Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | July 24, 2012

To Write, Or Not To Write … On Vacation

Summertime is vacation time. YIPPEE!


Tennessee mountains, 2008


What are your plans for vacation? A trip to the shore or the mountains? To a national park? To another country? Day trips to local attractions? A trip to visit relatives? Staying at home and vegging out?


Sunset, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, October 2008


At one time or another, I’ve taken all those types of vacations. Each has its charms. Now that my children are grown, many of my vacation forays are trips to see them. In fact, I just returned from one vacation — a visit to my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. The nine hours’ drive gave me a lot of time to ponder the concept of vacations.


Reidsville Lake, North Carolina, July 2012


While this is not a topic I usually think about much, during the last month I’ve had a number of conversations with writer friends, both face-to-face and online, about vacation plans. (Although you can take a vacation at any time of the year, most people seem to schedule at least one getaway during the summer.) Some of my writer friends cannot wait for the chance to write during vacation, while others plan to take a break from writing.

The dichotomy stuck in my mind. I had no intention of writing during the visit to my daughter’s family. We only see each other a few times a year, so the time spent doing things together is precious. When they visit us later this summer, we’ll be vacationing together at the shore with friends — and I’m not planning to write then either.

So why are a number of my writer friends looking forward to a vacation where they will spend their time writing? Isn’t the idea of a vacation to get away from what you usually do? Just what qualifies as a vacation?


Shenandoah Valley, Virginia — storm clouds over the mountains, July 2012


We tend to think of a vacation as a week or two — or longer, for some lucky people — away from home … or at home, but not doing the usual activities. The time frame in my personal definition is more liberal: a weekend or even a day away counts as a vacation for me.

Of course, since I’m a retired teacher and a writer, I had to consult the dictionary for an authoritative answer. The Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, defines the term as “1) freedom from any activity: rest; respite; intermission; and 2) a period of rest and freedom from work, study, etc.; time of recreation, usually a specific interval in a year.”

Neither definition sets any particular time length for a vacation. The first definition is so broad that an evening sitting at home doing nothing would qualify. The second definition is the more appropriate one for this context, and the words “freedom from work, study, etc.” jump out at me. That definitely implies that, to experience a real vacation, writers should take a break from writing.


Vernal pool near the Delaware River, March 2011


Although the definition vindicates my plan to do no writing on my vacations, can all those writers who look forward to writing on vacation be wrong? If they feel like it’s a vacation, isn’t it a vacation?

That got me thinking back (I admit that I sometimes think too much!) to the vacations I’ve taken in recent years — and my face reddened. I myself have looked forward to writing during one particular yearly vacation. Two science fiction conventions that are a little over an hour’s drive from my daughter’s house are scheduled one week apart in late winter. I attend one, spend the week with my daughter’s family, and then attend the other. And I really look forward to writing during that week, when my daughter and son-in-law are working and their children are in daycare.


Sunset on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, August 2011


In some ways, writing at my daughter’s house is harder because I don’t have all the resources I have at home. So why do I eagerly anticipate that week of writing? After all, I’m retired. I don’t have the harrowing struggle of trying to eke out daily writing time while juggling work and family life. While I’m involved in a number of activities that take up a lot of my time, I still have hours to dedicate to writing almost every day. What is there about writing at my daughter’s house that’s different?

After even more thinking (*sigh*), I’ve concluded that it all boils down to freedom from responsibility. In my own home, I’m responsible for cooking, laundry, dishes, food shopping and other shopping, dealing with the mail and newspapers, recycling, cleaning, taking care of pets and husband and the one son still living with us, and more. My husband or son might help me out by doing the dishes or the shopping, but I’m the one ultimately responsible.

When I’m home and writing, all these responsibilities continuously hover over my head like silent, admonishing angels. Whatever I do, I can’t escape them. At my daughter’s house, however, I have no responsibilities to nag at me. I might choose to cook dinner or do some shopping for her and my son-in-law, but that’s a choice, NOT a responsibility. At their house, the responsibility is theirs.

And what a difference that makes!


Atlantic Ocean from Long Beach Island, New Jersey, August 2011


So, while taking an occasional break from writing is important, I can understand why writers want to write during vacation time. I think this is especially true of writers who must work at other jobs and/or have young families. Writing is, after all, something we all do because we enjoy it, so why not enjoy it on vacation?

What kind of vacation have you planned this summer? Do you intend to spend time writing or will you take a break from writing?


Sunrise at the Jersey shore, August 2011


Whatever your plans, ENJOY!



  1. Vacations are the best! Looks and sounds like you’ve had some goodies. I had a blast in NYC recently and am eager for a stay-cation when my mom visits in August.


    • Sounds like you’ve had some good ones too. Some of my vacations are so filled with activities that I get more true relaxation during a stay-cation. Enjoy yours!


  2. I tend to like vacations where I’m working at least part of the time. I taught on a Greek island for two weeks in June, where I had three days off a week. I also love the writing retreat I go to for a week at the Cape. On the other hand, sometimes total downtime is the answer!


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