How to handle writing while travelling or on holiday

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When you take a vacation should you also take time off from writing? Here’s a quick guide to handling holiday writing…

Even if I didn’t have a calendar and was oblivious to the days getting longer and the temperatures becoming warmer, I would still know vacation time is approaching. How? As a result of the number one question I am asked in June: “How should I handle my writing while I’m travelling or out of town?”

Here’s how to approach this tricky question:

1-Ask yourself whether it’s more important for you to write or to take time off. This is a harder decision than it sounds. There are benefits to both options. To wit:

Writing:

  • You will maintain your habit
  • You will get more done — important if you have a deadline

Taking time off:

  • You will refresh yourself in ways that will likely make you more productive for several weeks or months
  • Distance from your writing may allow you to re-imagine your writing project

Understand that your answer should depend entirely on your circumstances. Also, be aware that many people in North America work way too hard and don’t take nearly enough breaks. If that describes you, err on the side of taking time off if you can possibly manage it. (Check out my post about why you shouldn’t feel guilty for taking a vacation.)

2-If you decide to write, however, draw some firm boundaries around yourself:

  • Commit only a limited amount of time to writing. I suggest no more than 30 minutes a day.
  • Figure out in advance the time of day when you are going to do this writing. To minimize guilt and to maximize the pleasure of your holiday, I suggest you write shortly after waking up — whatever time that is. (There should be no need to get up early on vacations, unless you have planes or trains to catch.)
  • Speak with your family, or travel companions, and let them know you will be working — for no more than 30 minutes — during this time. The benefit of ‘enrolling’ them in your writing plan is that it will act as an external commitment to you (making you more likely to do the work). Also, it should help turn them into a support team rather than people who want to sabotage your plans. When I was recently on holiday with my husband, he took a bike ride most mornings when I did my 30 minutes. We were both happy!
  • Resolve to feel no guilt, whether you do the work or not. Vacations can be unpredictable and this no-guilt rule is your escape hatch. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of it.
  • Plan a reward for yourself should you manage to achieve your goal. This reward could be something you enjoy on your holiday — perhaps a dinner out or a visit to a particularly interesting museum — or something when you return home — maybe an expensive book or a piece of clothing you want. Don’t skimp on rewards! They are important and valuable motivators.

3-If you plan to take some time off from writing, don’t expect to resume your old productivity immediately on your return. Writing is like exercise. If you regularly run 10-kms and then take a break for two weeks, you wouldn’t expect to resume 10-kms right away, would you? Fourteen days of inactivity will cause your muscles to atrophy. That’s not a crisis. It’s just something that calls for a recovery plan. Similarly, for writing, if you’ve had the habit of writing 350 words in 30 minutes before your break, be aware that you will not be able to resume that rate the moment return to work. In fact, it will likely take several weeks (perhaps longer!) to reacclimatize yourself to the rigours of writing. This type of decline doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, or a slow learner or inept. Nor does it mean you’ve made a mistake by taking time off. It’s just an entirely normal period of adjustment that you should plan for and expect.

I’m sorry I can’t give you a yes or no answer as to whether you should write on your holiday. There are pros and cons to each side. Trust yourself to figure out the answer that will work best for you. Then, execute your decision with a calm confidence that will assure everyone — including yourself — that you’ve headed down the right path.

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I’m now accepting applications for the next term of my Get It Done program, aimed at book and thesis writers, starting July 1. There are only two spots left. If you’re interested, apply now.

Do you choose to write or to take a full-on break when you’re on holiday? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. And congratulations to Lori Bogdanis, the winner of this month’s book prize, 59 Seconds by Richard Wisemanfor a May 23/18 comment on my blog. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by June 30/18 will be put in a draw for a copy of Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.

Posted June 5th, 2018 in Power Writing

  • Lisa Rumpel

    This post came at a good time. I am vacationing on an Island this coming weekend and want to be able to write. The 30 minute suggestion is great. I am trying to start a habit.

    • Glad it was timely for you, Lisa. Be aware that even 15 minutes may be enough to allow you to maintain the habit.

  • Emily Agnew

    HI Daphne, thanks for this very pertinent article. I enjoy writing my e-zine and am also motivated to do it because I know my subscribers value it. As a result I have for many weeks now ignored my increasingly urgent need for a break—a sustained break of a couple weeks at least. But as soon as I read what you wrote, I felt such relief, knowing that the answer in my case is “take time off!” I can re-publish an old article. Thank you.

    • Ah yes, Emily. Republishing old articles is a really good idea. Check your Google Analytics to see which ones have been the most popular for you and pick one of those. Your readers will appreciate it (and you will get a break!)

      • Emily Agnew

        OK. Thank you Daphne!

  • Fred

    This post is very timely for me as well, as I have some very heavy work days ahead, as well as some vacation time coming up. In addition to the general write five days a week and break for two day, what has been working for me is a situational approach. On heavy Work Days, filled with meetings from early until late, or on Travel Days, where I’ll be on planes, trains, and automobiles for most of the day, I declare a Break.

    At these times there is no mental space for me to do quality work. And trying to find chronological space is an exercise in frustration.

    On many, though not all, Vacation Days, I find I really enjoy my day more if I start with some writing time. This way I enjoy the writing, enjoy my vacation, and enjoy the sense of accomplishment. For me, as Daphne says, the key is planning ahead and knowing which kind of day I’m going to have. Either I set aside the writing time and do it, or I purposefully and planfully do not write at all. As a great Jedi Master said, “Do or do not. There is no try.

    • LOVE that expression, “Do or not. There is no try!” So apt. I see many academics, in particular, who spend way too much time “trying” and not nearly enough time “doing.” It’s far better to take some real breaks and gather your energy for small, regular efforts later. Thanks for sharing these helpful thoughts, Fred!

  • Yefry Rosenda

    Daphne, thank you so much for your hard work!

  • William Stoner

    Daphne, Thanks for giving us the option of taking a break from work while we are on vacation! I plan on catching crayfish while bottom swimming, but ideas do surface unexpectedly. I always bring a small notebook and pencil while on vacation. Jotting down
    a cryptic note frees the mind until the work schedule resumes.

    • Jotting down ideas is a great idea. I always have my phone with me so that’s where I note them. I tried little notebooks to begin with, but I was always losing them or forgetting to transcribe the notes. Having the notes in one place makes a huge difference to me.

  • Nancy

    Hi Daphne,

    William Stoner does exactly what I do on vacation. I’ve always got a little notebook tucked away for those memory-jogging notes. If I’m really on a roll, I’ll write a bit more, but as you noted, for only 20 or 30 minutes, no matter how much it tugs. Furthermore, if I’m in the middle of a big, messy project (like right now), I do try to postpone vacation so it’s not grabbing my mind and emotions.

    • Good idea to keep your time limited to 30 minutes, esp. while on vacation. You shouldn’t ever feel as though you have to work all the time and never get a break! The best possible situation is to have lots of “pent-up demand” — the feeling that you WANT to write and that it’s a great opportunity, not a burdensome obligation.

  • Charissa

    Resolve no guilt! That’s important. Daphne, thanks for your insight and words of wisdom.

    • Guilt is an incredibly useless emotion. If you feel it, you need to make only one resolution: Figure out how to eliminate it from your life!