On the Virtues of Beautiful Places

A carpet of narcissi & tulipsI hope you will not mistake me for one of those people who feels that it’s always necessary to surround yourself with beauty and inspiration if you want to produce a high-quality work. I’ve composed poetry in front of an industrial sink and written novels in crowded airports. However, I’ll readily admit that going or being someplace beautiful – or better yet, making someplace beautiful – is a good idea if you like to devote yourself to creative endeavors.

The most important thing about beautiful places is that they encourage us to relax, to let our minds wander, and to forget about the things we’re worrying about. We all need to do this, especially when we’re trying to compose a piece of writing. Drafting a story or novel is a stressful, tiring task, and there’s a lot to be said for going on a break now and then and taking a walk in a nearby park. Taking some time to briefly distance yourself from your work – even if you only go upstairs to make some coffee – is a good way to relax, refresh, and reorganize before delving back into it.

Just as they help us distract ourselves when we need it, beautiful places can also help us focus on our own sense of what is beautiful. This is a very important understanding for a writer to have, as it will guide many of your creative choices and contribute to the higher themes of your narratives. I’ve always found it worthwhile to take a few moments and write about what makes your favorite place beautiful. Different people find beauty in different areas for different reasons, and the simple task of articulating these reasons can be a truly inspiring task.

Whether it’s the quiet of a mountainside or the cheerful bustle of a city park, almost all writers and artists find it helpful to spend some time in a beautiful place. You can use them to relax, to contemplate, or to find inspiration for your work – and they make bad places to sit down for a picnic, either.

How Does Your Inspiration Grow?

Irish fleabaneAny conversation about the art of writing will eventually turn to the topic of inspiration. Finding something compelling to write about can be almost as hard as writing about it compellingly. Many writers dread the day when they’ll wake up and find that they have nothing, nothing whatsoever to write about. Although this is a frightening fantasy, the reality is that inspiration doesn’t always have to occur spontaneously.

I like to think of inspiration as coming in two basic varieties. The kind we think about most frequently (and covet the most when we have it) is the kind that pops up on you when you’re thinking of something else. Many writers pick hobbies or activities that give them plenty of opportunities to be struck by this information; part of the reason I like to garden, for example, is because it gives me a chance to sit and think in a pretty place.

However, just because you can give yourself more chances at this kind of inspiration doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to come up with a good idea. If you want to count on getting an idea you can work with, you’ll need to put some work into your inspiration process. Compile a set of resources you can depend on to give you ideas (I use tumblr tags, searches on pinterest, and certain books in my library), and then use it. Write down ideas that appeal to you, and write down little bits of development until you have something you can start a story from. Develop a system that works for you, and stick as closely to it as you can. It’s not the most glamorous way of coming up with an idea, but it’s been a steadfast friend to me when life doesn’t sprout inspiration from its ears.

The quest for inspiration is one of the most romanticized and poorly understood parts of the writing profession. It is true that writers are occasionally randomly struck by inspiration that seems to grow wild. However, you’ll find yourself inspired more easily if you learn to use your resources to systematically find and develop your ideas.

Getting in the Write Place

Pellet stoveWhen I was younger, I could and would write anywhere – much to the chagrin of my schoolteachers and well-meaning relatives. As long as I had my notebook and a working pen, I found that I could drown out the world around me and get lost in whatever story I was working on at the time.

Although that skill hasn’t entirely disappeared over time, I do find myself somewhat more easily distracted these days. It’s one thing to sit down and get lost in a writing project when you’re a high school student with little else to do with your time, but it’s an entirely different game trying to focus on your writing when you’ve got a million other important projects to attend to. This is why I’ve found it helpful to set aside a space in my house where I work on my writing projects and nothing else – no housework, no paperwork,  and certainly no socializing.

I jokingly (and sometimes not-so-jokingly) refer to this space in my basement as my ‘dungeon,’ but in truth I find it rather freeing to sit myself down in a place I’ve come to associate with focusing on my work. It functions not only as my office, but also as my escape from the numerous distracting little tasks that can pull me away from a project and keep me mired indefinitely while I finish ‘one more chore.’ It helps me take my projects seriously, give them the full attention they deserve, and maintain the job/life balance that can be so hard to keep when you work from home.

Of course, I haven’t always been able to dedicate a space entirely to writing, and I know that it’s not an option for many people. You don’t have to have a dedicated office set up in order to give yourself a space where you write. What matters is that you assign something – be it a spot on the couch, an hour or three after work, or a seat at the library – to the task of writing, and that you stick with that assignment. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your projects grow once you give them some space of their own.