Many successful authors—from Ernest Hemingway to Khaled Hosseini—have imparted the same advice: Write every day. But when summer or Christmas rolls around, even the most diligent writer has to take a break for a few days or weeks. If you feel guilty and resentful when you’re not writing, learn how to optimize your downtime.
Last month, my family and I traveled to Maui for eight days. Hawaii is our favorite place in the world. We’ve visited the state five times in eight years. But deep inside, I was wary about losing so much writing time— eight days!
5 Ways to Optimize Your Vacation
To fully enjoy Maui and the company of my husband and our daughter, I set aside my writing. Instead, I did the following to optimize my time.
(1) Take up meditation or other calming activities. In “A Movable Feast,” Hemingway says never think about your story when you’re not working. Easier said than done. As for me, practicing meditation every morning helped clear my mind and release any concerns about the manuscript I left behind. If you don’t meditate, choose other activities that will help calm your mind (yoga, walking, jogging, etc.).
(2) Focus on your new surroundings. Maui is gorgeous. It wasn’t hard to focus on the here and now. To get the most out of my experience, I wrote some of my observations in my journal. If you don’t journal, even little notes will help. My observations were not related to my work in progress (WIP). They were random things that might be useful in the future. It’s a good way to save creative ideas and maintain your writing momentum.
(3) Read, read, and read some more. If you’re waking up in the middle of the night because of jet lag, read! Reading always benefits your writing.
It’s the first thing to suffer when I’m writing a new manuscript. A vacation is the best time for me to catch up. During our Maui trip, I read two novellas—"Jacob's Room" by Virginia Woolf and "Wildlife" by Richard Ford. When you have limited time to read, novellas make an excellent choice. I also read a full-length novel, “The Snowman,” by Jo Nesbo. I started reading “Orphan Train,” by Christina Baker Kline, but didn’t finish it until after I got back home.
I read to relax and forget my WIP momentarily. But I also read with a writer’s (and editor’s) eye—highlighting words, sentences, and paragraphs that are either great, or terrible. Writing reviews for this blog forces me to pay closer attention to the books I’m reading and to learn from them.
(4) Take pictures or make videos. Taking pictures is something all of us do during a vacation. Some people also make videos. Make use of these images to optimize your writing. In Hawaii, I took pictures to capture images that evoked certain feelings, triggered great ideas, and served as a reminder of a place or an activity. Again, the photos have nothing to do with my WIP, but I know that someday they will come in handy. They supplement the observations in my journal. If you like posting videos on YouTube, or if you use Instagram, Flickr, and other social networks that are photo- and video-friendly, then you have extra motivation to do it.
(5) Learn about the place you’re visiting. As a tourist, you’re likely to visit museums and landmarks. You might as well take down notes. In Maui, we visited the Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum, where I learned about what was once the most important industry on the island. It offered plenty of historical photos, documents, and other artifacts. As a writer, I like to tuck away interesting facts.
The next time you go on vacation, try doing any of the activities above instead of worrying about your WIP. Give yourself permission to take a break. It’s good for your health, your soul, and yes, your writing.