One of our favorite vacations is going to the beach. I’m sure I mentioned it before; we’ve been to Jamaica, California, Hawaii, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and several East Coast beaches ranging from New Jersey through Florida. There’s something about a vast body of water—the breeze bringing that briny scent to your nose—and wiggling your toes in the grainy sand that just sings “relaxation” to me and my family. Having the sun warm your skin and cooling off by jumping waves… that’s one luxury my family splurges on and doesn’t feel guilty about it. Well, not too guilty.

Hilton Head

View of Hilton Head Beach

One year, when my daughter was three, we went to Hilton Head, South Carolina with my husband’s family. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and decided to go to Mass that evening so we would have all day Sunday on the beach. My little girl was ramping up into a full blown fit. She didn’t think she should have to go to church when she was on vacation. Finally, my mother-in-law came to our rescue and began talking to my daughter.

She reminded her that Jesus died for our sins, so it wouldn’t be nice for us to ignore him just because we were on vacation.

File:Andrea Mantegna 036.jpg

The Agony in the Garden.
Image via Andrea Mantegna [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My daughter promptly stomped her foot and crossed her arms over her chest. She replied, “He does that every year. You’d think he’d know not to go into that garden by now.” Then she turned to go get ready for Mass.

Yes, you read that right. She was three.

On one hand, I was mortified that she was so belligerent with us and my mother-in-law. On the other, I was proud that she remembered the story of Christ’s persecution and crucifixion.

My family still attends Mass regularly. We go every Holy Day and every Sunday, even when we’re on vacation. It’s more than just a family tradition; it’s part of who we are. Neither of my kids even complain about going. Whenever I doubt my parenting skills, I think about how accomplished my kids are intellectually, athletically, and especially spiritually, and the doubt goes away. For all my faults, we’re raising two wonderful children.

It made me wonder if there were any lessons I could take away from those experiences that would help me with my writing. And as usual, there were.

  1. Routine, in any endeavor, gets things done.
    Just as we didn’t, and don’t, stop attending Mass because of vacation, bad weather, or general inconvenience, I don’t stop writing because of those things either. The best way to complete a manuscript is the SAW method—Sit And Write. There will always be things that call you away from writing. The trick to getting your work done is to ignore those things. You can’t get published if you don’t complete your work, and you won’t complete your work if you keep walking away from it.
  2. A change of scenery can do wonders for you.
    Just as we take vacations and do things we enjoy to recharge our batteries, when I write, sometimes I get in a rut. Sometimes I even get writers block. I agree with the experts who say the best way to get past the block is to writer through it. Just write anything. But I also believe that the status quo may not be the best way to go about it. If you write in your office, try your patio. If you write in a coffeehouse, try working in the park.
  3. Don’t try to change who you are.
    In life, pretending to be someone you aren’t and abandoning your values and traditions will never result in anything positive. There are those who believe in the “fake it till you make it” philosophy, but I believe in honesty and integrity. Just as I live my life that way—no pretenses, no acting—I write that way. I’m not saying you have to write what you know. I’m just as able as the next person to write a story about a time and space traveler who defeats an alien army one hundred years in the future before it comes to and conquers Earth. Do I “know” that? No more than the next person. I mean really, who could possibly know about time and space travel and about defeating an alien army? No one. It’s never been done. But if I’m true to my writing style, if I develop my sci-fi characters the same way I develop my romance characters, if I construct my settings and weave my plot with the same attention to detail I do in my romance writing, then I am being true to myself and my abilities. And that’s what will create rich story worlds and realistic characters.

I’m sure all of you have stories in your past that are just cute little anecdotes you tell over coffee at family events. Consider looking at those stories for life lessons. For professional lessons. Do you have one or more in mind? I hope so. Why don’t you share with us in the comments section?