What Landscape Makes Your Writing More Powerful and Authentic?
What kind of landscape are you?
This was a question I asked myself during a recent writing workshop. I thought I knew the answer, but it turns out I’d no clue.
Heather Walton, author of Not Eden: Spiritual Life Writing for this World, was teaching a workshop at the University of Toronto this past May for a creative nonfiction conference I attended. She had us go through comparing and contrasting different landscapes to discover what one resonated most.
I loved this exercise, as it’s not only about what you ‘like’ but also about how the landscape makes you feel. This question is especially pertinent for writers because the landscape you feel most attuned to at any given moment can actually help you be a better writer.
Think about when you go for a walk in the park, and then all sorts of ideas for stories come flooding into your head. Or when you’re in a café in your hood and you suddenly feel like you could move mountains with your writing.
Yes, turns out that “city” is also a landscape, which I definitely think it should be.
Truth is, dear reader, sometimes I’m a city, while other times I really feel like I’m a forest. But really, a lot of the time I’m a deep, blue sea!
Sometimes you may feel pulled to a certain landscape because it reminds you of where you grew up, while other times that landscape might be just what the story you're working on needs at that time.
In my Good Stories Grow Here Writing Studio I teach ways to connect with the natural world, our surroundings and our senses, in order to not only become more present but to strive for wholeness and presence, bringing immediacy and liveliness to our writing and our life.
So, back to the workshop… I went through the exercise and then heard myself blurt out in front of the whole group of writers: “My ideal landscape is a desert.”
Was that me who said this?
I couldn’t believe it as I’d never even been to a desert, and my idea of what one was like was mostly based on movies where people in vintage cars race through barren landscapes beneath big, blue skies, limp cigarettes hanging from their painted lips as they pull into old-time gas stations. I’d no idea what the desert was or what it could offer me in the way of writing and creative sustenance.
Speed ahead a couple months and here I am in Nevada in the (you guessed it!) desert, writing in a root cellar with a view of a canyon.
Life’s pretty strange isn’t it?
An opportunity came up for me to write the second draft of a non-fiction book in a remote area of Nevada and my writey sense (like Spidey sense) jumped at the chance. I see wild horses, antelope, donkeys, and today I saw a lizard scampering right in front of me! And my writing so far appears to be happy about my choice of desert landscape.
Obviously, most people can’t just pick up and leave their lives and hightail it to the desert.
However you can stiill do something similar from home. I would suggest tuning into the places you find yourself in your every day life and observe how these places may inspire (or un-inspire you).
Let's say you’re working on a series of poems about water, why not find out where the creeks, rivers, or lakes are in your city or town, and pay these places a visit? Actually visiting places that inspire you will provide food for your writing and take you to unexpected places in the imagination too that you maybe hadn’t considered or even dreamed of.
Local parks or forests can provide unlimited fodder for your creativity. And so can busy streets. So next time you have a bit of time, bring along your notebook or laptop, visit a landscape that calls to you, and sit yourself down to begin writing.
Here’s the exercise that I did to determine my preferred landscape. Try it out and see what you discover about yourself.
1. Choose one of the following as your preferred landscape. Think about what one has meaning for you and why.
2. Choose one of the following as your preferred landscape. Think about what one has meaning for you and why.
3. Choose one of the following as your preferred landscape. Think about what one has meaning for you and why.
4) Of the three that you chose, choose the one that speaks to you the most--right now.
I’d love to hear how you found the exercise and what it brought up for you.
For extra inspiration, you can listen to a meditation from my 21 Day Writing Meditation Course which will help you connect to nature by actually BECOMING a blade of grass, pebble on the beach, and so on. This is great training for feeling into your surroundings, being present, and creating a story for your readers that's exciting and tangible.
How was it for you to be one with these elements of nature? Could you truly sense what it would be like?
Here's the writing exercise that accompanies this meditation:
Select one of the natural elements above and write a story of two to three paragraphs featuring you as that element. Write your impressions as you reflect on the meditation you just did. What do you feel? What do you see? Don’t worry about what the story looks like. The important thing is to capture your impressions as vividly as possible without censoring yourself.
Photos by Lissa M. Cowan.