Road trip! Or: How I Wrote Nothing for a Month and It Improved My Writing

Camper at sunrise overlooking Puget Sound
Camper at sunrise overlooking Puget Sound

The old blog has been a bit quieter than usual. That’s because I was gone almost the whole month of September on a road trip.

6000 miles.

With a dog, two kids, two adults, and one not-so-large camper.

We passed through numerous national parks, stopped in mega metroplises to visit friends and eat pastries, and even made it all the way out to the Northwest most point of the continental US. (From central Illinois. It was a HAUL.)

Glacier National park mountains and valley
I could stare at Glacier National Park all day.

 

Since I mostly talk about my writing here, let me tell you about the writing I did on this trip.

None.

Zero. Zilch. Nada. Not one word.

But it ended up being wonderful for my writing.

Before the trip, I had been revising several picture books as part of my mentorship. I was also working on a new middle grade novel. And I felt stuck on all of them.

When I say “stuck,” I don’t mean that I was waiting for the light of inspiration to fall on me complete with celestial choir. Because that doesn’t exist.

Instead, I take the approach that Maya Angelou does:

“When I’m writing, I write. Then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and say ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'” – Maya Angelou

Doing the work of writing brings inspiration, not the other way around. And nearly always, the answer to my writing problem is to sit down and do the work.

Occasionally there are other factors at play, too.

But sometimes even when I do the work, even when I’m appropriately caffeinated, things just don’t… work. Bad writing days are par for the course, but when I’m doing my best to emulate Maya Angelou and all I can muster up is Charles Darwin on a bad day? That’s not good.

“I am very poorly today and very stupid and hate everybody and everything. One lives only to make blunders. ” – Charles Darwin on a very bad, no good, horrible day

And this is where I was before our road trip. I was doing the work but not getting much of anywhere.

Ironically, this happened partly because I have been growing a lot as a writer. My own efforts and the mentorship I’ve been working on this summer have meant growing and stretching. I’m more aware than ever of the flaws in my writing, but I haven’t quite improved my skills enough to fix those problems.

I feel like this is may be a universal truth: the better you get at writing, the harder it is. Or maybe it’s just me.

So I found myself with a pile of manuscripts that were both some of the best things I had ever written and also with the realization that they were not quite good enough. But I didn’t know how to fix them. Which had me feeling very poorly and stupid indeed.

And then I took a break. A looooooong break.

I intended to write along the way. I love writing and usually can’t stay away for long, even on vacation. But it was a very packed trip (see previous regarding 6000k miles in under a month with CHILDREN). And also, my writing self was still feeling poorly and stupid. So instead I giggled like a maniac at my landlocked children experiencing the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

(In the interest of fairness, they had been dodging the surf for a few minutes before this much large wave rolled in.

When I got back, I was nervous. A month is a long time away and things hadn’t exactly been going great. But I channeled Maya Angelou and sat down to work.

And… it worked!

I unblocked a picture book revision, added a few thousand words to my middle grade work in progress, and finished a blog post that has been on my list for awhile.

Bullet Journaling for writers: Part 4. Writing a novel

A month of relaxing, putting it out of my head, listening to good books and podcasts, seeing and doing enough things to make my introverted self tired for the next year – it helped. A lot.

I routinely do walk away from manuscripts to get some distance. A little distance often helps you find solutions. And I had tried that. But I don’t usually stop writing – I just switch to a different writing project. That works well when ONE manuscript is misbehaving, but not for ALL of them. For that I needed a total break.

Which brings me to a second possible universal truth about writing: Sometimes you have to step away from the page and live for a while before you are ready to write. Hopefully, it doesn’t always involve as much driving.

 

So, when you need a break what do you do?

 

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