My family and I just got back from a pretty epic vacation. We started in Lyon, France where we caught the final games of the Women’s World Cup, then traveled down to Italy for a week.
My kids are in this sweet spot where they’re old enough to entertain themselves for periods of time, but still young enough to want to hang out with their parents. It’s awesome. And so I’m really reluctant to eff it up by brining the lap top along on vacation.
At the same time, I don’t want my writing skills to atrophy while I’m chilling with the fam.
So a couple of years ago, I devised a little writing exercise I can do in my journal over my morning coffee. It’s just enough writing to keep my mind limber, but it’s writing with no purpose, so I don’t get sucked into working on my novel and missing all the fun. Here’s how it works:
Before I left home, I took a color sample wheel, the kind you can find at paint shops, that fan out into a rainbow, and I cut it into pieces so that each color is its own little rectangle of color. I put a handful of those colored rectangles into an envelope and tucked the envelope into the front cover of my journal. Then, whenever I have a few minutes (usually over coffee), I close my eyes, pluck a color from the envelope, and use it as a writing prompt.
But here’s the key – the writing is not intended to be a story. That would defeat the whole purpose of taking a vacation from storytelling. The goal here is simply to practice writing.
What to Write
I start by describing the color: it’s a pale green. Then I dig a little deeper, describing it in as many ways as I can while avoiding cliché:
It is the green of a ceramic bowl made by a long haired woman in 1972. It’s a guacamole made with sour cream, muting the color as well as the taste. It’s the dry grass skirt of a hula dancer at a hotel luau.
I do this for a little while, and then I chose a favorite and elaborate, letting go of my adherence to description and letting the prose go where they will:
My mother made that ceramic bowl before I was born, throwing raw clay onto a spinning potter’s wheel and coaxing the shape with a rote caress. She slathered the piece, and eleven just like it, in a glaze that, in the heat of the kiln, would turn the color dry grass, a color chosen to contrast the pumpkin and sunflower décor of her new kitchen.
It’s imperfect, but you get the idea. If I have time, I will write it over again, trying to replace dull verbs, and add in at least one more sensory detail:
The bowl was forty years old, coaxed by my mother from a spinning potters wheel and slathered in a noxious-smelling glaze that, in the heat of the kiln, turned the color of dry grass, a hue chosen to contrast the pumpkin and sunflower décor of her new kitchen.
I go one like this, rewriting and tweaking the prose until I’ve filled a page in my journal or I run out of time, whichever comes first.
It takes focus to do this, and by doing it every day, I feel like I’m able to keep my skills sharp so that when I return to my writing I can bring my A-game.
Do you have any little tricks you use to keep your writing skills sharp when you’re on vacation?