Vision: A Resource for Writers

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What I Did on My Summer Vacation…

By Susan Petroulas
Copyright © 2009 by Susan Petroulas, All Rights Reserved


Everybody needs a break, right?  That's why we take vacations.  Right?

So why is it that whenever I travel for business, weddings, family reunions or just plain getting lost, I tend to wake up my muse?  And my muse, she doesn't believe in giving out breaks.

Not that I'm complaining.  Much.

I mean, it's good to know that I can wake her up when I need to.  Just go on vacation.  Ahh, but it's never that simple.  And wouldn't it be nice to be able to wake her up when I need her.

Of course, when I travel, I usually enjoy myself.   Then I'll have the quality of light in a new place, new tastes, new textures and sounds – they all need to be described.  There are worse things. 

For instance, the following passage came from one of the best dinners I've ever had - in Philadelphia's China Town:

I had never tasted such food.  Not as a fisherman, not as a slave, nor a member of Vidar's army.  Exotic sauces covered both the meat and vegetables, spicy and hot.  I knew something of cooking, but couldn't identify some of the flavors.  Some of them soothed, some burned the edges of my tongue.  I ate until I could barely look at the piles of food still there and yet wanted more.

Some of my travels are writing-related, so it's not surprising that I'm inspired by those.  If I go to a con, I'm likely to attend workshops, talk writing with friends, etc.  I stay up late, trying to capture what we were talking about.  Of course, if I go to a workshop, I can't stop writing, not until long after the trip.

But what is it about a vacation that jump-starts the muse? Yes, a change of venue gives you more to write about, but I think it's something more.

Going away puts distance between us and our daily struggle.  We don't plan what to have for dinner for the next week, worry about the meeting tomorrow morning, or try to figure out when we're going to find time to clean the bathroom.  Vacation gives us breathing space.

And, because we're writers, stories fill the spaces.

The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron, starts off with what she calls "Morning Pages": three hand-written pages of stream-of-consciousness narration.  The purpose is to get the daily struggle out of the way and make that space for creativity to fill.  Vacations do the same thing.

But vacation time is limited.  If we know what it is about vacations that help jump start the muse, we might be able to give her a nudge when we need one.  Here are some ideas I've tried, with some success:

Cooking

I love to cook, so trying new foods in my own kitchen is a little like traveling to another place.  A friend gave me a recipe for chick peas from her native Guyana and when I make it, I'll pay attention to the flavors and smells as I cook it.  That sort of description exercise led to this:

She lowered the round little pot directly on the coals, settling it into the brightest part of the fire.  A little grease she'd saved from the roast quail the night before was drizzled into the pot.  And then she pulled out her spices.

She took small handfuls from one bag, then another, tossing them into the sizzling pot and stirring them with the wooden spoon she kept with her kit.

Smoke billowed around her, surrounding her with the smell of roasting spices.  Familiar smells from her aunt's kitchen calmed her as she stirred.  It wouldn't do to let them burn.

Photos

I take a million photos on vacation.  So even if you can't afford to travel far, pull out old photos and use them as picture prompts.  Hopefully the pictures will bring back fond memories and feelings that will fit into your story.

One story idea came from a picture of my grandfather and his five brothers – tallest to smallest.  It's an old picture, black and white, with creases and some fading on the corner.  You could ask your mother, grandmother or Uncle Harry for family stories.

Foreign Sounds

One of the best triggers for me is the sound of another place.  If I can't get to Egypt, I can get a CD of World Music from the library and play it while I'm writing, cleaning that filthy bathroom or doing my exercises.  The sounds wake up my imagination.

Visit a Museum

Okay, I work in a museum.  I'll admit that I'm biased.  But we've got one of the largest collections of Tibetan art in the world and a walk through the Asian Art galleries is calming and a short visit to another place.  The Guardians of the Temple in one of my stories came from two Korean statues that once stood outside a Buddhist temple.

A visit to a Botanical Garden or a zoo can have the same effect.  And a vacation doesn't have to involve flying for 14 hours to create space for the muse.  A hike or a really good movie can do almost as much good.

Just be careful.  Around every new corner there are plot bunnies lurking under the bushes.  I'm getting ready to visit Australia for the first time.  I expect the plot bunnies, but I'm a little nervous that I'll meet up with a plot Kangaroo.  They jump too, don't they?