Yesterday I took a walk with a friend in a local State Park called the You Yangs. The park comprises a series of about four modest granite peaks — little more than hills, really — surrounded by scrubby native Australian bush and grassland. Beyond, the land is relentlessly flat and cleared for farming, but within the State Park the landscape is rugged and hilly with spectacular views.
Every time I do something like this, I ask myself why I don’t do it more often. Sure, it takes a little bit of planning and coordination, but the rewards are plenty: fresh air, exercise, fellowship, scenery, wildlife…
What’s that? Time, you say?
Oh, right, it’s the time. Yesterday’s expedition took up more or less an entire day out of my precious weekend. Despite the fact that the You Yangs are only an hour or so out of the city, there’s also the packing of lunch, sorting of gear, approximately four hours of walking… and then the aching weary bones and muscles at the end of it.
Yes, it wiped out a whole day. A day in which I didn’t work on my second career or complete any of the other tasks on my ever-expanding to-do list.
It would be so easy to rule out the prospect of ‘distractions’ on the weekend… (No, sorry, I can’t join you for <insert social activity> because I have this other career that needs my attention… I’d love to see that movie/performance/show, but I really don’t have time…) In fact, I could easily allocate every second of my weekends and evenings to something related to writing and associated supporting activities.
I could sit at this computer, stare into the bright screen, non-stop for fourteen hours a day. Probably.
When I was invited to walk in the You Yangs, I knew a moment’s hesitation. I am completely slammed at the moment, hardly knowing where to start with all the things I want to achieve in my ‘spare time’, having to choose which ones get done and which ones do not. Really, I want to do everything!
So, despite my love of bushwalking, I hesitated. But then it hit me that a day away from a computer would be A GOOD THING and that I’d been complaining about my inability to do exercise, and I found myself agreeing to the expedition. And looking forward to it. I knew everything else would still be waiting for me when I got home, and that even if I stayed home and slaved for an entire day I still wouldn’t reach the bottom of the pile. A day away from it all would give my eyes and back and brain a break.
What I hadn’t considered was how stimulating I would find a day out in the bush. Health benefits aside, the expedition fuelled my imagination into overdrive, until I’d mentally lined up about four blog posts. Every scent, sound, view inspired some world-building or plot consideration. I found myself contemplating how to describe the smell of damp eucalyptus in a fantasy context, and how to convey the hollow call of the wind.
Yesterday’s outing serves as a timely reminder for me of how important it is not to get too caught up in lists and targets and words and goals and process. For writers at least it’s absolutely essential that we take the time to upload life experiences almost as often as we focus on downloading our stories onto paper or the screen. The time-worn expression is ‘grist for the mill’; it’s still a fabulous metaphor.
Creativity is not a bottomless well. It needs to be topped up frequently, by as varied means as possible. The more you put in, the more you get out. Before Sunday’s ramble, I’d been feeling exhausted and starting to wonder whether I was going to be able to keep up the pace I’d set myself. Starting to wonder whether there was in fact more to life than the long hard slog I’d chosen.
And there is. There must be. Because if I don’t allow myself to experience more than wordcount and blogpost and blog-comment and tweet, the creativity well will run dry and the mill will grind nothing but dust. Slog — yes. But not to the exclusion of everything else.
So how about you? Does the natural world replenish your soul, or is there some other activity that ignites your inspiration? Are you ever so focused on your goals that you’re in danger of forgetting to ‘get a life’? Do share!