Do You Write on Your Vacation?

I did sit on this very bench overlooking Onset Bay.

As we were packing for a family trip to Cape Cod, my husband asked me if I was taking my lap top.

“Are you kidding?” I replied.

“What I mean is, are you planning on working?” he said.

My answer, of course was, “Of course.”

By working, he meant writing. “Isn’t it a good idea to take time off for a vacation?” he asked. “Clear your mind for new ideas? Come back refreshed?”

What he meant was: How much time are you going to be off (alone) writing?

Anyone who is married to a writer will have this conversation.

In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King says that when he is in the middle of a project he writes every day, including Christmas, Fourth of July, and his birthday. (I remember rereading that part a few times.) King advises aspiring writers not to take off more than a day when they are in the midst of crafting a story.  “You’ll lose the urgency and immediacy of your story if you do.”

I recently heard novelist Richard Ford, author of Canada, describe similar work habits.

But these guys are older, empty-nester, best-selling, full-time writers who probably don’t do the laundry.  Right?

Novelist and writing teacher, Aimee Bender, wrote about the importance of a regular writing routine in her essay,“A Contract of One’s Own” . Aimee’s writing self-contract has rules, consequences, and rewards. Aimee writes daily for two hours, in the same place, with no distractions or breaks, 5-6 days a week, rain or shine.  And she has been at it for 17 years. “Writing everyday can be a powerful action, a gesture of belief in one’s own imagination…”

While I’m a believer in taking time off for renewal (heck, why not for fun, too?), our family vacation to Cape Cod coincided with the time I devote to writing–the summer.  I enjoy having a break from teaching, scheduling, and chauferring my kids around.  I love taking my laptop outside on our sunny patio and being able to write for a few hours straight.

So as our family packed up the van, I felt like I had already been on vacation. Why should I  take a double vacation?  I worried that a week off from my writing would not only put me behind, but put me on the slippery slope to Procrastination Island.

Of course I didn’t want to ruin it for everyone else. And since I am fighting those workaholic tendencies, I compromised.  I told my husband that I’d write just an hour a day, maybe early in the morning before everyone gets up, or late in the evening. And then, I’d turn into a fun person.

Here’s what really happened. After a day at the beach, I crashed at 9:00 pm. Then  I overslept. Then my daughter visited for a couple days with her husband and baby and I wanted to spend every minute with them.  Then my fourteen-year-old daughter asked me to eat an early breakfast with her on the beach. (Lovely.) Then my husband suggested we have coffee at the cafe around the corner from our rented house.

I didn’t write a word the entire week.

But…I did let my characters visit and show me their wild side. As I walked along the shore, new writing ideas rolled in like gentle waves.  And yes, I did come back refreshed and renewed.

Do you take vacations from writing?  If so, when, and for how long?

Look–no laptop!

Writing From A Place of Honesty

Image   I love reading memoirs. I am fascinated by how a writer structures the chaos and complexities of a life into a narrative.  I also wonder how you get over the fear of exposure, of being judged, of hurting friends and family? As Anne Lamont says, “We write to expose the unexposed.”   How many writers out there still fear exposure, though, when we live in an age of overexposure?

I am a private person, and have become more so as I’ve gotten older.  In this cyber age of platform building and social networking, no writer is an island.  Nor can she afford to be.  I may have the life material to craft a compelling memoir, but I am not ready to run naked through the streets. And I may never be. For now, I prefer to select excerpts from my life. Exploring ideas, insights, and truths in this way allows me to both shape and contain the experience and still keep some curtains closed.

This June, I opened a curtain when my essay, “Letting Go” was published in Tablet Magazine.  The personal essay expressed my mixed feelings about my 20-year-old daughter’s engagement and marriage. I hope my experience would help other parents of kids who take-off early.  Tackling this particular topic was a big leap in terms of of my comfort level. The published piece is much different than the one I had originally submitted.  The editor, Wayne Hoffman, pushed me to dig deeper–to write from a place of truth and honesty–from the heart. I almost didn’t make the requested revisions, but once I worked through the fear of vulnerability, I found my real voice. The result was very satisfying.  An added bonus was when the Tablet editor called to say how much he loved my revised essay.

Readers responded to this honesty. The online comments and email feedback, mostly positive, provided me an instant connection with my readers, which was both exciting and scary. Here is one of my favorites, (sent via email).

Evelyn

I’m sitting at my desk at work wiping tears from my cheeks. Your article is so beautiful and right on target. It resonates so deeply- you captured the emotions and dialogue perfectly.  

“Letting Go” was picked up by the New York Times Motherlode blog the same day it appeared in the Tablet. Instantly, my audience (and exposure) widened. Blogger KJ Dell’Antonia invited readers to share thoughts on the topic of marrying at a very young age.  I was surprised by how many NYT commenters seemed not to have read my entire essay, yet still had a strong opinion about it.  Writing openly about your life opens you up to the critics, of course. No dodging that bullet. The diverse reactions on Motherlode reminded me how we each project our life view into what we read and that being “open-minded” is easier said than done.

So, my advice to other private-by-nature people who want to write about very personal experiences in today’s online world? Grow a thick skin; you won’t die of exposure.

And what about you? Do you find it hard to draw the curtains when you write about your life?  How do you decide what is okay to reveal about family members, especially your children?  Or are you happy to run naked through the streets?