You Owe Yourself a Writing Vacation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI don’t know when the term “staycation” was coined, but since becoming a homeowner in the mid-2000s I have taken a good number of them, partly because I like my house and I like working to make it feel ever more like my ideal home, and partly because, having a house and family to take care of, we have no money for a “real” vacation.

Over the past few years, my husband and I have taken a couple staycations during which we did no painting, weeding, laundry, or dishes, but instead planted our butts on the couch, steadily fed the fireplace logs, and wrote. If you do this for a week and don’t allow yourself distractions (make sure your kids are in school) you can get an astonishing number of words out of your head and into your story.

This past weekend we did one better. We left everything–child, pets, chores, and, most importantly, any possibility of a wifi connection–and spent three days writing at a friend’s cottage on Gun Lake. We fed the fire. We made some simple meals. We did spend an hour or so at the casino one night (largely because we wanted ice cream and there’s a Cold Stone Creamery in there). We spent about ten minutes trying unsuccessfully to catch a bat that was flying around the living room one night (after it was clear that we wouldn’t catch him, we named him Briscoe and left him alone). Other than that, we were pretty much planted in two comfortable chairs a few feet from the fireplace with laptops open and fingers tapping away.

I started a short story Friday afternoon, finished it Saturday, had my husband read it and give feedback Saturday night, and had it ready to convert for Kindle on Sunday morning. During that time I also read most of the Gospel of Mark, and all of Luke and John. I also had plenty of time to stare mindlessly out the window at the frozen and snow covered lake. And here’s the thing: I didn’t miss anything.

When we returned to a place that had wifi and I checked my emails and looked at Facebook, I found that, though the world had gone on without me for a few days, it hadn’t gone very far. My retreat made a difference in the scheme of my writing life and my husband’s; we got some work done, we allowed ourselves some space to breathe and relax and be creative, we enjoyed each other’s company without needing to interrupt our thoughts to rationalize to our son our assertion that he had watched enough Ironman: Armored Adventures for one day. But our retreat didn’t stop the world from getting on with things (and things that, frankly, didn’t concern us in the least–like the Oscars).

If you have a day job and writing is a luxury, you need to take a weekend or a week here and there and take a writing vacation. Whether you stay at home (and can keep yourself from wasting time with keeping the place clean) or just get a hotel room in your own town or have a generous friend with a house on a lake and no Internet, you need to make the time. No one can take the time for you. No one cares about your writing in the way you can. And if you don’t make time for it, it won’t happen.

Now then, I have one more day I’ve taken off of work and it’s starting to get away from me. There are paint cans calling me down in the main floor bathroom and, since I’ve finished my story for next month, I think I will go answer their call.

As for you, get out your calendar, pick a day or two or ten, and write “Writing Vacation” there. Write it in pen.

A Symphony to Write By

This is the soundtrack to my upcoming story for March, This Elegant Ruin.

I’ll be writing the bulk of it this weekend as my husband and I get away to a friend’s cottage. I imagine we’ll be huddled by the fireplace and the wood stove, happily typing away with no child and no pets and no responsibilities. A nice little writing vacation, something I highly encourage you to take if you are searching for concentrated time to write.

The Hardest Month to Dream

Iced OverFebruary is a month during which we are tempted to dream of the future (probably because the present is so ugly and, frankly, we’re getting sick of it). Whether it’s limited to dreaming about the feel of the warm sun on bare arms and the smell of soil and grass and grilling meat, or if it’s that lake home you want to retire in, February gets us to dreaming. We imagine trips to far-off (warm) places. We think about the goals we have for our working life. We dream of a bigger house, a less stressful schedule, a few days to get caught up.

The cruel reality is that even while February causes us to dream it simultaneously works to crush our spirits, snatch those dreams away, and tell us they are impossible (or at least the timing isn’t quite right yet). The thermometer outside the kitchen window seems to mock our dreams of warmth. Our checkbook solemnly shakes its head when we look to it for some extra money for plane tickets. News of housing markets and job markets drags our dreams down until we realize we are where we are and we will go no further (for now).

February is a hard month in which to practice contentment. And yet, for many it is a time in which we are called to give up a little, to stop thinking so much about our outward selves (like what we have or don’t have, what we can do or can’t do) and focus on our inner selves (our besetting sins, our humble place in the order of things, our desperate need to be washed clean).

I already mentioned to you the 40 Bags in 40 Days thing that I and many others are doing during Lent. And I find as I go through things that I’ve saved (“because I might want to use that later for X, Y, or Z”) that I am an expert at packing away dreams for later. I keep a shelf or a table or a stool, even though I have no place for it in my house, because someday I might have a bigger house and more room and I’ll want it then. I keep books on crafts I will probably never do, as if no one will ever publish another book on the subject. I keep pots for plants I will never have in my house because they would just get eaten and regurgitated by my cat, but I keep them because they are pretty or were a gift.

I pack away all these tiny dreams. But sometimes, it’s best to just let those dreams float away. Sometimes dreams become burdensome. And I think that when they do, it’s a pretty sure sign that they are not the right dream for the time being.

Are there any “somedays” that are making you feel guilty for the procrastinating rather than joyful with anticipation? Any old dreams stuffed in your basement or attic that really ought to be set free? It’s never too early for physical or mental spring cleaning. Maybe it’s time to put on some grubby clothes and get to work clearing out those old dreams to make way for reality–and maybe for one worthy dream you’ll actually pursue.

Fenner Nature Center

I know that all of you in Michigan must be suffering from some level of either Seasonal Affective Disorder or Cabin Fever (or quite possibly both). One of the best remedies for both of these ailments is to get out of the house and get some exercise. And what better place to do that than out in nature?

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Fenner Nature Center is one of two prominent nature centers in the Lansing area (the other, Woldumar, will be highlighted at another time). I spend most of my nature-walk time at Fenner because it is quite close to my house and the shorter walks are good for my 4-year-old’s short legs.

Walking at Fenner

Fenner Nature Center is located at the southeast corner of Aurelius and Mt. Hope, opposite Mt. Hope Cemetery. Besides showcasing a variety of natural habitats (including open meadows, ponds, wetlands, deciduous forests, and coniferous forests) Fenner has classes for children and adults, a great interactive learning center, a library, a gift shop, guided walks of all kinds, and special seasonal festivals, like the Maple Syrup Festival in March and the Apple Butter Festival in October.

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When we go to Fenner we usually make it a point to climb on boulders.

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We also spend a good deal of time looking for frogs…

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turtles…

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turkeys…

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and deer.

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Dragonflies, bees, and butterflies abound, as do many types of songbirds.

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It is beautiful and walkable in all seasons…

Spring

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Summer

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Autumn

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Winter

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But I think autumn is probably my personal favorite.

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