Drawing Inspiration from Nature

My second office

For as long as I can remember I have craved deep greens and muddy browns. I’ve often escaped to natural environments to write, or to read over my writing. I am soothed by trees, bolstered by the earth, and draw inspiration from breathing clean, fresh, mulchy air.

I have favorite spots I escape to, places where the phone won’t ring (sometimes there’s not even cell reception) and where piles of papers won’t grab at my attention.

I once fled to Palomar Mountain in San Diego County, pitched my tent, and promised myself I wouldn’t leave until I’d gotten the upper hand on the chapter I was struggling with. (I stayed a week, but I descended the mountain triumphant, the completed chapter tucked under my arm.) Yes . . . I wrote longhand for a week in that campground void of electricity.

Now I sometimes escape to nature to take a break from writing. But, still, it raises the water table of my creative juices, keeps the well from running dry.

I’ve come to call these spots my “Second Office.” They’re free of rent, and they free my mind.

(Also check out these earlier posts: Go on a Writing Retreat to Kick Your Writing into High Gear and Recipe for a Non-Writing Retreat.)

I invite you to share some stories or images of your own writing (or creative-well replenishing) escapes.

My other second office

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Write Your Life

I am deeply inspired by the stories brought forth in my Write Your Life class and feel honored to serve as witness.

When you sit down to write (and to share your writing) in the company of others, you are giving yourself a profound gift. Your stories no longer live locked inside you, but are witnessed and held by a group, by a community.

Write Your Life is a wonderfully supportive environment in which to share your stories. It is my hope that you give yourself the gift of joining us.

All levels of experience welcome! typewriter

To read more or to register, click here.

The Unplugged Writer: Take a Writing Retreat Day

When life was simpler—before smart phones and Facebook—writers retreated easily from the world to pen their works. Virginia Woolf didn’t have to remember to silence her Beyoncé ringtone or do her daily blog post in order to build her platform. She simply retreated, and wrote. (She did, of course, have to procure a room of her own . . . but that’s for another post.)

I’m not saying that nineteenth- and early twentieth-century writers didn’t need discipline to get themselves to write. Even these early writers could find a tempting distraction. (Think opium and Henry Miller’s frolicking between the sheets.) But today’s writers have all that and more, the biggest distraction being one click away—the Internet.

A number of years ago, wanting to flee the distractions of the modern world, I tried to find a suitable hideaway for a writing retreat. (I’d done this a few times, and my writing output had been phenomenal.) But the reality of my limited finances at the time kept hitting me in the face. I could not find a hotel or retreat center within my price range, and, it being November, it was too cold to go camping (writing while shivering makes for illegible penmanship). So I asked myself: “What is it about going away that makes my writing so productive?” The answer was this: No one knows where I am. (This was pre-cell phone—at least for me—and pre-Internet-connection away from home.) Simply put: When I went away to write, I was unplugged.

So, I thought, what do I have to do to be unplugged at home?

The following day, I set about answering that question. I bought groceries enough to last me through my retreat (so I didn’t have to talk to people at the store or be bothered with the “chore” of shopping). I changed my outgoing message to let people know I was on writing retreat. (I didn’t mention it was a staycation. Let them think I was out of town!) I unplugged my Internet connection and my television. And I decided that my only obligation each day of my retreat was to write for four hours. Nothing else was mandatory. Think of it . . . I had only four hours out of each 24 where I was obligated to do anything. Thus, my writing retreat was not only productive in terms of literary output but it was also restful, and fun. I took long walks, made paintings and collages, stared out the window, essentially did whatever I was moved to do (outside of my four hours of writing). And because my mind was so free of outside distractions, the ideas that were seeded during my writing hours continued to germinate during my nonwriting hours. (I always took a small notepad and pen on my walks and almost always needed to use them.)

My stay-at-home writing retreat was so wonderful and so productive that I adopted a once-weekly writing retreat day, a tradition I followed for about a year. Every Wednesday evening, I changed my outgoing voicemail to say I would return calls on Friday morning. My extreme discipline with unplugging each and every Thursday delivered extreme productivity, and extreme luxury. I craved the benefits of these retreat days so much that the discipline was not at all challenging. In fact, it didn’t even feel like discipline; it felt downright indulgent.

So, why do I no longer have Unplugged Thursdays in my life? I suppose I feel the weight of more responsibility these days—more editing and writing and coaching to do, more emails to answer, more blogging and posting. . . . I just feel unpluggable. But I have a hunch that this “unpluggability” is, on some level, an illusion. I mean, what would really happen if I didn’t answer the phone or go online for one day? Would the world stop because I haven’t logged in?

I do realize that people who have children or jobs where others’ lives are at stake (e.g., ER doctors or psychiatrists) are not necessarily in the position to unplug for a full day, but even they could arrange to unplug for a morning, or for an hour.

So, my invitation to you is to Just Say No to cyberspace . . . just for the day. Tell your Facebook friends that you have very important business to tend to . . . and then shut down your Internet. Commit to a certain amount of time at your computer or notepad, but be sure to have down time surrounding your writing time. (Muses love down time.) Ask your spouse or roommate to support your need to retreat. Don’t answer your phone. Don’t send any texts. Don’t turn on the television. Let the silence envelope you . . . and see what happens. Then please tell us all about it!

I will surely be joining you soon in the land of the Unplugged.

Writing from Your Body?

 

If you’re a writer, there’s a good likelihood that you’ve spent at least a little time (if not a huge amount of time) procrastinating. Maybe you’ve even experienced “Writer’s Block”—which is kind of like procrastination that has taken up residence, with seemingly no recourse for eviction.

Have you ever wondered why writers are so plagued by procrastination, or why there’s even such a thing as “Writer’s Block”?

Unlike dancers or painters, we writers rely on the verbal centers of the brain to craft our work; this brings us up into our head . . . and the head is where the infamous Inner Critic lives. A lot of writers don’t see the connection between the Inner Critic and their procrastination or their “Writer’s Block,” but as far as I’m concerned, the Inner Critic is the man behind the Writer’s Block curtain; he’s orchestrating the whole show, making you sharpen every last pencil before you can sit down to write (and you haven’t used a pencil in decades; you write at a computer!).

In my experience, writers seem to suffer more severely from procrastination or “Block” than any other kind of artist. We writers just hang out a little too much with our Inner Critic (remember, our Inner Critic lives in our head).

When we’re writing we can’t just turn off our mind entirely; we need those verbal skills to form sentences and paragraphs. But we also need to fly under the Inner Critic’s radar if we’re going to actually get anything out onto the page.

So, how do you stay just enough in the mind to write, but not so much in the mind that the Inner Critic takes over? It’s a delicate balancing act, one where sensory awareness plays an important role.

Many of the writers who come to see me are stuck in their heads, duking it out with their Inner Critic. They don’t realize that all they have to do is duck. . . . down into their bodies. But just inhabiting the body doesn’t work if you do it in a mindless way. You can go kickbox for an hour or run up a mountain. But if you don’t tap into your sensory experience while you’re huffing and puffing, you may not be any closer to your writer’s flow when you come down the mountain.

So, being solely in your mind brings you perilously close to your Inner Critic, and being solely in your body can take you away from accessing your verbal centers. Thus, a secret route to inspired writing is to be in both your mind and your body at the same time. This is worth repeating: A secret route to inspired writing is to be both in your mind and your body at the same time.

But how do you do this? The simple answer is: You watch your body’s experience with your mind. You pay attention to your senses. It’s the sensory experience that is the bridge between inhabiting your body and inhabiting your mind.

So, the next time you feel stuck or find yourself engaged with your Inner Critic, go for a walk . . . and pay attention to your walking. What do you feel as you’re placing one foot in front of the other? What’s your inner experience? Notice the sensations in your feet, your belly, your chest. Pick up a stone and notice its texture. Take in the smell of a flower. Or you could do yoga or take a bath, but watch your sensations with your mind as you do it. And most important, have pen and paper on hand; you never know when the floodgates will open!