Refreshing the Writing Life

This weekend I stepped away from the computer. Saturday morning we drove to Bailey Island, and whenever I travel along the Maine coast, I inevitably think of Robert McCloskey, the famous children’s book writer and illustrator. Although he was born in Ohio and lived much of his life in Massachusetts then New York, he summered in Maine and eventually moved here.

A double Caldecott Medal winner (for Make Way for Ducklings and Time of Wonder), McCloskey wrote and drew what he knew: small town life and people and, yes, even ducklings. Three of his most memorable books for me are Homer Price, One Morning in Maine, and Blueberries for Sal—and may even be partially responsible for making me want to move to Maine.

Lobster boats with traps on raft, in foreground
Two of these books take place in Maine. And although Homer Price was written about his hometown in Ohio, I think it was also influenced by Maine life, scenery, and people, too. I can really relate to its small town feel.

Bailey Island is 15 miles away as the crow flies, but a 50 minute drive—first north, then down a peninsula, across several islands, and eventually ending up further south than we started! The Maine coastline is like that. I know weird, right? But, more importantly, it feels like a lifetime away. I know what you’re thinking: how cliché. Yes, very. But also very true.

Lobster trap buoys
Alongside the huge new vacation houses and shiny new boats, we also saw the tools of the trade that have been the same for decades: the lobsters are still trapped the same way, the boats still bob in the harbors, the traps and buoys are stacked outside lobstermens’ houses, and the signs of the sea are all around—even a mermaid weather vane atop a barn.

A statue at Land’s End:
“A Memorial to All Maine
Fishermen who have
devoted their lives to the sea”
Just like in McCloskey’s books, children marveled at nature: climbing the rocks, running down to the sea at the small beach at Land’s End (as it’s called), at the tip of Bailey Island. As I stood there, with the salt wind and sun on my face, I could well imagine Homer Price or Sal standing right next to me, watching a man row a small rowboat out to an island, just like 100 years ago and more.

Robert McCloskey wrote about humanity, with settings in small towns, about people going about their daily lives and jobs. By driving those 50 minutes, we transported ourselves from a small room connected to the world via the Internet, into Robert McCloskey’s world, with life all around. And it reminded me that great stories and joy can be found in everyday life, as simple as a young girl collecting blueberries or seashells, a boy cooking donuts, or a man rowing a rowboat.

The small beach at Land’s End, Bailey Island, Maine
I returned to my computer this morning, with a rich personal experience to add to my writing—connected to a slice of real life on Bailey Island and connected to a great writer I admire. I returned to my computer as refreshed as the salty fresh air I breathed on Land’s End.

Who are the writers you admire? Have you ever visited a place that they wrote about or that reminded you of them? What do you do to refresh yourself and your writing?



  1. Liz says:

    Walking away for me either refreshes me or makes me think, “God, am I crazy for spending THIS much time at this thing?!?”


  2. Sounds like a perfectly lovely weekend! Well, I recharge by reading (as you read today). Days away from the internet also does me good.

    As far as places go, when I was a junior in college I studied for a semester at The University of Swansea in Wales. I’ve just now started to incorporate some of those sights in my writing (the beach, the clouds, the rows of houses looking of gingerbread), and have found it to be a great experience.

    Hope you’ve come away from your escape with some wonderful stories to tell.

  3. Liz, Hahaha, of course there’s that, too….!

    Amanda, Reading was the one thing I wish I’d had to do more of this weekend! So stimulating yet restful at the same time. I’ve never been to Wales, so that sounds really fascinating. It’s so interesting the way memories surface and show up in unexpected ways then fit into our writing projects, I love that! (reminds me of Erika’s great post today!). Thanks for the comment!

  4. Great post. You totally transported me to Bailey Island, Julia. I think it’s so important for writers to rejuvenate like that – step outside and see something different, experience something outside of the routine. I very much liked what you said: great stories and joy can be found in everyday life. Ahh. So true!

  5. Melissa, Glad you enjoyed the mini-vacation 🙂 It really did wonders for me to get out of the house and to a completely different place.

  6. Julia, you may have taken a break from writing but it rejuvenated you when you sat back down at your computer. What a beautiful weekend and the remembrances brought on by your trip are lovely.

  7. Aisha says:

    How nice! That sounds like a great delicious weekend. I admire JK Rowlings and want to go to Hogwarts. Its such a sahme its a fantasy 🙂 I also want to go to Edinbergh because McCall Smith the writer of “44 Scotland Street” wrote a beautiful quiet series on the city and it makes me want to wander its streets and experience it myself, particularly because he wrote about all real places!

  8. I’m so glad you had a chance to step away from the computer & give yourself a refreshing break! It’s so important for us to actually go out and experience things so they can add a richness to our writing.

    I like to spend as much time as possible outdoors (if the weather permits) to refresh my writing. Sometimes that means going to the park with a blanket and a book and finding a shady spot under a tree, and other times it means taking an actual vacation (which is coming soon, can’t wait!).

  9. badluckdetective, (I love your blog name, by the way!), Thanks for visiting my blog and for your comment and compliment, too! It was a lovely weekend, and I’m glad I could bring along my blogging friends!

    Aisha, I’d love to go into the Harry Potter world, too! And Scotland has always had the same appeal for me–I’ll need to check out the McCall Smith writings! Thanks for your visit to my blog and for your comment, too.

    Natalia, That sounds like a great idea, to sit outside and read under a tree! I forget that there will be a time very soon when I can do that, too. An actual vacation? That sounds wonderful, too! Hope it’s some place amazing! Thanks for commenting!

  10. Erika Marks says:

    Julia, beautiful pictures. I never, NEVER tire of the Maine landscape. All my years there, it remains so beautful in my mind, so rich, so remarkable. No wonder so many people (myself included!) set their stories in Maine.

  11. Erika, So happy to provide your Maine fix. It is a remarkably beautiful place, and a wonderful place for a story setting, too. Thanks for the virtual-Maine visit and the comment too!

  12. CMSmith says:

    I visited the House of the Seven Gables once. That was cool.

  13. Reading this (and looking at the pics) was so therapeutic! Just what I needed. Thank you.

  14. CM, I’ve always wanted to visit the house of Seven Gables — you have been to very cool places!

    Milli, Glad to offer the therapy, although you need to know: I don’t have a license for THAT kind of work 🙂

  15. That is a very provocative question: how do I refresh myself and my writing? I truly don’t know the answer to this, but it sure makes me think.

    I rather feel that I too easily get caught up in other things in my life and am always longing to get back to my computer keyboard. Maybe that, is what keeps me refreshed? Being too busy?

    Hmmm…words to think about.

  16. Thanks for your comment and the visit to my blog. Glad to provide some thought-provoking questions for you! I know what you mean about keeping busy; and I never know how much I need a break until I slow down. Thanks for coming by!