What I Wrote On My Summer Vacation
By Nora Zelevansky
I wrote my first novel, Semi-Charmed Life, based on a dream.
Before I experienced that phenomenon myself, I didn’t trust authors who said that their unconscious simply conjured a premise. I mean, that seems suspiciously lucky and also romantic—doesn’t it?
My unconscious knew better: One morning, I woke up under a plush white comforter with vivid memories of a party in saturated colors dancing in my head. At this fête, hosted by an untouchable socialite named Veruca Pfeffernusse and DJed by the late Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead, the rules of time and space did not apply.
The concept was so quirky that even I was surprised that it originated in my brain, but I wrote it down and, when I thought to look at it many months later, it wasn’t as terrible as most of my late night jottings. So, when I first attempted National Novel Writing Month that November, I started with that idea.
In that instance, I attribute my mind’s ability to wander so far from my norm to the fact that I was traveling at the time. My husband Andrew and I had been on a vacation within a vacation in the British Virgin Islands, having hopped from Virgin Gorda (where we were staying with his family) to nearby Peter Island for a few nights.
There’s no question that travel—unfamiliar sights, tastes and sounds, a pushing of comfort zones—sparks creativity. Relaxation may help too. I think that’s an accepted concept. These days, I have a toddler and, anecdotally, people believe that every time you take your kid away, they come back in a new developmental stage. It makes sense: As we are exposed to new things, our minds expand and our (internal and external) worlds grow. We’re awakened to different possibilities.
That Virgin Island jaunt and my past as a travel writer notwithstanding, for me—and most people I know—most vacationing happens in summer. The reality of the warm weather months is that, even if we’re home, our schedules are different: Our kids are at camp not school, we have summer Fridays, we sit outdoors late into evenings, the days stretch with the sunlight. And there’s something about the evocative nature of that season—from the smell of suntan lotion to the taste of swirled soft serve ice cream—that makes us nostalgic and tuned into our heightened senses. What could be a more creative state?
That said, vacations are not always the best times for writing. After all, there’s less structure, and writing without structure is, generally, a non-event. Plus, our minds can feel foggy from stimulation and heat. I know personally that once I get myself to settle down inside with air-conditioning and (in my most ideal state) watermelon juice, I am so happy to be using my brain. The productivity feels good and natural and creates a sense of clarity. But it can be hard to want to pull oneself away from the sun and friends to sit down at a desk and type. Too often, self-imposed writing retreats at country homes turn into pool days or boozy evenings with pals.
The good news is, as evidenced by my party dream, even when you’re not physically writing, you may be doing the work. As you have new experiences, read stories and books by others and soak in your surroundings, you’re inadvertently researching and collecting fodder for later stories—fact or fiction. That’s why I never leave home without a notebook. Or at least I’ll email myself random snippets of ideas. (I have texted them to myself before and then realized that they were gone when I dropped my phone in the sink, so don’t make the same mistake!) And please don’t dismiss any ideas that pop into your head as summer fancies. Note them all down.
I started writing my new novel, Will You Won’t You Want Me?, just as the summer ended too. The idea—about a 28-year-old woman who peaked in high school and can’t evolve past that point—was percolating in my head for a while before I actually put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I thought about it in the shower, while doing my hair, walking down the street for errands and, yes, while lying on a beach in South Carolina. (Maybe that’s why the story actually takes place from June through September in New York City.)
So, think of summer as a time to kickstart and recharge your creativity: Give your brain a break from the structure, if it feels right, and let your mind wander where it may. When fall begins, you may be pleasantly surprised where you land and how ready you feel to begin.
About the Author:
NORA ZELEVANSKY is the author of Will You Won’t You Want Me? and Semi-Charmed Life. Her writing has appeared in ELLE, T Magazine (The New York Times), Town & Country, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair, among others. She lives with her husband and daughter in Brooklyn, New York.
Find her here:
About her newest Book:
(click the cover to check it out on Amazon)
Marjorie Plum never meant to peak in high school. She was Queen Bee. Now, 10 years later, she’s lost her sparkle. At her bleakest moment, she’s surprised by renewed interest from a questionable childhood crush, and the bickering with her cranky boss–at a potentially game-changing new job–grows increasingly like flirtatious banter. Suddenly, she’s faced with a choice between the life she always dreamed of and one she never thought to imagine. With the help of a precocious 11-year-old tutee, who unknowingly becomes the Ghost of Marjorie Past, and a musician roommate, who looks like a pixie and talks like the Dalai Lama, Marjorie struggles with the ultimate question: Who does she want to be? Nora Zelevansky’s Will You Won’t You Want Me? is a funny, often surprising, novel about growing up when you are already supposed to be grown
Buy it here: