Most writers have heard of “Outside,” even if we’ve never seen it. Supposedly, it’s a mysterious place where this thing called “society” is, where people buy things in stores instead of buying them on Amazon, and they talk face-to-face instead of over text message. If you ask me, that sounds pretty terrifying.
In all seriousness, writers do have a reputation of being hermits who spend most of their days in the shelter of their home or local coffee shop (we have to fuel our creativity somehow). Oftentimes, this is with good reason: we need to be able to focus on our craft without other people interrupt us, and that’s much more likely to happen when we leave our safe writing bubble.
But what if the benefits outweigh the costs? We might embrace the hermit lifestyle, but we might be wise to step outside every so often – there are definitely some good reasons to do so.
For starters, Outside is where the people are. Yes, writing is often a solitary art, but having other people to help you along in the process is valuable. Sometimes, we get stuck in a story and need help figuring it out, or we need another person to bounce our ideas off of. In order to do that, we need to actually go outside and find other human beings.
Granted, that can also be done via the internet, but here’s another thing about other people – just being around them can be great helps for writing. As I’ve mentioned before, writers have a tendency to be extra attentive to what’s happening around them (when we’re not stuck inside our own heads, that is). We notice the quirks that make each person unique, and we often find ways to implement that in our stories. However, we can’t notice these things if we’re not going outside and looking for them!
Even beyond finding inspiration and ideas in other people, Outside can inspire on its own, too. Whether it’s the way the sunlight hits the water in the creek or the bustle of the local coffee shop at seven-thirty in the morning, these scenes can speak to us in unique ways. It might be the start of a story (the frazzled barista who’s just trying to make it through his shift), or a particular image to set the mood (dangling your feet in the water, watching the light sparkling on the surface). There’s only so much at our desks and in our minds that can inspire us – if you’re in need of ideas, take a walk around your neighborhood.
That walk can have other benefits too, since going Outside exposes you to fresh air. Have you ever gotten stuck on a task and found yourself taking a deep breath? We don’t always think about it, but taking a breath of fresh air can be refreshing and help us think more clearly. If you find yourself getting frustrated by one of your scenes, or you can’t think of what your character’s name should be, breathing in the fresh air might be just what you need.
Going Outside also requires unplugging. Although it’s common to see people on their phones (or even laptops) in outdoor spaces, that’s not always the best option. Yes, there’s a time and place for plopping down on your porch with your Word document open, but there are also times when our brains need to disengage with technology. Even with the strictest internet blockers, technology still becomes a distraction (look at all those fonts and fancy settings!).
Grab your notebook and pen and find yourself a quiet table at the park. The process might be slower (even I don’t write as fast as I type), but writing this way can keep you focused, and you might even find yourself being more productive than you thought!
Finally, Outside has less distractions. I don’t know about you, but there’s a lot of stuff at my desk. I find myself staring at the posters on my wall like the characters on them are my muses (sometimes this works, most of the time it doesn’t). There’s chapstick and – oh yeah, I do need that – and now I’d really like a piece of gum, where did I put that – oh, right, I have to remember to sort my receipts later… actually, I should do it now, and then I gotta make sure…
See how easy it is to get distracted?
Yes, there are other distractions outside as well, but I’ve personally found those distractions to be less disruptive. When I’m outside, I can set aside the other tasks that are clamoring for my attention and just enjoy the process of creating.
I know we writers don’t typically enjoy going outside, but I promise it’s nothing to be afraid of. The world beyond our desks and sofas is rich with inspiration. Start small, perhaps – take your notebook with you and go for a walk. You’ll be amazed at how much it helps.