Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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January 19, 2018

Why Writers Should Head Into the Woods

Cathy Lamb

Camping tent under a night skyWhen I was about eight, my parents took my sisters, my brother, and me on a six week camping trip in a tent.

Yes, I said six weeks.

No, my parents had not lost their ever lovin’ minds. My father had a sabbatical, they were sick of the city, and they wanted out.

We all piled into our long black Ford. The Ford had an uncanny and somewhat creepy resemblance to a hearse, but we ignored that part.

We tossed in our dogs, Frisky and Alphy. Frisky bit people, Alphy bit dogs. They were both bad, odd dogs. The Ford, immediately, was in total chaos.

We left Huntington Beach, California and camped up and down California and Oregon in a big, sagging blue tent which we later learned was not waterproof, as advertised.

My mother got a scary case of hypothermia, all three of my siblings threw their guts up because they drank the lake water in Lake of the Woods, the dogs got sick in the middle of the night, and we constantly had to drop by local hospitals so I could get my regular allergy shots so I wouldn’t start wheezing like a freight train.

A lantern dropped on my sister’s head, and she had to be rushed to the hospital for a bunch of stitches. Two days later she fell head first into a pond and soaked the stitches. My father had to dive into a river in Jedediah Smith State Park to rescue my brother who would have drowned had my father not been so quick.

Alphy tried to get in fights with other dogs, and Frisky tried to bite people.

The chaos continued. We persevered.

The result? Overall, we had a fantastic time camping in that saggy blue tent. It was a pivotal moment in my life as I saw the value, and beauty, of nature.

We saw mountain ranges and beaches. Elk and raccoons. Campfires and bears. Sparkling lakes and rushing rivers. For city kids, it started a lifelong love of nature for all of us.

All we had to do was go and play outside.

If I could offer you one piece of writing advice for 2018, I would tell you to go and play outside.

I wish my advice was more profound. I wish it sounded wiser, more knowledgeable. I wish it was more craft or skill oriented.

It isn’t.

Friends, head into the woods.

Trail through a forest

Camp. Hike. Stick your toes in the sand, run in the ocean. Go sledding. Grab time for yourself under the trees. Do not get hypothermia, and don’t drink lake water or bring bad dogs with you.

Be quiet. Be still. Listen. Notice colors and the weather, birds and ducks, the wind and the silence.

Bring chocolate chip cookies. Everyone knows that they’re nutritious and help brain power. Or wine. Wine will do.

I know your life is busy and traipsing into nature can be hard to do. I so get it, but try.

It’s on your hikes in a state park that you’ll find the theme of your story.

It’s in those serene moments beside a waterfall that a tricky sub plot or a mischievous character or a slippery storyline will germinate or solve itself.

It’s in your sleeping bag listening to crickets that you’ll know exactly what your next writing project should be.

Nature gives your soul time to relax. If you want to write well, you must relax and relieve and replenish your soul. Nature, and solitude, also forces us to be honest with ourselves, about our lives, our relationships, and our writing. If for nothing else, go play outside for the honesty.

In 2018 I am wishing you time by a trickling stream, time to lay on your back and admire the stars, time to get up early to catch a sunrise, and time to stand on a mountain and admire a snowy, blue view that goes on forever and ever.

Cheers and happy writing.

Have you ever gotten an idea for a book, while out in nature? Has the break helped your writing?

About Cathy

Book Cover of No Place I'd Rather BePhoto of Cathy LambCathy Lamb recently finished her twelfth novel. She is tired and is headed out to walk through the woods.

Website: http://cathylamb.org

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cathy.lamb.9

42 comments on “Why Writers Should Head Into the Woods”

  1. Cathy, I love this. Nature always inspires me. So great for creativity to get outdoors. Alpha Dog and I love riding back roads on our motorcycles - my happy place!

    That's where I got my first idea for my first story. I carry a tiny voice recorder in my jacket, and dictate ideas when we stop for gas!

    1. Laura,
      I have seen you in photos on your motorcycle and I must say that you are my warrior woman heroine. Really. I should write a story about you. I think being outside is HUGE to a writer's creativity. We must play outdoors.

    2. I agree with Julie - I have a recorder somewhere. I need to figure out where it is and if it still works, cuz I need to be doing this. Usually, I just call and leave myself a voicemail.

    1. Jena, I am not sure my mother thought it was inspiring...but we never went on that long of a camping trip again. Can you imagine? Four kids, two dogs, a tent on the ground? Ugh. But she did it. Camping is a really fun experience, especially for kids. But we adults need that nature-time, too.

  2. Your post evoked memories of camping in the Canadian north with my family, but your description of the car with dogs and kidstrapsing up and down the West coast rang so close to Jeannette Walls "Glass Castle" that I might have to reread to recapture some of that joy

    1. Ah, but I read the Glass Castle and I will tell you straight out that my family was NOTHING like Jeannette Walls. Nothing. I had very kind and loving parents. It was an epic camping trip and we did have a lot of fun. I do love Jeannette's books, though. She is a talented, talented writer.

  3. You've made my morning! I find even a long walk, in the snow, up hill both ways :-), clears out the shadows and makes life--and my writing--worthwhile. Thank you!

    1. Lakota, I feel the same. I walk all the time. I go on different walks, on bike paths, parks, my neighborhood, during the day and night. It does clear out the shadows. Being outside, in the wind, by trees, in the cold, it all really helps, in writing and in life. Cheers.

  4. I love that we moved to a very rural area in the Colorado Rockies, and I just have to step outside and go for a walk with the dog to be away from it all. No light pollution at night, so the stars are amazing. (Watching them from the hot tub is my idea of heaven.) I do like having a roof over my head, central heating, and indoor plumbing, though.

    1. Your place sounds beautiful, Terry. A hot tub and watching the stars in the Colorado Rockies. What a picture. I have been in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming and I could not believe how many stars are up there. The city lights do block out so much. In Wyoming I could so much more easily see how there are BILLIONS and BILLIONS of stars up there. It was amazing.

  5. I do this weekly. Tuesday is hiking day. I put it on the calendar. I don't make appointments for Tuesday if I can help it. I go with a group so there's social interaction, but often I hike at the back of the group so I can soak up the quiet. Yes, walk in the woods (or in my case, the desert). It's worth it.

    1. Connie, I think hiking is health for the soul. How wonderful that you have a Tuesday hiking day. Every week. I love that. I should join a hiking group....

  6. I am so with you on quiet time in nature. There is just something about the fresh air, the birds singing and soaking up the sun! My first picture book was created from nature and seeing all the insects around my butterfly bushes.

    1. Joan, I think nature is mental health and soulful rejuvenation. You are right about the birds and the sun and the air. It just makes you feel better. So easy to get stuck inside, working, etc. And I don't think "Nature" needs to mean you have to camp for a week. Just going to a local park is nature enough and often all we can fit into our schedules.

    1. Did you enjoy your walk? Walking is so great in the morning. It just gets everything moving, physically and mentally. I should do it every day....

  7. Cathy, I love your voice. Your pacing. Your word-pictures. I get inspiration anywhere and at any time. As a result, my brain is a busy place. Thoughts that are "keepers" come to me when I'm power-walking among the crowds at Disneyland as well as when I'm listening to a whispering wind in the trees along a path in the northern Wisconsin woods. I guess I'm lucky that way. But I have to admit, I crave a whispering wind sometimes!

    1. How do you power walk through the crowds at Disney? How are you not distracted by the rides and entertainment and the food? I agree with you - inspiration comes in the oddest places. I text myself when I have a new idea or a thought on the book I'm writing, then I don't forget what i just thought of!

  8. Thanks so much. This multi-tasker needed to hear your lesson. Quiet times are often wasted on-screen - we are all being robbed of that peace and quiet - and it doesn’t have to be spent anywhere special. I’m fortunate to have a bushy secluded garden which is abundant with the sights, sounds and smells of nature and I’ve only recently found that I have a place to seek quiet writing inspiration there. We can even be alone in a crowd if we take time to watch and listen, but you’re never alone when you stare into your phone.

    1. I think social media, texting, always being connected, is causing a ton of problems with adults and, worse, with our young people. I cannot imagine having facebook as a kid. It would have made me feel even more left out and awkward. Can you imagine, as a teenager, seeing, ONLINE, a party you weren't invited to? An event where it seems EVERYONE is at, but you? The cyber bullying that goes on? I really, really feel for our young people. How stressful. More outdoor time would be best for them, and less phone time. More nature, less social media.

  9. Love this! I seek the woods and mountains and deserts when I can. To see animals in the wild is such a thrill for me. I need to actually schedule these times more! Thanks for sharing your insights.

    1. Good idea, Barb. I should "schedule" my nature time more. I know I'm going to walk, but I should write down hiking times, etc. I live in suburbia but we have coyotes and raccoons all over the place, and once a year the deer walk through. It's amazing.

  10. Bottled wine is prob not efficient while hiking. Get a box of Franzia, insrt small rubber tube thru lid, duck tape to keep tube in place and seal it closed, put in backpack and tape tube to shoulder. Check recorder too.

  11. Amen and well-said, Cathy.

    I'm very fortunate that I get to hang with nature every day. I live on a dirt road in an isolated corner of the Cascade Mountains in Washington. I can run 8 miles on logging roads in any of several directions and never see another human. Might see a bear. Or deer or turkeys, rarely an elk. It's magic for developing plot and character.

    1. My first place of peace is the beach. I just love watching the waves. So soothing. So re-charging. Hmmm....didn't quite say that right, but you know what I mean!

  12. Cathy, your writing is always so lyrical! Especially loved this bit: "Nature gives your soul time to relax." <--Very wise. But the image of all the siblings and the dogs and the not-so-waterproof tent? Priceless. That one took me back to my own childhood and certain camping trips where the only shower to be found was a waterfall in the Rocky Mountains. In June. Good Lord, that's the coldest shampoo job I ever had in my life.

  13. Jenny, I can see why that would be a FREEZING shower in the Rocky Mountains! We used to "clean up" by jumping in the river or a lake. If we'd been in the river or lake we figured we were "clean enough." too funny.

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