On writing and The Great Outdoors

Posted on Sep 16, 2010 in Blog

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to view the premiere of In the Wake of the Flood, Ron Mann’s documentary that followed Margaret Atwood over the course of her tour to promote her latest novel.  It was tremendously entertaining, and tremendously insightful (though I suppose that goes without saying — how can anything involving Ms. A not be the deepest of the deep?), but one unexpected little gem stood out for me in particular.

It is of course an environmental film, as the whole point of Atwood’s tour was political.  A green book tour to raise awareness of the world’s birds, and how they’re disappearing.  An opportunity to engage her readers and fans in a debate about the future of the world, and what people can do to help.  The film captured it beautifully.

I, however, was struck by a conversation Atwood had with a Vancouver conservationist.  They were walking over beautiful green grounds and talking about birds, and while remarking on how beautiful Vancouver was, Atwood also said, “… but when I was in Vancouver, I was teaching, and writing a novel, so I spent a lot of my time working.  I wish I’d had more time to go outside!”

And I thought — what do you know.  That desire to burrow away inside with one’s computer/notebook/typewriter/pen happens to the best of us.  How many nights have I come home and, faced with the prospect of books or beach, elected to hunker down by my desk instead?  I always feel guilty about this.  Always.  But I’ve taken my notebook out on the beach before and somehow it’s never quite right.  It’s either too windy (this is what you get when you live on a Scottish beach), or the light is already fading, or it’s just not … comfortable enough.  I write to music.  I write at my desk, or on the couch.  I write with a mug of tea ready at hand, and chocolate never far from reach.  And on most days, even the heartbreakingly beautiful ones, sitting inside with a mug of tea and words on the page is absolutely what I’d rather be doing.

Obviously, it’s a balance.  I can’t spend all of my time inside, not least of all because there are still things like work and friends and family and other ways of keeping up connections to the world.  And, well, there are so many beautiful places in the world.  I want to see them all.  If I could find a way to transport the above Perfect Writing Atmosphere into every outside situation I come across, I’d be under the sun all of the time. 

But all the same, it’s comforting to realize that even the great Margaret Atwood says no to the beautiful outside world from time to time.

Oh, and by the way:  buy the coffee.  You’ll be saving the birds and enjoying your OWN writerly cuppa joe all at the same time!