If things have been a bit quiet here, I’ve been off on a writer’s holiday for a week – on a river cruise down the Danube. We’d seen the ads on TV, half believed them and paid up a not inconsiderable sum. I left London in sunshine to arrive in Munich in a grey drizzle. The coach trip to Passau (delayed while a passenger and the driver had a slow smoke) was wet, enlivened mainly by seeing the number of solar panels installed on German houses. Writer's holiday - Durnstein on the Danube

Next day, the sun came out and the adverts came true. To be fair, sunshine was what the internet weather sites had predicted. In sunshine, the Danube is beautiful (although a muddy green rather than blue). The boat drifted along peacefully from Germany to Austria, Slovakia and ultimately Hungary. And slowly I realised why I needed to be there. On a writer’s holiday.

Taking a writer’s holiday away from the writing

Sometimes it’s only when I stop working that I realise I need to stop. Stopping is as important a part of writing as starting. I’ve never been good at it – indeed it was only when I read Andrea Perry’s inspirational book on procrastination, Isn’t It About Time, that I even realised that you could procrastinate as much about having a writer’s break as about the actual writing itself.

I used to rush on from one project to another, and never thought that the very act of rushing stopped me progressing. That I needed a holiday from my own ambitions. Sitting on the deck, in the sunshine, and walking into the most exotic baroque churches in small riverside towns, I learned more about what I’d been trying to write about than when I was trying to push the words out the week before.

Or to be more precise, I learned different things – things I wouldn’t have learned any other way.

Writer's Holiday: St Stephen's Cathedral, PassauLosing myself

Anyway, Passau, where we started, was both surprising and exactly as I expected it to be. If you have an image of a Bavarian town, sitting under green hills, with painted houses and onion-domed churches filled with ornamentation, then you’ve got it spot on. But the scale of the ornamentation, the bravery of it, was beyond what I expected.

Even this small town reveals a cathedral with marvelous decorations. I’m no expert on baroque and rococo but this was quite something.

One purpose of such art must surely be to help you see the small size of your everyday thoughts in relation to the universe around you.

And the Danube is big too.

Big enough for me to lose myself and my thoughts in.

Taking a writer’s holiday from themselves

I work with writers sometimes who have great thoughts, but never step back from them.

I want to tell them to take a writer’s holiday from themselves. To see the small size of their preoccupations compared to the enormous possibilities around them, if they just allowed themselves to stop and look.

To get them to see that they’re digging a big hole for themselves.

I was digging that hole myself, and thanks to the Danube and a bit of rococo I’ve stopped.