Many of my writer friends are, like me, working parents: juggling literary careers and the intense, non-stop logistical operation that is running a family. We’re good at keeping dozens of balls in the air – but the first one dropped is usually time for ourselves.
That’s a mistake. Taking a moment just for yourself – doing what you love, what makes your blood rush, what makes you grin like an idiot – is key to everyone’s sanity. I think this is especially true for folks in creative jobs. It may be a key to inspiration.
I’d been searching for that inspiration for the last two months. I finished my third novel (“Speak of the Devil”) around Thanksgiving, and had been brainstorming my next book’s concept ever since. But I was exhausted from rushing to meet my deadline and getting ready for the holidays. In two months, I’d outlined several decent ideas, but none were inspired; none had that Big Book feel.
So I planned a vacation.
Back in the day, my husband and I were adventure travelers: trekking to remote outposts, drinking snake-blood martinis, scuba diving among sunken army tanks. But now I have two little sons. This time, I bowed to parenthood and booked a Jamaican resort featuring roving Sesame Street characters.
Before we left, I searched for my PADI open-water-diver card and took my inability to find it as a sign. My scuba days were over. It’s hard enough to find time to shower, much less strap on an airtank and descend to the ocean floor.
But a funny thing happened in Jamaica. We visited a bar perched on high cliffs with a steep drop to the ocean. My family sipped fruity drinks and watched professional divers and few tourists leap from the cliffs. My husband, Mike, hasn’t found an adrenaline sport he doesn’t like, and took the plunge. Just watching him made me dizzy – but he made it back to shore with style.
After Mike dried off, my three-year-old boy asked me, “If you tried to jump, Mommy, they wouldn’t let you, right?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“They only let boys jump.”
I realized all the jumping tourists were men. That did it.
Assuring my kids that girls can do anything boys can, I stripped down to my bikini, went to the cliff edge, looked down, and blinked back my vertigo. Then I waved to my kids, took a deep breath, and jumped. The fall seemed to take a long time. The water was cold and hit my left side like a full-body spanking. But the rush of adrenaline was a fabulous step back in time, to the days when I did things just for the sheer fun of it. And the smile on my kids’ faces as they saw a “girl” (their mom!) emerge from the water was the best part.
That night, I did a little research. The diving shop could confirm my scuba creds online, even though I couldn’t find my card.
The next morning, I left my sons at the resort’s kids camp, feeling the usual mommy guilt at the drop-off.
But then Mike and I dove for the first time in six years. Under water is a magical world. Below are rainbow-colored fish; above, the sun shimmers on a surface that stretches as far as the eye can see. You can blow air bubbles in the water the way smokers blow smoke rings. There were moray eels, nurse sharks, and a stingray bigger than my car.
I climbed back onto the boat grinning like an idiot, walking like a duck in my fins, and feeling revived and awakened. My kids, meanwhile, had a fabulous time with Elmo and Cookie Monster. The mommy guilt receded a few notches. I went diving again the next day.
And what do you know? Two days later, reclining in a beach chair, I had my Big Idea. It was one of those epiphany moments – I literally bolted upright and gasped.
Fellow writers, you know what I mean. I can’t wait to get started.
I’m sure the idea came because I took a vacation, took the plunge (a few of them!), and just had some fun. Sometimes the mind needs to wander away from the usual, giving those ideas room to expand before rising to the surface.
Of course, your idea of a vacation may be different than mine. Maybe you like to ski, or cook, or canoe. Whatever you love – do it. Sometimes, a “vacation” can be as easy as taking an afternoon off and going for a hike or to a movie. It’s these moments of fun – with the computer turned off – that allow our minds to relax and our creative reservoirs to refill. Big Ideas are so much more likely to come when we’re not answering emails, choosing gifts for our kids’ teachers, or figuring out what the next dinner will be.
Finding the time can be hard, for working moms and anyone living in our whirlwind world. If you have to, schedule the time to be unscheduled. Ultimately, such “unproductive” time may be the most productive of all.
So take that vacation – and feel good about it!