Let Your Surroundings Inspire Your Writing

Where are you right now? Can you describe it? What sounds surround you? Does the air have a particular smell? Can you see the clouds, or are you staring at wallpaper?

Or… are you completely oblivious to your surroundings, too caught up in what you're doing to just be?

Sadly, for many of us, the latter is true. We don't pause to appreciate where we are and the beauty around us. Let this be your warning: Your surroundings matter. More than you know.

So pay attention. You may not get another chance to notice them.

Photo credit: Jen Robinson (Creative Commons)

The other day, I wrote about my surroundings, what I was doing in the moment. And I found the experience to be completely cathartic. I didn't know how busy I'd become, how much I needed to just stop and take notice of my settings.

It's a reflection that describes a Saturday afternoon, one that I wish was more typical in my busy, hectic, over-scheduled life. Here it is:

Saturday Afternoon

Coals are on, steaks prepared. Our kitchen welcomes the sound of raw potatoes being chopped. I never get tired of home-made fries. It's part of my Irish roots maybe.

Grill is hot and ready, but I am not. Still chopping. Still preparing. Coals turn chalky white, and finally I drop the sticky, raw meat on the grated grill.

It sizzles. I wait. This is why I don't cook much food at home; it's the waiting I can't stand.

Somewhere, a neighborhood dog barks — I'm not sure where. The sound is above and beyond right now. It is an icon, that bark, a reminder of a simpler life.

Meat is done — sooner than I expect, unfortunately. Frantically, I crank up heat on stove. The corn cob water boils over, and froth hits the burner, sizzling and snapping.

I step outside again. Flip steaks. Wait. Stare into space. Flip again. I'm in a daze, unaware of what (if anything) is happening in my own back yard.

Stopping, I look around. I finally breathe and listen. I don't do this enough, I think. I never have. I'm always waiting and wishing for the next thing.

But in this moment, I feel perfect. Not me, of course. But this — this space, these smells, this perfection. Something about the blip in time feels sacred. Maybe because I am still, detached from email and smart phones and meetings.

Those things still exist, but they're inside. Somewhere I can't see — buried beneath a mountain of paperwork. But I am out here, and here I am myself. Quietly, I whisper a prayer of thanks, hoping Someone is listening.

Dinner is served.

This is a job we must take more seriously, especially those of us who are writers. We must take our surroundings in, inhaling them deeply, and then exhaling them out for the world to see.

We must relish every moment for what it is. Because this is where we find our inspiration, not in grandiose tales of travel and conquest. But in the small, frozen moments. The ordinary.

Let's do an exercise

I shared my moment with you. Now, it's your turn: Describe your surroundings right now. Stop doing whatever you're doing and spend a few minutes, writing what's around you.

Have you noticed the squirrel outside your window? The way the pens are arranged on your desk? The beauty of that mess on your dining table? Write it all down.

What do your surroundings look like? Share in the comments. And if you like this sort of thing, subscribe to my friend's blog: The Write Practice. They do these exercises every day.

*Photo credit: Jen Robinson (Creative Commons)