Monday, March 21, 2011

This week is spring break for me, and even though I'm enjoying some down-time at home, I think this would be a great time to talk about making vacations work for you as a writer.

I know, I know..."vacations" and "work" don't even belong in the same sentence, right?

You'd be surprised!

When I was in high school, I did the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, which gave me a year's worth of college credit at Corban University (so I'll be graduating a year early!). In order to complete the program, I had to write an "Extended Essay," which was a research paper on a topic of my choice.

I ended up choosing to write about an old mining town in Nevada, killing two birds with one stone, so to speak--because that town is one of the main settings of my first manuscript! So when we went to Nevada the summer before my senior year for some vacation time, I got to do some great research. And guess what? My family and I loved spending time there so much that we just had to return the past two summers!

While I enjoyed visiting the museums and doing "real" research, just being there--experiencing the town for myself, talking to the people who live there, and exploring the setting--helped me so much with my work-in-progress. In other words, just being a good tourist has had wonderful benefits! It's so much easier to write about a place you've been to, and the townspeople who have lived there for years often know a lot of great facts and stories.

Even if your vacations take you to places you're not currently writing about, not only can you learn a lot about life in general by visiting new places, but you never know if someday you'll eventually want to write about your vacation destinations!

For example, when I was 15-years-old I was blessed with an amazing opportunity to go to Israel for two weeks. Now, I haven't attempted to write a story set in Israel, but maybe someday... ;) But even if I never write about it, learning about Israel's history and seeing the country for myself broadened my perspectives and made the history and settings of the Bible much more vivid and personal for me.

And even small field trips/class trips can be so rewarding!

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the McLoughlin House (in Oregon City, Oregon) and Fort Vancouver for my Literature of the American West class. At Fort Vancouver there were people acting out various roles, including women in the kitchen, blacksmiths, and a carpenter. They had so much knowledge of the history of the Fort to share with us, and I loved being able to "step back in time" and experience the candlelit kitchen, the sounds, the smells, and the whole atmosphere of the early/mid 19th century. Just standing in that kitchen with the warmth of the fire, the dim lighting, and the pleasant smells of freshly cooked food made me think I might want to file the experience away as a possible story setting!

So yes, vacations are fun and can be very relaxing, but there's no harm in making them work for you! ;) Soak up the sights, sounds, and smells, and don't forget to carry a little notebook in your purse for those unexpected moments of inspiration and those delightful opportunities to get setting/history details that will make your stories real and engaging!

Are you going on a vacation soon that might lend itself to research for a current and/or future manuscript? Have any good vacation-research stories to share?

(These pictures are from the trips I mentioned--a stage coach ride in Nevada, a 1st century experience in Nazareth Village in Israel, and the sign at Fort Vancouver. I'm the middle person in the top two pictures, and the only one in the bottom picture.)


  1. This is great advice, Amber. I discovered Calico, California while on vacation with my family. Never dreamed I'd set a story there, yet three years later, LOVE FINDS YOU IN CALICO, CALIFORNIA was born.

    And here's one more tip...if you plan your vacation around your research, all of your expenses can be counted as a tax write-off! You don't have to be published to start turning in your writing expenses. It's called pursuit of profit, and you can claim exemptions for up to seven years (be sure to check with your tax consultant) before you ever sell a book. Also keep in mind, the purpose of the trip must be research, but there's nothing to say you can't enjoy yourself while you're there! :-)

  2. Lisa,

    I really hope I get to visit Calico someday... I LOVE old mining towns! (My first manuscript is mainly set in one, too, just in Nevada.) :)

    And yes, thank you so much for adding that about the tax write-off! One of my professors told me about that, and I'll definitely have to keep that in mind for the future. :)


  3. Great post, Amber. Two years ago I went with my son and granddaughter to Ocracoke Island, a small barrier island twenty-five miles off the coast of North Carolina. It takes two and half hours by ferry to get there. We were motivated to go to the island because I had heard about it from my daughter's former college roommate who teaches school there, and I thought it might be a great setting for a book. The moment we drove off the ferry, I knew I'd been right.

    The first in a three book series set on the island releases in July from Love Inspired Suspense. The first is titled Dangerous Reunion. The second one, Shattered Identity, releases next February, and the third which is tentative titled Decoy for Disaster will release sometime after that.

    We had a great week on the island whose beaches have been voted the most beautiful in the nation, and like Lisa said, I got to take it off my income tax as a business expense. What more could a writer want?

    Sandra Robbins

  4. I absolutely do this! It's how I discovered a little island off the coast and got the idea for a three book series. The editor likes the idea and so we're going to use it! Yippee!!

  5. Wow you're just a world traveler aren't you Amber? That's so awesome!

    I have to admit that I don't travel much but I can't really relate to doing research while on "vacation." I did both my senior project in high school and my senior thesis in college on musclecars so even though I didn't technically go on vacation I know how it is to research and have fun at the same time! ;-)

    Great post Amber!

    XOXO~ Renee

  6. Sandra R.,

    What more could a writer want, indeed? :D That's awesome! Sounds like you had a lovely time, and I'm sure those will be some great stories inspired by that experience. :)


  7. Sandra M.,

    Yay! Congratulations! Wow, the BB authors are sure enjoying these island settings. ;) Maybe I'll have to get in on the act, too!


  8. Renee,

    Hahaha, maybe not quite "world traveler" (except for Israel and Canada), but I've had some wonderful vacations, for sure! ;)

    That's great that you were able to combine research and fun, as well! Definitely makes those papers easier. ;)

    Thank you for stopping by, and I'm glad you enjoyed the post!



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