Monday, June 8, 2009

Working Vacation

As I write this blog post, I'm sitting in the passenger seat of a car speeding toward the Port of Miami. In just a few short hours, I will be boarding the Majesty of the Seas for a four night cruise to the Bahamas. Commence jealous muttering now. I'll worry over it while I'm having a pina colada on the pool deck on your behalf.

Vacationing is something everybody does, but I find my vacations to be different from "normal" people's vacations in that I actually work more on vacation than I do at home. I can't speak for other writers, but a tour of an exotic destination, a brief immersion in a new place, or even just a little change of scenery does wonders for my creativity.

It's more than just a chance to relax my mind and recharge my batteries. Whenever I go somewhere new, I instantly become more aware of my surroundings. I look at everything with, as Jimmy Buffet might say, "a novelist's eye".

I find myself looking out at the view or catching the scent of a new flower or tasting a new food and trying to describe it in my head the way I would in a novel. The ocean isn't just blue, it's liquid sapphire swirling around silver and diamonds.

I pick up the quirks of strangers I meet and assign them to my characters. The guy at the table next to me isn't just sitting there. His eyes dart around the dining room, completely unaware of the obnoxious gurgling sound the straw his empty cup is making.

I steal conversations I overhear, tweaking them into appropriate dialogue. Random bystanders don't gossip; they chatter like magpies about the extramarital affair they suspect a coworker is having, not even thinking about that fact that they're subjecting everyone within earshot to their lurid speculations.

If we strive to write what we know, and to inject reality -- rather than just a sense of realism -- into our fiction, then a vacation, abounding with opportunities to increase our body of knowledge, can be better sometimes than an intensive master class.

And, of course, there's still something to be said for recharging the batteries and relaxing the mind. Now about that pina colada. . .

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