Playcraft and Analysis, Playwriting

On Writing Outdoors and the Muse

There is something quite satisfying about writing outdoors. If you haven’t tried writing an entire piece outside in nature, you should at least once.

Being outdoors with the sounds, smells, and visuals of nature taps into something known as the biophilia effect. It’s a fancy book-learned word we made up to describe our indescribable bond with the planet. Simply being outside for extended periods of time relieves stress, increases our empathy, and puts us more in harmony with natural rhythms.

Playwriting is about capturing moments of real life experience, in other words, the present. More so than any dramatic form, you cannot dwell in the past or speculate on the future. To hold a live audience’s attention with live actors, there needs to be something happening in every moment. There is little time to lament or pontificate.

It is not a conscious process. Playwrights don’t think in lines in the same way scientists don’t think in equations. Like scientists, we dream up hypothetical circumstances and watch them play out to our delight or detriment, and merely record the results. The actual writing of the words comes last, and is the least interesting part.

That naturalistic creative process is made more difficult the more we are cut off from our natural surroundings. The more in touch we can become with reality, the more likely we are to dream up “real” circumstances, at least in my humble opinion. Writing in nature isn’t a cure-all, but definitely helps you get in touch with the Muse quicker.

Getting a story idea out and on paper requires a delicate and tenuous negotiation with the Muse. You may plan as much as you like, but something will always end up not working and you will be forced to grope in the darkness for an answer.

But the Muse doesn’t answer to people who are too stuck in their own head, or conversely too loose with their thoughts. She demands presence and balance, without skimping on humanity or mirth.

There is a golden wavelength between rigid analysis and child-like aloofness that the writer must be tuned in on before the Muse will reveal her treasures. Stanley Kowalski referred to it as “hitting the click”. Being outside gets you out of your own head more, and clears up some head space to hit the click. When you and the Muse are clicking, the ideas flow.

This doesn’t mean you should flee to a cabin in the woods for your next project David Mamet-style. But try taking yourself to an outdoor cafe, a local park, or somewhere in fresh air to do your work and see if you feel different about it. When you get blocked, take a moment to look at your surroundings and use all your senses. The Muse is always speaking to us — we just need to look up and listen more often.

 

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