The Great Escape

For me, there is something almost as important as keeping a daily writing routine – it is knowing when to break the routine. Creative work is probably the hardest to finish when you’re trying to force yourself. My standard three hours a day, six days a week of writing can at times feel like an attempt to manufacture the goods on an assembly line. A well timed day off works wonders.

Lately it seems as if I’ve been traveling as much as I’ve been working. Travel is the greatest of escapes. It sure beats that other favorite writer’s excuse for not working – cleaning the fridge!

Not only does a trip take me outside the box, it also stimulates me with new ideas and experiences. It’s more likely that a real life situation I wouldn’t get in my regular writing space will produce that key line that transforms a scene and saves the story. Whatever I’m working on, inevitably, turns out better for a little time spent on the road. It’s not always possible to go away mid-project, so I make a point of going somewhere after completing each draft, and again before starting a new one.

I see why the writers from the classic Hollywood era did a lot of their work in hotels. I’m thinking of Robert Riskin writing for Frank Capra in Palm Springs, or Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur churning out scripts for Howard Hawks in Manhattan hotel rooms. For some reason, it’s just easier for me to get work done in hotel rooms. (Yeah I know, the above writers were all notorious for partying it up – but they completed some of their most famous work under those conditions.)

This advice, if it can be termed advice, should come with a warning. Travel can offer some great inspiration; but inspiration only accounts for two percent of a great story. The rest is perspiration – hard work!

When I settle into the hotel room after a long day of activity, I can do a whole day’s work in less time than usual. Most of the time the work is better too. If I had to guess, I’d say it has to do with the fact that while my mind was busy doing other things, the subconscious had all day to work on the story by itself. We writers carry our stories around with us for a long time, sometimes years. The mind simply can’t put it to rest because you’ve gone into escape mode. As Graham Greene wrote in Ways of Escape, “the unconscious collaborates in all our work.” I think I’ll have more to say about this later.