When 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.
Friends, head into the woods.
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?