|Composing al fresco, Shabbona Lake State Park|
In our last post, we shared several helpful ways to overcome the terror of the blank page and fill it with words. Here we offer a somewhat related tip: often you can effectively recharge your writing by taking it outside.
Absolutely. In the fresh air, under natural light. Preferably somewhere relatively open so that walls don’t separate you from the expanse of your natural surroundings. At nearly any stage of the thesis or dissertation, you can benefit from spending quality time in open-air settings that are suitable for relaxing but also walking, running, and cycling. You may question the idea of bringing anything related to your project to such locales. Yet this approach can often be just what you and your writing need, especially during times your progress slows down or your energy runs low.
Introducing your writing to outdoor settings can restore its vigor and rebalance your approach to it. The thesis or dissertation tends to keep you indoors and narrowly focused for long stretches. Granted, most of the work requires a lot of desk time. But too much of that can dull your body, mind, and ultimately your writing. Although there are many ways to take breaks, spending time outside can be especially rejuvenating. “In the woods, is perpetual youth.” Ralph Waldo Emerson offered that statement in his 1836 essay Nature as a way of introducing perhaps his most celebrated image dealing with the individual and the outdoors: “Standing on the bare ground,—my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all.” Fanciful interpretations aside, Emerson’s idea hints at what you and your project can gain through outdoor excursions. Certainly there is much to see and appreciate in nature. But getting out in it can also help you see and appreciate your growing text more clearly.
Among the many approaches to taking writing outside, the following are useful for immediate gain as well as long-term success:
Meditation on the Move. Here you explore your thoughts about your writing (or anything else) while traversing outdoor surroundings on foot or bicycle. This approach is particularly helpful during drafting and revising stages, that is, while you’re building and/or rearranging ideas. As noted in a previous blog post, the term for this approach comes from writer and long-distance-running enthusiast Joe Henderson. Fundamental to it is the principle that time spent thinking and moving is more important than mere distance covered: thus, aiming to get outside for 1 to 2 hours is better than aiming to complete a certain number of laps or miles. As you meditate on the move, it also helps to note beings and objects in the distance, such as birds on branches, fish under water (often quite visible in certain sections of the Kish south of the NIU campus), clumps of faraway trees, or clouds on the horizon. In addition to helping you stretch your mind, such distance viewing can give a welcome break to your eyes, which already spend plenty of time narrowly focused on words, pages, and screens.
Outdoor Journaling. During a walk, run, or ride, stopping to make notes in a journal can be a very rewarding practice. A journal allows you to put down ideas on the spot that might not come back to you when you later return to your indoor writing. Out in nature, a pen and a pad of paper can reassert their handiness as writing tools. Natural light can reengage your interest in your handwriting as well as the thoughts you express in it. Of course, instead of such quaint holdovers from yesteryear, you could bring along an electronic writing gizmo. But since you’re going outside partly to break away from routine, why not also temporarily disengage from such devices? When you get down to it, working with writing on a screen outdoors, no matter how much you move in or out of the shade or adjust brightness settings, tends to be cumbersome and is often counterproductive.
Write by Windows. Luckily, even while still working indoors, you’re generally never too far from nature. Thus, obviously the quickest way to engage your writing with the outside world is to move to a nearby window and open it. (Yes, even in cold weather.) Simply composing by an open window can remarkably restore connections with your broader surroundings and thus ultimately also help revivify your writing. It can also encourage you to venture further afield and take up some of the tips detailed above.
Wishing you continued success with your project as we head into the summer, perhaps the best season for taking your writing outside!