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

The Writer and Technology

My mom, Hindi Brooks, who was an amazing, prolific writer, was the first person I knew who had a personal computer. I’m talking early in the days of home computers. This thing was as big as an old TV (how appropriate that she was writing for television). It was such a dinosaur she had to insert the brain before she could start writing. (I’m serious.) She put the computer’s brain—an eight-inch floppy—into the A drive and locked it in, and then she put whatever she was working on—another eight-inch floppy—into the B drive. When everything was securely in place, she could go get a cup of coffee while the beast took forever to boot up.

Consider yourself lucky that you have such fast, efficient machines working for you. And they’re getting faster and more efficient every day. It probably won’t be long before you can simply have a thought and the machines take care of the rest. Oh, I have to email my agent. And poof! the email is sent—thanks to our trillion GHz natural language, wireless brain port.

Technology helps a busy writer take care of business more quickly and efficiently. Maybe it even helps you write more quickly and efficiently. But does it make you a better writer? According to my mom—who got to make the jump from typewriter to electric typewriter to computer to modern-day computer, and saw other writers do the same—the answer was this:  Computers make good writers better . . . and bad writers worse. Those who have a tendency to send their writing out before it’s cooked now can send it out completely raw. Those who tend to over-edit can now edit the poor text to death, changing things back and forth so many times the magic is simply edited out.

The moral here? If you want to create good writing, really good writing, you can’t skip over the stages of the process that writers have always had to do:

  • write
  • put aside
  • read fresh and rewrite (but don’t over-rewrite)
  • get feedback from a qualified individual (editor/coach/etc.) . . . and rewrite again (as many times as necessary . . . but don’t over-rewrite)
  • don’t forget to spellcheck

Also:

  • know your audience, know your market
  • do research as necessary to know your audience and market

In essence: Don’t be so dazzled by the shiny prize of being able to publish your work online in two seconds that you skip over the necessary stages of creating good work. If you take it slow, you may even get a surprise benefit:  you’ll enjoy the process.

Recipe for a Non-Writing Retreat

Image

If you find yourself hitting the wall with a writing project, you can’t figure out what comes next in a scene or chapter, or you’re just too dang close to a project to know whether it’s any good or not, try this recipe for a non-writing retreat.

Ingredients

  • Fresh figs
  • Dark chocolate
  • Art supplies
  • Good climbing shoes
  • One large tree

Choose a serene spot with at least one large, accessible tree. I find the most effective is a location with very few, if any, other humans.

Place your brain to the side. (You will need this later when the retreat is over.) Put on your climbing shoes (I like Five-Finger shoes because they give you sticky-monkey-feet, but sneakers are good too. Bare feet work in a pinch).

If there is more than one tree in your chosen location, select the tree that calls to you the most. One way to discern which tree is calling is to approach each tree one by one and place your palms flat against the trunk. When you become aware of your heart, you know you’ve found your tree. Sometimes I feel a strengthened connection between my palms and my heart. All of this may be subtle, so take your time and listen with your whole body.

Once you’ve chosen your tree, proceed to climb it. You don’t have to be a daredevil climber to reap the benefits of tree climbing.  Even sitting on a low branch with your feet swinging a foot above the forest floor will provide you with the core benefit of your non-writing retreat.

For the most effective tree-sitting experience, find a limb or large branch that you can align with your sternum. Gently press your sternum against the branch or limb. One of my favorite ways to do this is to lie belly down along a large horizontal or near-horizontal limb. Alternately, you can align the limb or branch with the “back door to your heart” (this is the spot between your shoulder blades roughly opposite your sternum, or your heart). The gentle pressure vertically along your sternum or between your shoulder blades will allow the grounding energy of the tree to flow into your body, resetting your nervous system. (Note: The author has done no research to back up this statement. Neither is it FDA approved.)

Once you’re in a comfortable position, turn flame to low and simmer. Allow your gaze to settle on various aspects of the natural habitat you now find yourself in. Let your gaze soften and focus inward. Do you feel your energy shifting? What other senses are you aware of? What is the temperature of the air on your skin? Is there a breeze? Do you notice any sounds, textures, or smells? (If you smell tuna casserole, you haven’t gone far enough out into nature.)

As you sit or lie in the tree, you will likely feel your body relax (unless you’re afraid of heights). You may even become drowsy. In this subdued state you may notice creative ideas begin to bubble. Note: If you haven’t been out of the city for a while or you’ve been working particularly long hours, you may need to allow for a preliminary period of thought-slowing before your body begins to relax.

You’ll know you’re done with the tree-lounging portion of your retreat when you’ve got so many creative ideas bubbling up that you can’t sit still any longer or, alternately, when the ants that were streaming along the tree trunk are now streaming through your pants.

Climb down.

I like to thank the tree for the nurturing energy by placing my palms once again flat against the trunk. (If any of this sounds like nonsense to you, by all means skip the nonsensical parts! No reason to do empty rituals. But if you’re open to it, I invite you to suspend disbelief for a moment and at least try it out for yourself. If you’ve followed the recipe so far, there’s no one around to see you do it.) Another powerful touch point is the lips. Gently touch your lips to the bark of the tree and feel the energetic connection to your heart. (There’s a reason kissing is done with the lips!)

Now you can start on the art project you’ve brought along. If you haven’t brought along an art project, take a walk around your selected location and find some natural elements that speak to you—twigs, stones, grasses, whatever appeals to your senses. Now arrange them on the ground or in a tree or bush in a manner that’s pleasing to you.

And don’t forget about the fresh figs and dark chocolate (or whatever sensual foods you prefer). When you eat them, try closing your eyes and really pay attention to the smell and taste of the foods.

Note: Although the point of this retreat is to take a break from writing . . . it may very well trigger some writing ideas. So you might want to bring along a notebook and pen, just in case.

Oh, and don’t forget to gather up your brain before you drive home.Image

Write Fresh: Open Your Eyes as Though for the First Time

See a waterfall as though seeing it for the first time. Touch your dog’s fur and feel it as though you’ve never felt it before. Taste a hot meal as though you haven’t eaten in days. And then share that experience with your reader.

As a writer, if you can convey a common occurrence to your audience in a way that creates a brand new experience for your reader . . . then you have done your job well.

This beautiful short film exemplifies fresh seeing. Fresh feeling. Fresh being.

Click here to view the film: Gratitude HD – Moving Art™

A Writers’ Poll: How much do you write a day?

When I was growing up, sitting under my mom’s desk to play, comforted by the resounding tap, tap, tap of her manual typewriter, and then later shut out of her writing den so she could concentrate, I thought it was normal for a writer to write for hours and hours on end. My mom woke up and got to work by 5 or 6 in the morning and she didn’t leave her typewriter, and then later her computer, until 1 or 2 in the afternoon.

That’s eight hours of writing!

When I began to write (after years of resisting being a writer, since I figured one was enough for one family), I found that my normal rhythm was about three or four hours a day. And when I tried to write more, I was utterly exhausted after five hours. What’s up with that? Although I didn’t fall far from the tree, I did seem to be a completely different kind of apple.

We were in many ways two very different writers. My mom wrote stage plays and television screenplays; I write fiction and memoir. My mom’s work was plot and dialogue driven. My work is very visual (though I do write good dialogue too; thanks, Mom). My mom wrote from the outside in—getting the concept and perhaps the structure in place first, and often not getting to the emotional content until later drafts. I tend to write from the inside out, spilling my guts onto the page and then muddling my way to finding some sort of plot.

Is our difference in style what made it harder for me to write longer than 3 or 4 hours? Or was it just that my mom was a bit of a powerhouse-superwoman-wordsmith? I mean, the woman only needed to 3 to 5 hours of sleep.

Well, when I recently began writing a book on a deadline, I found that suddenly I was writing five, six, seven hours a day! One day, I even wrote for eight. And I didn’t even feel exhausted . . . well, maybe a little. But I also felt exhilarated.

The mighty deadline has pushed me through the glass ceiling. Perhaps that was the difference all along. My mom wrote on deadline for years. Or . . . maybe my mom’s lovely spirit has been hanging around helping me out.

In any case, with that triumph in my back pocket, I still cherish the lovely writer’s day that goes like this: write in the morning; nap and then exercise in the afternoon; socialize in the evening. Perhaps one day I’ll get to write that way again.

In the end, there is no right number of hours for everyone. Virginia Woolf, I have heard, wrote for one hour a day. Stephen King supposedly writes ten pages each and every day (a lot of writing! Anyone know how long that takes him?). Many, many writers claim the 3–5 hour a day rule.

How much do you write a day? Do you shoot for hours or word count? Please tell us how you write n’ roll.

Check Out This Video Clip of My Workshop

I just got access to some footage of a workshop I did for the UCLArts and Healing Conference 2011. The workshop is Writing from the Senses: Quieting the Inner Critic, where I use movement and somatic awareness to help people access a deeper current from which to draw in their writing. It was an amazing workshop with incredible students. Click here to see the video. (It may take a while to load.)

Go on a Writing Retreat to Kick Your Writing into High Gear

Late July 2012: Nomi heads for the hills to write (near Mariposa, California).
Can you spot my writing companion? (Thank you, Barbara, for hosting my retreat!)

Are piles of paperwork, screaming kids, and day-to-day responsibilities keeping you from your writing? One thing that has always helped me get back on track with a project is to get out of town.

Before I wrote on the computer, I loved going camping to write. (Yes, I used to write my first draft longhand!) One time, when I was having difficulty with a particular chapter, I went to Palomar Mountain (San Diego County). I set up my tent and made myself a promise that I wouldn’t leave the mountain until I had finished the chapter. I didn’t care how long it took. I ended up staying a full week but I headed down the mountain with a finished chapter tucked under my arm.

If cost is a concern (and you’re not the camping type), think about whether you have a friend in the boonies with a guest cottage or perhaps you know someone who needs a house sitter. Another possibility is a retreat center; some spiritual retreat centers are quite affordable.

It’s important that you go somewhere where there’s not a lot of cultural diversion (i.e., New York City is probably not the most conducive to a focused retreat). If there’s a choice of a room with no T.V., go for it and dive into your written world.

If you’ve done a writing retreat, please comment and tell us about it!