- Dashboard Story Development. The car is my summer office, driving across country each year, immobilized in the driver’s seat with hours to think en route to my vacation destinations. Before firing the ignition, I review notes to guide my thoughts. Fresh morning, coffee to go, and the stimulation of an entire country flying past my window create a fertile work space where imagination can rack up as many miles as the car. One such day I drove remembering an editor’s disparaging comment that there wasn’t enough tension in my story. I drove from Nashville to Amarillo generating a list of conflict for my protagonist, a rich resource when I later sat down at my computer. Names, places, and details suggest themselves from the road and a reader could track me from Texas to the Midwest noting proper nouns incorporated into my work. The tricky part is jotting down ideas while driving, which must be why they invented dictation apps. Don't turn on the radio.
- Road Trip Reading. My husband is a captive audience in the driver’s seat, and a long road trip allows time to read an entire manuscript aloud, breaking only to buy gas or get lunch. Problems tend to be more apparent when read aloud and immediate feedback from the captive audience is a plus. Most notable was the time I read a manuscript aloud to see what it lacked and discovered it was nearer completion than I’d thought. Backseat drivers tend to remove headsets and provide feedback, too. Your manuscript can be their audio book.
- Summer School with Famous Authors. Without the regular evening routine of homework, school meetings and sports, summer frees up more time to read. And summer reading can improve your writing if you consider each book a course on the technique of a skilled author. When my agent suggested bringing subplots forward into the first chapter of my novel-in-progress, I worried the interruptions would create speed bumps in my narrative. But reading the first chapter of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, I saw how seamlessly she introduced various threads, and realized I could do the same. Like taking writing classes with Ian MacEwan, Jennifer Egan, and Balzac, summer reading can turbo charge your writing.
- Embracing Isolation. One of my summer destinations is so remote cell phones must be driven a mile to the nearest hilltop to achieve connectivity, and none of the places I go provide easy Internet access. Good news: writing time is not squandered checking stats, commenting on social networks, or indulging Internet distractions. I have no choice but to focus. And I have learned that it is possible to write 5,000 words a day in the wilderness. Leave your browser at home.
- Exotic Places to Write. Being away from home means finding new places to work. When driving my son to a distant university-sponsored basketball camp, I found a study carrel on the sixth floor of their campus library and worked at my laptop for three days solid. I thought I was in heaven, surrounded by stacks of musty books. But most vacations don't provide three days of uninterrupted writing time, especially family vacations. In that case, let growing teenagers and tired traveling companions sleep in. An early riser, packing a journal and pen, can find a seat in an English garden, urban café, or hotel lobby and write an essay before breakfast.
Summer Writing Strategies can become so invigorating, encouraging such high levels of production, that returning to one’s ordinary writing routine can be a buzz kill. Remember: summer passes quickly, but so does the rest of the year. By the time August is over, only nine months remain until school is out next year.