As you know, I’ve been traveling a lot lately. One of the biggest challenges when I travel (lost passports aside) is how to keep up with my writing. It’s not just that the logistics are difficult – where to write and when – it’s that I’m on vacation. I want to have a little down time, to focus on my kiddos and my husband without my story always banging at the back of brain. At the same time, I don’t want my writing skills to atrophy while I’m chilling with the fam.
To keep my author brain in shape, I devised a little writing exercise I can do every day without having to engage in a story.
Before I left home, I took a color sample wheel, the kind that fans out into a rainbow, and 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?