They surprised me. So I thought that some other writers might find my experience helpful. Or at least interesting,
As many readers know, I sometimes go off into the countryside as a Birdwatcher’s Companion. He’s a great chap to walk the hills with, knowledgeable and generous when I ask about plants and wildlife
But he’s also happy for me to go off into my own little fantasy world, if that’s where the mood takes me.
No matter how tired I am when we start, it seems that I always come back with my writing energy renewed and a spring in my step.
Writing Energy Lost
Well, a few weeks ago we went off to look at owls in Finland. We’d booked it ages ago. But life had thrown me a couple of sucker punches in the spring and I was still reeling. In particular my writing had gone stale and then virtually ground to a halt. Sometimes I almost couldn’t bear to read what I’d typed the day before.
So on this trip, I was more than tired. I was drained.
Writing Energy Stirs
Well, I think at this stage it was partly because I had to watch my step. Quite literally. Otherwise I would have fallen into a ditch. Focused the mind wonderfully, that did.
Also, this landscape was very strange to me, with a winter-white sky and trees like feathered masts of great invisible ships. The branches were full of the most delicate, lacy lichen. The air felt different, as if it was moving around me, busy with plant life, and small creatures. I was irrelevant, a watcher only.
And, just like that, my perspective shifted. It was like a shot of adrenaline.
“Like Forest Bathing,” he said. He didn’t sound enthusiastic.
I had vaguely heard of forest bathing. Shinrin-yoku is a nature therapy invented in Japan were it is much practised by burned-out city types. Anyway, I nodded.
But since I’ve been home, I’ve looked it up and I think I should probably have repudiated the suggestion with word and deed.
The Guardian has a very cheery piece about it.
A San Francisco group go into the woods and examine their every reaction to the natural world in minute detail, They end up passing a maraca from hand to hand and Affirming their enhanced wellbeing. The author is aware only of “creeping unease”.
Confirmed tree-hugger though I am, I’d have been right with him, there. (Read it. It’s a hoot.)
Writing Energy from Listening, Watching, Waiting
Actually that evening’s wait for the Eurasion pygmy owl is a really good example of the difference. We weren’t concentrating on ourselves. We probably were superbly grounded and even holistically calm. A keen observer might have noticed it. We were wholly concentrated on the owl, bless its snubbed little beak.
Aragorn took us to the place where one had been sighted. He broadcast a call. We stood and scanned the trees very, very carefully, in near silence. Nothing stirred. I thought I heard a distant cry that might have been a response but was too unconfident to say so. We waited some more. Nobody was impatient. We didn’t speak much.
And then something came in over the tree line. And yes, that was definitely the right soprano call. (This is apparently Europe’s smallest owl. Think an avian choirboy with freckles.) It sat on the very top of a pine and looked about it. In the scope it was – well – charming. Not something a birdwatcher would say. But by now I had reconnected with my imagination and, for me, it was definitely charming.
It called a lot. “Is that a territorial ‘keep off’ or a lonely hearts ‘wanna date’?” I asked Aragorn. He grinned. “Both. Like us.” The man was a realist.
It stayed for ages. I watched it with the naked eye, then binoculars and finally through one of the three scopes in our party. The birders and guides made sure that I had a good lug of scope time. That’s how I found the owl’s beak was like Just William‘s snub nose.
Each way of looking showed me something different. It was a revelation.
I had to concentrate, of course. But it was out of sheer fascination and delight. There was no horrible wheel in my head going “I must concentrate; I must concentrate” as there had been for months when I tried to write. If anyone had asked me how I felt watching the bird, I’d have said, “Lucky. Very, very lucky.”
Writing Energy from Surprise
Of course, you can’t absolutely count on birds to come, even when you send out alluring calls they will recognise. But with a knowledgeable guide, you’ve got a more than fifty-fifty chance. But sometimes you get the gift of something you neither called nor expected. Suddenly it’s just there.
First: the muskrat. We were standing on a wooden observation platform. Suddenly the lake rippled and there he was swimming strongly, busy and otter-like. We saw him for only a few seconds. I wanted to wave my arms above my head in sympathy.
Glacial erratics are bits of rock in the wrong place. They have been dumped there by the movement of prehistoric ice and are indicators of glacial routes. This one, as you see, has great character. Could well have auditioned for Frozen. (No, I didn’t say that.)
Writing Energy Renewed
Above all, I’ve been writing happily. And, I think, rather well. It’s flowing anyway, and I can’t wait to get back to my story in the morning. I’ve even got two projects on the go at the moment, and I’m having fun with both, in their different ways. Oh perspective, welcome back. How I love you!
In fact, I’ve demonstrated that recalling my forest experience actually brings down my blood pressure. My doctor takes it three times during a consultation. So I imagined myself back in the forest, rain drops pattering on my hood, for that last take. I could even feel myself smiling.
And my blood pressure fell by 40 points. Doctor laughed like a drain.
Reasons for Writing Energy Revival?
- got me out of my head, with all those anxieties and self-blame, into acceptance of the way the cards fall
- showed me how to change perspective and recognise that each view is valuable
- reminded me that concentration is a way of being, not a task you do
- taken me back to experiencing the moment, instead of thinking about what to do next
- shown me new stuff
- reminded me that fresh air, trees and water are a joy
So my advice is, if you’re struggling with writing, see if you can spend some hours outside looking, listening, waiting and concentrating on what is immediately in front of you. You might even take a Birdwatcher. Good luck!