What I Did on My
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.
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
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:
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
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
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
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?