Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | October 9, 2012

Africa — Getting Away from It All … and Getting Back

Chobe National Park, Botswana, Africa

Africa

Plains full of antelopes and elephants, lions and giraffes, hippos and hyenas, rhinos and leopards, dung beetles and drums beating…

a dream … come true.

Yes, I actually visited Africa for eighteen days in September. Eighteen days of flying, riding buses, bumping along in Land Rovers, sleeping in tents (with bathrooms), eating delicious food, learning about the countries and national parks, enjoying the scenery and, of course, the animals. Eighteen days with no internet and no TV. A true, get-away-from-it-all vacation.

Since I was a child, I’ve longed to go on a safari trip to Africa but never imagined I would actually do so. Such trips are expensive and I tend toward frugality. But when friends of ours asked if we’d be interested in joining a group on a safari trip to Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, I persuaded my husband that we couldn’t let the opportunity slip past us. If we didn’t seize this chance, we would never arrange such a trip on our own. So we dug into our savings and signed on.

Giraffe, Chobe National Park, Botswana

The trip surpassed expectations. The wildlife you see on a safari trip largely depends on luck. The animals follow no particular time schedule. When you drive along a trail, you may see nothing. That happened a few times, but for the most part, we had the good fortune to see more animals than most travelers get to see. I took over 2400 photos and videos (and am still sorting through and editing them). Words cannot express what this trip meant to me.

This trip, however, also meant taking a break in my writing at a time when I didn’t need or want a break. While every experience and every person you meet becomes a part of the fabric of your life, and thus, contributes to your store of inspiration and creativity, I did not want this hiatus in the midst of rewriting a novella into a novel. But the choice of time was not mine, so I went.

I did spend a couple hours writing each day — writing by hand about what we did and what we saw. The novel, however, sat in my laptop at home. For nearly three weeks I lived in a different reality, a different culture, a different mindset — and I relished the experience.

Slipping into this other, remarkable world was easy; returning has proved more difficult.

For nearly two weeks I struggled to get back into writing my novel. Too many things got in the way: exhaustion; catching up on mail, newspapers, laundry, and other household tasks; restocking the kitchen; making doctor’s visits; babysitting our sick granddaughter while her parents worked; attending the funerals of two friends, one younger, one older; dealing with all the paperwork, inspections, phone calls, and hassles involved in buying a new house …

Female elephant and youngster, Chobe National Park, Botswana

You get the picture. I felt overwhelmed. While writing is, at its core, about life, sometimes life gets in the way of writing, and there’s little you can do about it except exercise patience and keep slogging along. When I finally waded through most of the muck, however, I’d fallen into a funk and didn’t have the will or energy to sit down and write.

Is this a form of writer’s block? Maybe. Whatever term you call it, something needed to be done about it, and I knew the solution that would work for me. Our mentor, Jonathan Maberry, and many other writers have spoken about it — it’s the “glue-to-the-seat” solution. As long as I continued to do other tasks — and there are always other tasks! —  I would not get back to writing. I had to sit myself down at the computer, open the file, and start.

Last week I did just that. I sat down with a cup of coffee and opened the file. Since I hadn’t looked at the manuscript in weeks, I needed to get back into the psyche of my first-person narrator. That meant rereading the chapters I’d already revised before continuing the expansion of the story. To make more productive use of the time this would take, I dug out the comments from my critique group on those first chapters. I read and revised … and discovered. I really felt like I was looking at the manuscript through new eyes. Had the experience of the trip changed my perspective, or had the time away from the manuscript just given me a more objectivity? I don’t know. Maybe both. Whatever the reason(s), the manuscript will benefit.

Sleepy male lion, Chobe National Park, Botswana

As I got back into writing, I also got back into participating in the blog. Kerry, Nancy, Gwen, and Matt had done a fine job carrying on in my absence — three cheers for my blog buddies!

But the time had come for me to jump back in, so I read through the impressive array of blog posts they’d included in last week’s Top Picks Thursday. One in particular caught my attention: Chuck Wendig’s blog post, “25 Ways To Get Your Creative Groove Back As A Writer (Or, ‘How To Art Harder'” hit pretty close to my recent experiences. [Chuck Wendig, by the way, is a new member of the Philly Liars Club, which was co-founded by Jonathan Maberry, the instructor/mentor of the Advanced Writing Class of which we five Author Chronicles bloggers are members.] Although I hadn’t lost my creativity or writing groove, I’d had a new experience (#10) in the trip to Africa, “arted” harder in another direction (#20) with my photography, and quit fiction writing for a while (#24). Ironically, after doing these things he suggested, I had a hard time getting back into my writing groove.

But Chuck suggests a remedy for that too. It’s #25, the one that has already shown results for me, although I call it by the less colorful term: the “glue-to-the-seat” solution. I strongly recommend it. It works.

Have you ever found it hard to get back into your writing groove after a vacation? What worked for you?

Painted hunting dogs (formerly called African wild dogs), Okavanga Delta, Botswana

P.S. I’ve included only a few of my photos from Africa. When I finally get through the time-consuming task of editing, I’ll be posting the story of my trip on my personal blog.

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Responses

  1. Awesome photos! Yes, I had a July from h*ll, where many things got in the way of writing and it took me another month after that to get in gear. It happens. Sometimes the remedy is to force that butt into the chair. Other times, you may really need that break even if you’re truly hating it (like I was). Your intuitive self usually (but not always) knows the difference.

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    • Thanks, Catherine. It was hard picking out just a few photos.

      You’re right about intuition. Sometimes it’s hard to follow up on what your intuition tells you. I’m glad you got back into your writing groove!

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  2. thats great madam

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  3. […] 6. Africa: Getting Away from it All…and Getting Back […]

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  4. […] Africa: Getting Away from it All—and Getting Back […]

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