Sorry. Too abrupt?
Please GO before it’s too late. Not to worry. A horde of flatulating zombies isn’t trudging your way. I want you to get out to discover what being outside can do for your writing.
Non-obligatory disclaimer: Common wisdom says to creating a designated writing space in your home helps the brain associate the space with writing and engage more readily. But it’s summertime! And I live in Michigan. Gnats stick around longer, so I want to enjoy the benefits of being an outsider before it’s too late.
Before you head out, here’s what to pack:
- Two snacks. (One will be your real snack to refresh you when you need it, and the other is to eat shortly after you head out because once your brain knows that snack is there. We both know it will nag you–like a six-year-old who hears the ice cream truck coming–until you consume it. Do so without guilt or worry. Snack two is there for you.)
- Hand sanitizer. This relates to the aforementioned.
- Sunscreen. You want to produce masterful writing, not squamous cells and saggy skin, right?
- Bug spray. One less distraction.
- Water. Do I have to explain?
- Electronic stuff. Fully charged phone for taking photos, recording ideas or even sounds, calling your agent to tell her how lucky she is to have you, and so forth. Fully charged laptop.
- Legal pen and pens/pencils. Even if you don’t typically write the “old school” way, you may need it if your laptop stops.
- An ID. This is for emergencies, like when you are blinded by your own brilliance and need help returning to base camp.
- Something to sit on. (This one is destination dependent.) Think beach towel or a wee cush for the toosh.
To me the outdoors is what you must pass through in order to get from your apartment into a taxicab. ~ Fran Lebowitz
Oh, Fran. Fran. Fran.
And now, shall we step outside?
Sit on your deck/balcony/patio. Now, be prepared. The writing molecules in your gray matter may go all fizzy, but that’s temporary. Once you’ve acclimated, start a fast-as-you-can-type list of everything your senses are delivering to you. Describe those physical sensations. How do they make you feel emotionally? As a result, what childhood memories come for a visit? Be sure to keep your list in a folder for future reference to add depth and authenticity to your story.
Head to the beach. Listen to the water and the gulls, of course, but tune your ear into children at play, the sounds of distant volleyball match, the flap-flap-flap of a beach umbrella. Record what you see, how your toes feel in the sand, and the smells, both inviting and repulsive. (Is that a dead fish? Seaweed? A diaper?!)
Foamy and frothy/ribbons white/reflecting soft sunbeams/to our delight/foaming in crests/rippling warm sands/tracing their patterns/on the dry land. ~ Poem from “Seashore” by Suzy Davies
Linger at a sidewalk cafe. You’re not eavesdropping. You’re doing research. This is your chance to snatch random phrases, tone of voice, and humans interacting in their natural, caffeine-laced environment. What does the rude person say? (What’s making them behave this way?) How does the barista respond? (What’s really going on in her head?)
Walk around the block. Pay attention to the houses, yards, driveways, front stoops and porches. Record whatever captures your imagination. Why is that front door wide open? Why is that woman running with a leash and no dog? Is someone cooking sauerkraut? Oh, my gosh, I think those kids are having a pet funeral. A bike with a basket? I remember those. What’s with that beat up car? I never saw that bumper sticker before. Look at that poor dog. Oh, he must belong to Leash Lady!
Maybe freedom really is nothing left to lose. You had it once in childhood, when it was okay to climb a tree, to paint a crazy picture and wipe out on your bike, to get hurt. The spirit of risk gradually takes its leave. It follows the wild cries of joy and pain down the wind, through the hedgerow, growing ever fainter. What was that sound? A dog barking far off? That was our life calling to us, the one that was vigorous and undefended and curious. ~ Peter Heller, Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River
Hit the trail. Walk or bike, either way, see what the woods or a desert pathway can do to stimulate your senses. Close your eyes (once you’re off your bike!). Perk your ears. Suck in a chest full of that fresh air. Watch for critters or signs of their presence. What natural magic do you find?
None of your knowledge, your reading, your connections will be of any use here: two legs suffice, and big eyes to see with. Walk alone, across mountains or through forests. You are nobody to the hills or the thick boughs heavy with greenery. You are no longer a role, or a status, not even an individual, but a body, a body that feels sharp stones on the paths, the caress of long grass and the freshness of the wind. When you walk, the world has neither present nor future: nothing but the cycle of mornings and evenings. Always the same thing to do all day: walk. But the walker who marvels while walking (the blue of the rocks in a July evening light, the silvery green of olive leaves at noon, the violet morning hills) has no past, no plans, no experience. He has within him the eternal child. While walking I am but a simple gaze. ~ Frédéric Gros, A Philosophy of Walking
Park it. Take a blanket for flexibility or pick a park bench. Watch kids play. Listen to random bits of phone conversations as people pass. What’s the status of the remaining wildlife here? Are the squirrels timid or cheeky? How do the birds behave? What are they pecking at? Is that . . . ooo, I smell popcorn. (This is fortuitous since you’ve already snarfed down Snack 1 and Snack 2, haven’t you?)
Fewer and fewer people are raised outside of cities as the decades progress. Nature is sometimes not available for generations of children. Sad state of affairs. ~ Efrat Cybulkiewicz
Your collection of words (and might I add suggested snacking criteria) continue to inspire! Thank you‼️
Oh, your words make me so happy. Thank you, Kathy! XO
I love this. Thanks for the reminder to Get Out! I like to get out and walk my neighborhood, but I wear a crossbody pouch to I can take my phone (for the camera), and a small note pad and pen. I often wonder if I’m the only person out there trying to walk for exercise and cretivity (-:
Love the crossbody pouch idea! I can just see you smiling and struttin’ your confident self around your neighborhood. You must be an inspiration! Good for you! I’ve heard stories about famous writers who take walks when they hit a mental roadblock while writing. Must be the movement of the legs gets the imagination moving again too.
Yes, yes, and yes! I rarely “write” in front of a computer screen. Most goes on in my head while walking or even cutting grass outdoors. I’m definitely going to remember your ‘two snacks’ advice!
Two snacks should be the industry standard, at a minimum. I’m sure we can get that into the SCBWI bylaws.
I find I “write” a lot when I’m standing at the mirror getting ready in the morning. Do I remember everything long enough to use it? Uh, sometimes.
I do think movement and a change of scenery can tickle the imagination. And in your case, if you get a manicured lawn out of the deal, all the better! Happy summering to you, Lisa!
Your post was just what I needed. ˆ I have been dragging and depressed because I haven’t been able to go outside much this summer due to an ill husband and some health issues myself. So, your post encouraged me, nnd I loved your photos, especially the orange and black bird. Now, I’m goiong to make an effort to get outside each day even if it’s to sit on the front steps and notice what’s around me. Wish me luck, Vicky. ,
I’m so glad you received the encouragement you needed. Lately, I’ve been taking my bowl of cereal and sitting on the deck whenever the morning weather cooperates. It’s lovely to watch the world wake up. I hope you can enjoy some front step time this week. Take a cup of tea with you. (And, I sincerely hope the health issues at your house improve significantly soon.)
A “get outside” buddy of the 4-legged variety is super helpful for me.
That’s true. You’re going out whether it’s your idea or not! I’m sure your buddy is more than happy to help you become an outsider write-r. Have fun, Lauri, and a beautiful rest of your summer.
Another brilliant post, Vicky.
Oh, Ann, my faithful encourager. Thank you! I love it when you go outside with your camera too.