Why You Should Write Outdoors
Sit, watch, listen, write
It’s spring in Australia and it feels like a weight is lifting from my shoulders. It’s the heavy coat of winter with its melancholy weather, runny noses and shorter days.
With warmer weather approaching, now is the perfect time to appreciate the outdoors and all it has to offer a writer.
I’m lucky to live on a semi-rural property and we have local kangaroos who visit us every now and then. We have a kookaburra who likes to perch on our Hills Hoist clothesline, spinning round in the gentle morning breeze.
My kids and I even made up a song, to the tune of Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree:
Kookaburra sits on the old clothesline
Spinning round and round, he’s feeling fine.
Don’t stop, kookaburra, don’t stop, kookaburra
You are so divine.
We have a huge variety of birds at home, but I’ve never really taken time to study them, apart from our resident clothesline kookaburra.
When you first start out, you might be tempted to track your sightings with an app on your phone, but you will soon realise that this deflects your attention in problematic ways, draining the experience of its quiet intimacy and immediateness. Avoiding all distractions becomes integral to the act of observing.
Last week I was inspired by Paul’s article to get outside and go birdwatching. After spending just an hour with the birds, I realised I wanted more. I wanted to not only watch and listen to nature, I was inspired to write outdoors.
With my laptop, cup of tea and shortbread biscuit in hand, I asked my two youngest kids if they wanted to play outside. My three-year-old was confused. Usually mornings mean ‘inside time’ until Mummy has a shower and breakfast. I don’t function too well in the morning without food in my stomach.
We bundled ourselves up and headed out to the crisp, winter morning. OK, so Sydney winters aren’t really that cold, but at 7 o’clock in the last days of August, there’s still a distinct chill in the air that requires a fluffy dressing gown and a pair of slippers. The kids immediately began racing around on the grass, burning off their morning energy.
I sat on our front verandah, watching, listening.
Watching my kids, the gumleaves gentling rustling in the trees, the horses watching us in the paddock next door, the way the dewy grass left damp patches on my kids’ pyjama pants.
And listening. To my kids’ laughter, the eventual argument that ensued over a yellow digger, the birds. There were so many birds. Like, at least ten different types of bird calls. My amateur birdwatching experience didn’t help me to recognise any particular birdsong, except for the obvious kookaburra laugh.
I inhaled the smells. The sweet smell of horse manure. Wet grass. I felt the breeze on my face, which brought another smell with it — an earthy, pungent aroma from the turf farms a few suburbs away.
And then I began to write.
Half an hour later my kids were hungry and wet and I’d typed over a thousand words. The whole experience got me thinking.
Why don’t I write outdoors more often?
I always thought it such a chore to go outside and write. But really, it wasn’t that hard. Especially since my kids love being outdoors. Plus it’s healthy, right? All that fresh air and sunshine.
Benefits of working outdoors
When I’m indoors I’m oblivious to the world around me. I’m actually very good at focusing on my writing and ignoring noisy distractions such as the television blaring, the dogs barking, the kids screaming.
However, when I’m outdoors I’m acutely aware of the noisy bird calls and the happy squeals of my children playing on the grass. But they’re not bad distractions. It’s like they become part of my writing process.
Perhaps it’s the smells. They’re so different outside. I can breathe better, clearer. My head is more receptive to thoughts. I get new writing ideas and it doesn’t take a lot of hard thinking for it to happen.
If I can feel like this just sitting outdoors, what might it be like if I took a walk in nature? And allowed the whole nature thing to envelop me, my thoughts, my being. Maybe even see things from a different perspective.
In his article about the benefits of going outdoors to inspire writing in children, high school teacher Stephen Hurley took his students on an Artist’s Walk around their local school neighbourhood. The simple act of reflecting on specific places on their walk created a flurry of ideas in his students. They reacted positively, finding new meaning in the places they visited:
Most of the responses reflected on the fact that they had walked along the same path many times over the years, but they had never stopped to notice the things we had taken time to notice.
As contradicting as it sounds, I feel I was more productive when I was distracted outdoors than when I sat inside writing in my distraction-free, self-imposed cocoon.
I’ve decided to give this whole writing outdoors thing a go and I think you should too. Even for five minutes, weather permitting, of course.
I know I can’t write outdoors all the time. But I might start working outdoors in the morning when I can. It’s a great way to wake up those sleepy ideas floating around in my fuzzy brain. Plus the kids love it. It’s a win-win.
Lana Graham is Editor of Mama Write. She writes about parenting and her writing journey and lives in Sydney, Australia with her partner (her rock) and their three amazing sons. If you’d like my 3 Top Tips for being a successful new writer on Medium, then click here.