A timely reminder that creativity needs fuelling

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 ofย  ‘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!


21 thoughts on “A timely reminder that creativity needs fuelling

  1. It does sound counter-intuitive, but I find getting away (especially getting up and moving) does help get the juices flowing again. However, I have to admit that if I do it at the wrong time it becomes a distraction and I find it hard to settle back into work.


  2. I totally agree with you, Ellen. Getting out and experiencing life – no matter how you do it – definitely replenishes the creative coffers. Thanks for the reminder because I, too, was beginning to wonder if I could keep up the pace I’ve been slogging though lately.


  3. Last Saturday the daughter and I took Burnsie-the-dog for a walk around Greenlake, a 3 mile loop in the middle of northeast Seattle. I knew I had a ton of work to do, the daughter REALLY wanted to go. It was Burnsie’s first time on a walking path (with lots of other dogs) and he did real well, and it was nice to spend some time checking in with my 14 year old. And you know what? The blog posts got written and the rough draft edits massaged a bit more. Later.


  4. Yes, nature does replenish my soul. To me, there’s nothing better than walking in the wind, taking in the sunshine, listening to the animals and breathing the fresh air.

    You are totally right about the need to step away and to live because if you don’t ~ then really, what’s the point of it all. I’m reminded of the scene in The Shining ~ “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, as he slowly loses his mind.

    Your post makes me want to pull on my hiking shoes, pack a lunch, grab the kids and go…somewhere..anywhere!

    Thanks for the reminder to get out there! ๐Ÿ™‚


  5. Thanks for this reminder! Too often in the routine of day to day, we forget to just stop a moment and experience. Maybe it is time to schedule regular breaks or does that defeat the purpose? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Usually my weekend is for catching up with stuff, but this Saturday there is a small party in my building (with my friends), I will definitely go and maybe I should look into some more fun stuff I could do in the next few weeks.


  6. What a beautiful post! The natural world is where I’ve always gone to replenish my soul and seek inspiration. Sometimes just the simple act of sitting on the front porch and gazing at the mountain is enough fuel for the creative fire. I can’t speak for anyone else, but my best ideas have always come from out there, not in here. Thanks for the beautiful reminder!


  7. I put off and put off getting out into the country/mountains/coast or wherever because of things I have to do, but then the immensely wonderful saturation of nature takes over and I swear I will do it again and often. The filling-up is necessary after the blood-letting of writing. Thanks for the reminder that I’m due to be let out soon.


  8. Ah… love and needed this: “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 Sundayโ€™s ramble, Iโ€™d been feeling exhausted and starting to wonder whether I was going to be able to keep up the pace Iโ€™d set myself. Starting to wonder whether there was in fact more to life than the long hard slog Iโ€™d chosen.” Thanks for this!


  9. I like to do the nature thing too. It’s not so much that it refuels my creativity but that it takes me far enough away from everything that I find myself feeling and thinking and enjoying. Between work, family and my second career, there is no time to stop. Even sleeping is on the to-do list more often than I’d like. Sometimes a hike is the best thing I can do for myself and everyone around me.


  10. Sometimes I have to get out from behind the desk and soak in some vitamin D. Or take a walk to the mailbox. Something. Anything. It works. Usually when I come back I’m ready to work–just needed that moment to breathe… I need to do this more often. I’m always glad I did. Enjoyed your post, Ellen!


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