Writing Outdoors

The other week I taught a workshop on ‘writing in the wild’. In the opening circle, everyone said that they habitually wrote indoors, and at least one writer admitted to nervousness at the thought of trying something different. She’d woken up in a cold sweat the previous night, having had nightmares of being devoured by big, hairy, sharp-clawed Wild Words that hid in trees. As she described this, tight laughter juddered across the room. There are, in fact, many reasons to take your lunch hour in the park with a laptop, to climb out of your bedroom at midnight with your notepad tucked into your trousers, or to take your holidays in the country, rather than falling for the all-too-tempting city break in Belarus (although I’ve heard credible reports of all manner of wild things in Belarus).

Most of us live and write indoors, in controlled environments. Opening ourselves up to that-which-we-cannot-control, being in contact with new and unexpected stimuli, and seeing, at first hand, the instinctual at work, can profoundly affect our writing.

At the end of the workshop, the ‘nervous’ writer put this on her feedback form:

‘At first it was hard. Everything was unfamiliar, the way my body felt after we’d walked two hours, the landscape, and the deluge of sensory impressions. But that newness was exactly the point, exactly what expanded my world today. Today I became an animal, feeling and sensing my way in my environment. And the words followed’.

At the end of the workshop we came up with a communal list of reasons to write outdoors, which I have pinned to my wall:

…because we want to be as passionate as Anais Nin

…because we want to be as awe filled as Mary Oliver

…because we want to dream as vividly as William Blake

…because we want to look as cool in our slacks as Ernest Hemingway

…because we want to look as hip in our shades as Bruce Chatwin

And because the best way to defend from enemy fire is by tucking a moleskin notebook into the pocket over your heart. Oh yes…