The Power of Routine; or, Why I Can’t Write on Vacation

Last week was our week long vacation down on Cape Cod, and as usual I had more plans for myself than I actually understood what to do with. I was going to do my new book research, read most of my critique partner’s novel, catch up on a bunch of books. Instead I went to the beach, walked the dog, and did an intense amount of napping.

Despite how strapped for time I sometimes feel with my normal schedule — near full time work, taking care of the house, making myself exercise — the regular happenings of my week actually help my writing projects, in that I know what time I have set aside to work on them. Generally mornings, before and maybe just after breakfast, and then until noon if I’m not going to my job until later that day. On vacation, despite all this open time, I manage to spend less on work, I think because I lack part of the urgency. I don’t get up as early, I don’t have a desk to sit at and get me in the right mindset. Also my husband, and often his family, is right there, waiting for me to spend time with them and state what I want to do that day.

photo credit: visualpanic via photopin cc
photo credit: visualpanic via photopin cc

So, on vacation, my regular routine won’t work. And that’s fine. There are plenty of times in my life where my routine has morphed to fit the lifestyle I’m living, like how I work in the morning now rather than night when the family slept like I did when I lived with my parents. The problem is, with a vacation, it’s a short term change that I have to get into right away and try to keep up, until I quickly ditch it again for the old one I’ve grown so accustomed to when I get home. I figured out how to make it work a little better by the end of the week, and while I still didn’t get as much done as I wished, I was able to complete something.

  • Figure out your new writing time. Is there an hour when everyone’s in the shower and you know you won’t be bothered? A period right after lunch when you would normally just rest? Can you go to bed a half hour later? It’s your vacation, but maybe waking yourself up before everyone else stumbles to the coffee is the only thing you can do. I did that a bit, forcing myself up at 7:00 with the dog, so I could do my research and make my notes.
  • Don’t give up that time. It’s a vacation, plans are fluid, you might feel you need to give up late night writing in favor of ice cream, or the morning for a big out-to-eat breakfast. Guard that time, though, or set aside something else specific. I’ve found that when writing time is a “when I get to it” kind of deal, it tends to not get done.
  • Separate yourself. Maybe you can write within a crowd. I can’t. Depending on what kind of project I’m working on, the more activity going on around me, the harder it is to focus on the story at hand. It doesn’t help that everyone suddenly shows interest in what you’re working on once you crack open a notebook in their presence. Hide in your bed, walk to the coffee shop. I’ve gotten work done while curling up in a chair opposite someone taking a nap — no one’s going to be too loud in that room.
  • Small goals, please. You’re probably not going to write as much as you would at home, despite your lofty intentions. Set little goals: I’ll write a page, I’ll annotate this chapter, I’ll edit 5 pages. Then you’re not stressing yourself out (you’re on vacation, man) and you’ll close the laptop with a little sense of accomplishment.
  • Relax. Writing on vacation is not the same thing as taking time off specifically to write. You won’t finish your great amazing novel now; this is just to keep your head in the game, keep your wordsmithing sharp. Worry about marathon sessions and intense edits when you get back to the dusty corner of your own house, not when you’re supposed to be choking on sea water and crisping your lily-white skin at the beach.

Do you try to keep up a writing routine when you go away, or do you treat it like any other job and leave it all behind? How do you keep up the quota on your vacation?


Habits (and a Snow Storm)

There’s a snow storm happening, and I’m pleased as punch. I love the insulating feeling of the snow all around, the guilt-free knowledge that I actually can’t go anywhere today (even though I probably wasn’t) and the free pass I feel I have to wrap my afghan around me like a poncho and read on the couch.

No, I don't think I'll be driving anywhere.
No, I don’t think I’ll be driving anywhere.

But unfortunately, as snowstorms do, this messes me up a little. Not in a terrible way — I’ve got a roof, food, as well as blankets and flashlights a plenty. No, my only issue is that I can’t go to my 9:00 am Wednesday Bikram Yoga class.

This is a non-issue, I’m totally aware. These classes are every day, several times. I can just go Thursday before work, easy-peasy. And I will. But it’s not my habit. For months, maybe a full year, I’ve been going to yoga Wednesday morning once a week, unless extra work or an absence from town prevented me. And I haven’t even skipped for more than an extra half a week in a long time since my body’s sort of become addicted to sweating buckets. I used to do either Wednesday or Thursday depending on my mood, but not since I started working Thursday afternoons. So basically, I’m used to doing yoga on this specific day, and changing it up almost makes me more uncomfortable than skipping an entire week.

I’m gonna bring this back to writing now, since that’s sort of what this blog is about. I mentioned in my last post that something that makes me feel unproductive is that I can generally only get real writing done in the morning.  Over the past few years, writing in the morning has become a deeply ingrained habit. So, when something comes up that interrupts morning writing time, I kind of flail around and feel uncomfortable, like I had an important task but I missed my window. But maybe I didn’t miss my window, maybe it just moved to a different time, but because it wasn’t the time I told myself is right, I let it slide by again.

Habits are good for writing, and for yoga. It gets me used to doing something specific for a certain period of time, so even when I’m having a bad writing day (or a bad yoga day) I still sit down on the chair (mat) and write (sweat) it out, and come out feeling great. I just have to remind myself that sometimes, there are snow storms that won’t work around my habits, so if I don’t want to lose my momentum I have to step out of my comfort zone and get my stuff done in the time that’s granted me, even if it’s not ideal.

Writing Problems: Keeping a Routine

A great thing about working in a library is how sometimes a book just pops out at you, one you might have never known about before but now just looks so darn interesting. The latest for me is Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Curry, a collection of descriptions of what different artists/writers/composers/what-have-you do/did as their routine while they created. come of it makes me feel like a lazy butt — really, Haruki Murakami, up at 4:30 am? — but overall it’s interesting, inspiring, and at times reaffirming. And, it’s made me think about what my routine is, and has been.Read More »