The Writer’s Toolbox – Writing Outdoors

Have you ever been possessed by the glorious desire to commune with nature in a writing retreat outdoors? Of course you have. What could be more peaceful, more fulfilling, more conducive to the flow of ideas than an afternoon spent writing in the quiet of the woods?

Uh, maybe an afternoon spent writing indoors in the quiet of an air-conditioned house?

But you don’t believe me, so you decide to try it anyway. You take your notebook, you take your pencils, you leave your phone and electronics behind, and you head up to a secluded corner of the woods. You settle yourself under the graceful canopy of trees. And then you put pencil to paper?paper!?and a thrill of excitement runs through you. You know this is going to be amazing.

Because how could it not be? There’s inspiration in every direction. You could write about the soft rustling leaves, and the way their sound blends into the greenery itself. You also could write about the dew that glistens on the soft early summer leaves and which, by the way, is soaking into the bottom of your jeans right now.

You get up and move your location, wishing you’d thought to bring a towel. Or a cushion. Is that really communing with nature, though? Real nature? And your new writing spot is perfect, with violet flowers spreading out in front of you like a light-dappled velvet counterpane. And it strikes you how each little petal plays its own role in creating that broad violet vista, and then your thoughts wax philosophical. And you go off on tangents. And you amaze yourself at your own brilliance. Also you forget that you were supposed to be writing all this down.

But That’s what the pencil is for! Unfortunately, you left it under the trunk of the first tree, which seems inconvenient, but it turns out to be a good thing.

Because in the same area where you were communing with nature, where in fact you just made one of the most brilliant philosophical observations of your life, some very large animal was also answering nature’s call in a somewhat less philosophical manner. Hazard of writing in the outdoors. You retrieve your pencil, move far from the flowers, and the minutes pass, your pencil scratching away on the pad the only sound in the quiet of the forest. No, not completely silent, but the ambient noises of nature fill your soul.

And your ears. Well, just one ear, a damn mosquito?slap, squish?but surely It’s not as annoying as your phone ringing off the hook at home! You write some more, but the mosquito broke your concentration. You can’t finish the sentence you started. How do you spell that word again? Dictionary?oh, right. No Internet. You write the word anyway. You cross it out. You try it again. No, but really, you should know how to spell this. You write it a third time.

Relax. Breathe. Think about the beauty. The atmosphere, the mood, the not-really quiet around you?an unobtrusive soundtrack for your writing retreat. White noise. Brown noise? How would you describe the color of nature’s sounds? Green, like the soft swish of grass in the breeze. Violet noise, like the barely audible flowers rustling across the way. Or?the black and grey buzz of insects playing merrily in the background. Or the foreground, actually. No, That’s not a black and grey noise, and It’s not playing either. That’s a black-and-yellow-striped noise, an angry noise, a furious noise, a get-the-hell-away-from-my-house noise, and holy shit, you are sitting right next to a beehive. And its inhabitants have just discovered you.

You drop your notepad and flee. To your car. Away from nature and its brutal reality. And you drive all the way home as fast as if the bees are still pursuing you, which maybe they are. And when you get home, you call your notepad a loss, and you load your computer and pull up the Internet and find out that yeah, your spelling of that word was completely off. Glad you checked. And also? There’s white noise here too. The air conditioner makes a lovely background accompaniment to your writing. And who doesn’t want to wax philosophical about staplers and printer ink? Your fingers fly, words singing their way from your mind onto the screen. You write and write and write, and finally you close your laptop, happy with a good day’s work.

And you go to bed satisfied, thinking how lucky you are. You had a great writing session, and you owe your inspiration to the time you spent communing with nature today. You’ll definitely need to do it again.

Christina M. Frey is a book editor, literary coach, and lover of great writing. For more tips and techniques for your toolbox, follow her on Twitter (@turntopage2) or visit her blog.

— “The Writer’s Toolbox” normally handles those niggling questions of how to get your grammar or sentences just right, but every once in a while The Voice Magazine writers decide on a theme issue. Christina joined in the fun with this submission for the July 1 camping themed issue, and students suggested it was fun (and true) enough that it should be in the Best Of issue. Who am I to argue?