Of course, I’m biased towards rural locations. I’ve never been a city person. I don’t like crowds. Tall buildings make me uncomfortable. I hate riding in elevators. And sharing my sidewalk space with thousands of others? No thank you. I don’t even like sidewalks. I want to feel earth beneath my feet.
Living in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city (don’t snicker, it is a city, at least to us), I can shop at the Gap or Costco, run home, pick up the dog and be out on the trails in less than 20 minutes. And as I run through valleys and across ridges, over creeks and through wetlands, I work out writing problems inside my head: What to do about that ornery character, how to smooth that thorny plot predicaments, and how in the heck do I clean up that patch of dull dialogue?
Nature can be a catalyst for good writing. Think Thoreau and Emerson, Edward Abbey or Annie Dillard. Would any of them have written as deeply and richly if they had been sitting in a Starbucks (Thoreau probably wouldn’t have left a very good tip either) or plugged into their iPhones at a hip and trendy café?
I’m not knocking cafes; I sometimes write at Starbucks myself. But nothing beats nature for letting down one’s pretenses and facing good and hard truths about ourselves, the kind of truths that we often hide from during our busy and hectic days.
Of course, most writers don’t live in Alaska or have millions of acres of wilderness practically in their backyard.
But don’t worry: There are still ways to reconnect with the wild world, even while stuck in the middle of the city.
Unplug: Yeah, you heard me, unplug it all: The Internet, your SmartPhone, the music, the TV. You might think that you’re writing better with all of the distractions but studies show that you’re simply spending more time doing less while your brain fools you into thinking that you’ve actually doing more.
Write naked: I don’t mean without clothes, though I’ve done that, too, and it can be liberating, as long as you’re not in front of an opened window. I mean writing without your laptop or electronic device. I mean (please don’t be scared), writing with a pen and paper, the old fashioned way. The hand-to-paper connection is more intimate than the keyboard-to-screen method and you’ll find yourself opening up in surprising ways. I rewrote portions of my first novel longhand, and while it was time consuming and tough, it led me to places I probably wouldn’t have gone on my laptop.
Get outside: Sit on your balcony, a friend’s deck or walk to a city park. Take off your shoes and dig your toes into the grass. Listen to the birds. Feed the ducks. Sit on the ground, not a bench or a blanket. Get away from the asphalt and traffic sounds and constant noise and activity, if only for a few minutes a day.
Find a hiking trail: Most cities have trails within the city. New York has Central Park. Chicago has the lakefront. Portland has Forest Park. Find the nearest trail and hit it up for a morning or evening stroll. Take the dog or a good friend but try not to talk too much. Instead, soak up the trees and the smells and the good, solid feel of silence. Added hint: Carry notecards and a pen in a fanny pack and jot down stray thoughts. I once wrote a poem on the back of a hot dog wrapper while camping that was later published in a well-known literary magazine.
Write, write, write: Don’t use nature as an excuse not to write. You can devise scenes in your head while hiking, running, kayaking, swimming or bicycling. But don’t get lazy: If you don’t write your thoughts soon after you finish your activity, you run the risk of losing them forever (I once wrote an entire novel chapter in my head while marathon training only to lose a large chunk by not writing it immediately down.)
Of course, not everyone likes or appreciates nature. Still, if you’re stuck in your writing or looking for inspiration, why not try a short hike or nature walk? The respite will leave you feeling refreshed and eager to sit back down and resume the love/hate relationship we all have with our writing.
Do you feel inspired to write when you're outdoors?
She’s a recipient of two Rasmuson Individual Artist Awards, a Connie Boocheever Fellowship, residencies at Hedgebrook, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and Hidden River Arts, the Brenda Ueland Prose Award, Memoir Prose Award, Sport Literate Essay Award, Northwest PEN Women Creative Nonfiction Award, Drexel Magazine Creative Nonfiction Award and Once Written Grand Prize Award.
Her debut novel, Dolls Behaving Badly, released Feb. 5 from Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group.
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