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.)