Photo courtesy of SXC.
It’s a tough year for planning R & R – despite the fact that travel bargains abound – and given all the economic uncertainty, it seems foolhardy to plan a big, expensive out-of-town vacation. But what to do with your time off this summer? Isn’t there something to do that can get you out of the daily grind and not cost a fortune?
Of course there is. I’ve compiled a half-dozen tips for creating an enjoyable writer’s “staycation,” the sort of stay-at-home (or stay-close-to-home) vacation that will bring you back to the keyboard rested and ready for your next writing project without producing worry about its expense.
1. Tell a story in pictures. Whatever you choose to do with your days off, take a small digital camera with you, or use your mobile phone’s camera. Try to take enough pictures that you can create a “filmstrip” about your day, one that needs no captioning to get the message across. In addition to getting you in the habit of documenting your life photographically (which is fun and useful in and of itself), this tip also teaches you how to frame anecdotes and think scenically.
If you need some inspiration for what you can do with a cel phone camera, you might check out the My GPS Camera Phone blog. Blog owner Pete always amazes me with the photos he gets out of a humble mobile phone.
2. Tell a story in sound. If you’re doing any driving around on your staycation—or even if you’re going on a long bike ride, run or hike—create a mix CD or a playlist on your MP3 player to honor your journey. The idea here is to create a soundtrack to your down-time that expresses your feelings, as well as give you experience in using subtle factors to set an anecdote’s mood and tone.
3. Buy 5 magazines to read for recreation. The trick here is to buy five that you don’t ordinarily buy, perhaps even five you’ve never heard of or would never even glance at otherwise. The farther the publications are from your ordinary reading, the greater the chance that they will creatively cross-pollinate your thinking about your writing projects or help you generate ideas for fresh, new works.
4. Keep a “vacation journal.” Even if all you do is stay home and weed the garden. If you look at the letters and journals kept by people before the invention of the telephone, they often described “ordinary” events in great detail—dinner parties, conversations ‘round the fire, walks they took in the woods. Deprived of other means of being intimate at a distance, writing about their day helped share it, and themselves, with readers of the journals or the recipients of their letters.
Being able to write about what you’ve done helps you see the value in how you spend your time, and also strengthens your ability to write interestingly and cogently in the first person.
5. Live like a Spaniard for a day. Or an Italian, Greek, or French person. If you’re mimicking the Spanish, you should definitely take an afternoon siesta, but the idea here is to make time for the Mediterranean ideal of “the sweet life,” one that includes plenty of good food, heart-to-heart talks over meals with friends and family, and a pace of living that doesn’t feel rushed.
The benefit to living this way is that it can free up your subconscious to incubate writing ideas with which you may be struggling. Plus, it’s fun and renews social ties that are easy to put on the back burner in the heat of a project. By focusing on your writing challenges before you go on vacation, then letting go while you’re taking time off, you may just come back to your work with solutions that work better than whatever you might have come up with by “forcing” an answer to appear.
6. Have at least one plan-free day. Most writers who are successful know how useful goal-setting tools and systems can be. However, if you can’t have a change of geographic scenery to shake you out of your routine (and thereby spark some insights about how you are living day to day), make it a point to build in at least one staycation day where schedules and planners are tucked away, and you set out (physically or mentally) with a few simple intentions: to explore public art in your city, for example, or to bike to the next town and see what there is to see. The idea is to be open to how the day develops, following one’s nose as it were, and receptive to what is experienced, rather than trying to cram it into one’s pre-planned blocks of whatever.
Leo Babauta, author of Zen Habits blog and the book “The Power of Less,” recently discussed this approach as an aid to simplicity. This is what he had to say about his stepping away from excessive planning:
“Don’t try to force outcomes — let them happen. Be open to what emerges.
This is a change that I’ve been trying in my life over the last year or more — slowly, gradually, because it’s not always easy. You have to learn to let go of the need to achieve certain outcomes, to embrace the flow, and that can be very difficult. So I’ve learned to embrace it slowly, and it has been wonderful.”
He asserts that this approach focuses one in the moment, and that can be very liberating.
“The lesson I learned (from my experiment): you don’t know what will happen, or what opportunities will arise, until you arrive at that moment. You can plan and plan and plan, but there is just no way to know how things will turn out…. Instead, I have forgone the need to define outcomes, and have focused on enjoying the journey. That doesn’t mean I’m not motivated to do my best … It means that I’m motivated by the work, that I enjoy the activity, not by the destination, goal or outcome.”
It’s a great lesson to learn, but as Leo points out, it can take a while to internalize it. Since vacations are the best time for most of us to experiment with new routines without the outside interference of daily pressures, why not try living a day or two by intention, instead of a strictly defined plan?