I’m back at my desk in Manhattan now, wiggling my left index finger in my ear, hunting and pecking on my keyboard with my right. Overall, very little “work” is going on. Such is the condition of the writer, newly returned from his annual vacation on the Vineyard.

Nonwriters, I imagine, go on holiday and turbo-relax, a little like that old 80s Club Med ad where a businessman stares into the camera and visibly tans and decompresses as his scant seven days of rest scroll over him on screen. But writers vacation differently. For us, every day is potentially a vacation, a day in which we can say, to hell with it, nothing’s happening here, I might as well do something fun. Pity the writer who takes that bait. There’s no fun in it after all! Days like that find the writer hopping subway trains to meet up with other mental malingerers, usually in the writing profession, who happen to be available for a meal. And if you were to observe such a lunch taking place, you would notice the writer, as if burdened with a tick, flicking his glance over his shoulder, keeping an eye out for something or someone that should be there to remind him, “ahem, this is a working day.”

Yet even a writer, if the year has been good to him, gets to take an actual vacation now and again. And there is an art to it. For me, someone who writes about fishing and the future of the oceans, I choose the Vineyard as my place of rest because it is the place where I fell in love with my subject matter. A place where I can feel like I can look at my work without actually working. I came first as a 10-year-old on a divorced dad vacation, staying in one of Helen Manning’s efficiency cottages in the shadow of the Gay Head Lighthouse that was recently moved. There my father would open his gigantic patient ledger and enter his accounts for the year (doctors, too, have a complicated time of it taking a break). If the accounting was particularly heavy he would drop me at Lobsterville Beach for an evening or sign me up with Clyde’s Beach Charters who worked the beaches of Wasque or leave me at the Skipper in Oak Bluffs for a day of scup. And in those different places I came to know the Island and began to piece together in my mind’s eye the profoundly different ecologies that allow for so much diversity to persist along portions of the Atlantic seaboard. It was actually on the jetty at Menemsha that I got the inspiration to do my first piece of professional writing. “Bones and Albies in the Vineyard Surf” it was called in the now-defunct New England Fisherman. I got forty bucks for it. And, as the codgers say, that was a lot of money in those days.

Now, in my 40s, not quite a codger, I sit at my desk “back at work,” my finger in my ear. It’s then that I notice a little grit in there. But this is no city dust. It is sand from Philbin, still lodged in my ear’s crevices from a tumble in what my son and daughter lovingly call “the washing machine” of the beach’s magnificent surf. I rub the sand between my fingers and think about the tasks ahead. A jaunt to Peru to find out why the largest finfish fishery in the world is crashing. A journey through Norway to get a grip on how it came to be that a nearly quarter of the world’s commercial catch is ground up and turned into animal feed. A cruise to Antarctica to look at krill and the origins of a multimillion dollar Omega-3 supplement industry. Other trips too. Many tortured hours ahead of not writing, not writing, not writing followed by . . . . writing!

I’m not complaining. I wouldn’t choose another life — one that crammed me into 51 weeks of office work followed by seven turbo-charged vacation days that scroll past in the blink of an eye. But I’m reminded here as a I sit at my desk, as the bass and blues and bones and albies load up on forage and prepare for their great migrations that I too cannot delay. If a writer wants to dig into his ear and find Philbin sand in there at the end of his self-sanctioned vacation, he has to earn it.

Paul Greenberg is the New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish and American Catch.