Some of my fondest memories from my childhood involve camping at Moraine View State Park, or as we locals called it--Dawson Lake. The pull towards nature has always been a part of me. Much of my young adult life was spent hiking through state and national parks of the Midwest. I prefer the windows open to the air being on, the dead of winter depresses me; and when the warm weather finally starts, I feel renewed. If I did not have to deal with vitiligo, I would spend every day I could under the sun.
Being a writer, I have a lot of friends on social media who are also writers and; although I know a love of nature is not exclusive to writers, I tend to see a lot of selfies in the woods, retreats being planned in the mountains, and beaches being designated as happy writing places. So, it would seem that, writers are especially drawn to nature. And how could we not be? Every writer I have ever known has been a reader from the beginning. The first stories we are told, read, or see at the movies, are fables and fairy tales.
The settings for these stories are almost always in a natural habitat. Hans and Gretel--woods, Little Red Riding Hood--woods, Goldie Locks and the Three Bears--woods, Beauty and the Beast--forest, Snow White-
-forest, Rapunzel--Forest, The Little Mermaid--Ocean,
Pocahontas--Forest and River, The Frog Princess--Swamp, and the list can go on and on. Straight away we are predisposed to believe that those settings hold the most magical settings. Nature is where anything, and everything, is possible. Fairies can be real in the forest, mermaids in the oceans, nymphs in the sea, and minotaur's in the mountains.
Even if we weren't told these stories as children, authors, and poets such as Henry David Thoreau, Robert Frost, Jack London, Stephen Crane, and Emile Zola, have been discussing and analyzing their experiences in nature for the better part of the last two centuries. In fact, it was Emile Zola who coined the term Naturalism which means the fictional portrayal of reality. Now, finally, Science is finally catching up with the literary greats of the past who insisted on nature being a remedy for nearly any emotional ailment.
A study at UC Berkeley that was discussed in Greater Good Magazine in 2016 indicates that the society we live in and raise our children is forces us to spend more time indoors and online which could be harmful to our creativity. This was strange for me to think about. I live in a mid-sized city and spend a lot of my time online. My full-time job is writing web content. I am a full time University student in an online program and as an author, most of my interactions with other readers and writers is through Facebook and Instagram. Relating to all these people and having this vast platform to talk to others about the craft of writing always seemed to be a sure way to spark creativity and get energized.
Berkeley however begs to differ. In Japan, researchers conducted an experiment that observed and monitored people walking. A simple physical activity since we know that exercise reduces stress. One half of the group walked through the forest, the other half through a busy urban center. The group that walked through the forest were more relaxed, less stressed, and reported being in an uplifted mood after their walk. Similarly, a study conducted in Finland proved that when people who live in an urban environment take 20 minutes to walk through a park or wooded area, they will experience tremendous stress relief.
A Stanford University researcher also did a similar experiment but focused in on emotional wellbeing and cognitive function. This researcher, Gregory Bratman, was able to show that people who walked for 50 minutes in nature had better memory function, less anxiety, better self-perception, and more positive emotions over all as compared to their counterparts who walked through an urban environment. Bratman's in-depth study can be found here.
Every writer I know is under constant stress. Will my readers like this book? Will these bloggers be willing to read my novel? How can I grow my group? Will my publisher be satisfied with these edits? Will my book make the NYT Best Sellers list? Our minds are constantly flooded with what ifs and over analyzing of every word in our manuscript. On release day, after you turn your manuscript over to the editor, when your kids get home from school and all you want to do is pour a bottle (yes bottle) of wine into a glass, try taking a walk around your neighborhood or sitting at a quiet park for 20 minutes to relax and reduce your stress and anxiety!
What about creativity? Writers need a constant stream of creativity to keep producing. Our livelihood depends on how creative we can be and how well we can navigate the flood waters of inspiration. What happens when the flood waters start receding? When that super great, best seller worthy idea, starts to fizzle after we write the first few chapters, what can we do? Many fellow writers may say to push through it, to keep writing. For me, that leads to bad storytelling because its forced and not natural. I would rather not have to go back and rewrite entire chapters later.
In 2012, David Strayer was able to prove that people who spent more time in nature were better problem solvers, especially when creativity and ingenuity were needed to solve the puzzle. Strayer sent a group on a four-day hiking trip that would require them to solve problems and puzzles along the way. Another group was given the same problems to solve, but in indoors environments. The hikers were able to solve 50% more puzzles than the control group.
Authors who are suffering from writer's block, novelists who are stressed unbelievably trying to reach their deadlines, bloggers who just can't find a niche topic people will want to read about, poets who have lost their inspiration--Go out into nature for a time. Feel the earth beneath your feet (but watch out for dog poop!) walk through a warm spring rain, take a stroll down the trail at the nature center. Spend your lunch hour eating at the park, watching birds at the pond, or just take a drive with the windows down and enjoy the sunshine on your face. The words will begin flowing again.