Like his mom. His mom DEFINITELY DIDN'T COOK FOR HIM OH MY GOD YOU GUYS STOP!
...In case you haven't caught on yet, that list of "tips" is nothing more than a playful way to poke fun at myself and other writers for our silly writerishness.
Listen, I did manage to make some headway on my manuscript while I was on vacation last week, but it wasn't because of some "trick." It wasn't due to a romantic, spontaneous series of inspiring moments, and it also wasn't because I woke up at 6am every day or used a particular notebook or sat in a particular place. There was no list of "how to's."
It was hard sometimes, because sometimes writing is hard. It was boring sometimes, because sometimes writing is boring. And yeah, sometimes it was really inspiring and rewarding and I had moments of wonder that I was lucky enough to create while surrounded by beauty.
But I also had days when I didn't write.
Because I was on vacation.
And it's ok to do nothing on vacation.
In this social media era, when there's so much focus on creating aesthetic, it can be easy to fall prey to this notion that you're not a writer if you can't write the way you or other people think you should. Other people might be able to write on vacation, you might not. Other people might have a writing space filled with crystals and plants, you might not. My dad writes pages and pages on an airplane, and airplanes are like my writing kryptonite. Everything is ok. Everything is allowed.
So how do you write a book on vacation? I have no idea. Maybe one day one of us will figure out the secret to inspiration. Until then, I'll keep grinding and holding out for that one greatest, truest, most inspiring falcon drifting on the breeze.