Volunteer Holly muses over changes in scenery.
Years ago, I found myself sitting on the edge of a cliff looking out over the Pacific Ocean for the first time. The view stretched on, vast and limitless. Humbled by the experience, I realized how narrow my focus had been for most of my life. I decided to step out of my self-made box and, from that moment on, vowed to go someplace new each year. It’s been 10 years, and I’ve kept that promise. Whether it is as simple as spending an afternoon within an hour of my home or traveling to different parts of the world, each new experience has broadened my horizons and helped me grow as a writer. Meeting new people expanded the range of characters at my disposal. Being adventurous helped me take more risks with my stories. Seeing new landscapes opened my eyes to how our place on this earth helps shape who we are as a people.
I’m a big proponent for changes of scenery, especially when the ruts of life have been dug so deeply that it’s hard to see over the edge of the dirt. A fresh perspective, a new experience, has often done the trick in waking my creative mind to new possibilities. Once, I had a character who would only speak to me in the woods. As crazy as I know it sounds, I could only write about her with a notebook and pen while surrounded by trees. When I would try to conjure the character while sitting at my desktop computer, I would be met with silence. It was as if she belonged in the woods, so I had to go there to find her.
It does not always require luggage or plane tickets to expand the mind. I’ve heard it said that some of the greatest ideas were had not when focused on an issue but while doing a routine, mundane task. Who wants to do the dishes? Or laundry? Not me. But I love to take a good long drive. What I’ve heard is that while the conscious mind is occupied, the subconscious mind is freed to come out and play. Giving the subconscious mind a problem to sort out and then letting it go uninterrupted from the worries of the day often leads to new and great insights. I’ve found myself scribbling notes on napkins while pulled over in a well-lit parking lot, so much so that I rarely leave home without a notebook on hand. Many writers travel with a voice recorder so they don’t have to pull off the road at all.
Even at my desk, I’ve found that a way to remove the boundaries of the ordinary is to read poetry before embarking on prose. This helps me focus on language, brevity and form, breaking my sentences out of the mundane. There have been times I’ve taken scenes from my novel and re-written them as poetry to help rid them of extraneous words and to focus on the sounds and rhythm of the sentences. A change from the conventional is the fuel to light the fire of inspiration. A change allows us to see what confounds us in a new way and often breaks down the barriers that we have placed around ourselves.
A great way to seek a new perspective is to attend writers’ conferences, especially those held in beautiful locations. I just returned from Wildacres Writers Workshop held in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. When the skies were clear, the view seemed to go on forever, hilly ripples like ocean waves. As if that weren’t enough, the breeze through the trees mimicked the peaceful sounds of the shoreline. It is hard not feel inspired among such beauty. But the fantastic workshops taught by highly qualified faculty finely tuned my focus and inspired me to continue to grow as a writer. And the dinner conversations around the table gave me a chance to connect with like-minded people from all over the country. We encouraged each other and gave weight and validity to each other’s projects. I found myself excited to get back in the trenches of writing again.
Stepping out of my own little world and looking back on it from a distance gave me insights that I never would have seen from inside of the box. Changing my scenery has helped to change my perspective. My stories have benefited as a result. I know that next time writer’s block frustrates me, I will just get in the car and see where my muse leads.