Writing is a pretty solitary hobby. It typically attracts people who are introverts, who are happy spending time alone and who dislike the outdoors, with its bugs and sunlight and other people. Yet, despite the many advantages of being a homebody, there are also excellent reasons why all writers should go outside.
Here are the top 5.
1 – Inspiration is everywhere
Have you ever heard of the word ‘sonder’?
It was coined by John Koenig, whose project, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, comes up with words for emotions that aren’t currently described by language. Incidentally, this project is currently being made into a book by Simon & Schuster, so keep an eye out for it.
‘Sonder’ means: ‘the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness…’
It’s a beautiful word and an important reminder for writers. The world we inhabit has unknowable depth and it is that depth that we should try to emulate in our writing. Each one of your secondary and minor characters should have a life that is as rich and unique as your protagonist’s, even if they only appear in a single sentence.
However, making up multiple characters who present as unique individuals can be exhausting, which is where people-watching comes in. I find that whenever I’m stuck for a character, carefully observing the people around me really helps. This is best in public, at a cafe or restaurant, or even on the bus. Obviously, don’t be creepy about it, but as you go about your day, pay attention to your surroundings and the people who exist around you. What are they doing? What do they look like? How do they sound; how do they dress?
Inspiration is everywhere, from the tall woman on the bus in the bright red hat, to the man in the cafe with a loud, infectious laugh that finishes in a snort. A writer’s power of observation is one of the best tools in their arsenal: use it.
2 – Interaction makes for better dialogue
If you listen properly to a conversation between two people–or more–you’ll find that it doesn’t progress the way it is usually portrayed in books. There are very few direct question-and-answer exchanges and people rarely complete their sentences without hesitating or saying the wrong words.
When writing dialogue in books, it is important to strike the right balance between realism and necessity.
Dialogue is a great tool for subtle exposition as long as it is used correctly. Additionally, it is a great way to add depth to your characters, to differentiate them from the other people on the page.
Everyone around you speaks in their own unique way. They have their own accents, their own speech patterns, pace, and favoured vocabulary.
When you next go outside, have a conversation with someone. Truly listen to what is said and how it is said, then try to feed some of that texture into your writing.
3 – The world is WEIRD
A few months ago, I was driving home and I saw a fox sitting at a zebra crossing. I stopped at the auto-timed lights and–only when the coast was clear–the fox crossed the road to the other side.
I cannot stop thinking about this fox. It was such a strange thing to see; an urban fox who was so intelligent that it sussed out how to navigate the roads safely. It immediately made me think of several stories I knew: from Professor McGonagall reading maps as a cat in Harry Potter, to Malkin the Fox from Peter Bunzl’s Cogheart series, to the Animals of Farthing Wood.
At any given time, there are unusual things happening in the world. Little pieces of magic happen every day, completely unnoticed by most people. A writer’s job is to pay attention to these slivers of the fantastical and draw inspiration from them.
Think of the last ‘odd’ thing that happened when you were out somewhere. Could you write a story about it?
4 – Experience makes for authenticity
I’m not expecting you to join a crime mob or defeat an ancient magical foe. That sounds like a lot of effort. What I would suggest doing, though, is attempt to visit locations similar to those in your novel.
Writing a historical saga about pirates? Go to a beach. Take a look at the caves and coves, feel the rock under your hands. What texture does it have? Is it warm or cool, dry or damp? That’s a line in your novel. Does the air smell of salt or fish? Does the air sting your face? How far can you see into the horizon? The devil is, as they say, in the details.
Perhaps you’re writing fantasy about elves. Go to a forest or a wood. How does the sunlight fall through the trees? Describe in 15 words, describe it in 5. That’s a line in your novel too. Can you run in the forest? No? Why not? Oh, the branches and the moss and the uneven ground! Can your protagonist run in the forest? How would they navigate the debris? What sounds can you hear? Forests aren’t silent.
Or perhaps you’re writing a romance set in a city. Go spend a day in one. How many people are around? Do you see anything odd? What can you hear; how far can you see into the distance; how long can you walk behind a slow-moving tourist before you lose your mind?
You don’t have to describe every texture, every sound or every smell. Some of these details probably won’t even survive to the final manuscript but that’s an editing problem. When you develop your world, treat location as a character. Remember: your novel is set in a real world. Make us believe it too.
5 – Replenish your inkwell
Lastly, the best reason to go outside. Yourself.
I spend an awful lot of time indoors. I have two computer-based jobs (one of which is book editing here at Acres of Ink) as well as my own writing. A productive day could easily pass without me going outside at all–and I’m sure that’s the same for most writers.
However, the time soon comes when I feel restless, uninspired and aggravated. The only way to cure this is by taking a trip outside, out of my head, into the fresh air.
Self-care is so important to creativity. It’s important to life in general. It is far too easy to get caught up in writing and fail to take care of yourself properly. However well your novel is going, make sure to stop every so often and go outside. Even if it’s just a walk, or a cup of tea in the cafe down street, go outside. You might be surprised how beneficial it can be.
What other habits would you recommend for writers? Is going outside enough, or is there something else guaranteed to keep the inspiration flowing?
Add your comments below!