A Writer is Never on Vacation
I recently returned from twelve days in Colorado—what most people would call a vacation. And it was a vacation except for the fact that I haven’t figured out how to turn off my writer brain. Life provides fodder for fiction, and the people writers encounter often evolve into characters. It just so happens that traveling presents a perfect opportunity to people watch. What else are you going to do when you’re stuck in security at the airport, standing in line for a rental car, or catching the free breakfast at your hotel?
My writer brain initially kicks in at the airport. I’m waiting to board my flight when an olive-skinned teen with a shock of bright red hair steps in front of me. This guy’s not a strawberry blond or carrot top, in fact most of his hair is black except for a Ronald McDonald-red, spiked portion on the top of his head. I can’t decide if this hairstyle is more reminiscent of a sixties-era troll doll or Woody Woodpecker. I’m so fascinated that I want to touch it. And I’m not embarrassed to look because anyone who’s willing to flaunt such a flamboyant color wants people to look. But mostly, I want to know what motivated him to make this choice. What’s his story? How will his life unfold? Like I said, I’m a writer.
Years ago, I was assigned to write a travel memoir for a writing class at the University of Colorado in Denver. Most of my article focused on fellow travelers. What’s up with the guy in the red glasses, madras plaid shirt, and sandals? Is he heading out for a beach weekend with his college buddies, or maybe his girlfriend kicked him out of the apartment and he’s moving back in with the parents? What about the girl in the army green cargo pants, white T-shirt, and pink bandana? Is she hiking the Pacific Coast Trail? Camping at Yellowstone? Joining the Peace Corps?
Not all my vacation time is spent contemplating people. I’m also captivated by animals, architecture, landscapes, transportation systems, weather—essentially all things. While visiting an awe-inspiring waterfall in Steamboat Springs, I marvel at the relentless pounding of the water as it plunges hundreds of feet, grinding away at the huge boulders. And then my writer brain takes off. Suppose someone could capture the power of that waterfall? It could provide power for thousands of people. What if energy sources are scarce a hundred years from now, prompting a tyrannical government to reconfigure prominent waterfalls and harness them for hydroelectric power? And the seeds of a speculative fiction novel are sown. Good thing I can write while on vacation.
“Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.” Lawrence Kasdan