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From Notifications to Nature: How Writers Block out the Daily Noise and Find their Inner Voice
Written by
She Writes
January 2020
Written by
She Writes
January 2020

Today's guest post was written by Katherine Keith, the author of Epic Solitude: A Story of Survival and a Quest for Meaning in the Far North (February 18, 2020).

Our writer’s soul lies inside, begging to be released and expressed. This soul has a purpose, we manifest that purpose through the stroke of a pen or the keys on a computer. We start with a vision or this amorphic sense of what we want to say. It is an intangible cloudy bubble, just a bit beyond our reach. If only we could reach out with a bottle to capture it, like a firefly. We could then comprehend the elusive vision conceived by our soul, clearly define its nuances, then put words to paper that together eloquently craft a masterpiece Shakespeare couldn’t match.

Too often, that source of illumination is so close we can almost taste the essence of what our soul has designed. You can almost grasp the shape of the complete intricate dream, then DING!! The Facebook notification rings on your apple watch. This is quickly followed by a BEEP email inbox update from your computer. Within the space of three seconds, gone is the edge of the soul’s vision, and writer’s block has returned. You yearn to generate your best masterpiece yet, but your deadline is only days away.

Frustrated, you pick up the paper and read the latest impeachment news on CNN. This transitions into an update on a recent school shooting. After a few incoming phone calls about tonight’s errands, the energy and capacity for brilliance is long gone. Nothing inspires you. Such drama is enough to drain creativity for many days. Our inner voice is a fragile and precious treasure.

Too Much Noise

We know distractions affect us, and science has verified the truth of it. The peril of modern-day digital writing is genuine. We must be available on the computer and phone to be productive but can’t seem to escape from notifications. The average user swipes and clicks their device 2,617 times each day. Even if our attention is distracted for only a few tenths of a second, the brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost up to 40% of someone’s productive time.

Interestingly, task switching does not delay the time it takes to return to a task. A study by G. Mark is misinterpreted online saying that it takes 23-25 minutes to refocus after a disruption. This statement is false and is quoted in many articles. The real cost of these interruptions is increased levels of stress, frustration, time pressure, effort and mental workload. All of which leads to burn out and reduction in creativity. 

Task switching also kicks you out of a natural flow state, otherwise known as being in the zone. In flow, your writing is flawless, your understanding, inspiration and concentration miraculously align. Your productivity can double, and creativity skyrockets. Yet, as soon as you switch tasks and stop your brilliant writing to draft that email, pick up a phone or check Facebook: you knock yourself out of flow state.

The moral of this story is to block notifications. Given that all devices are different in today’s ever-changing world, I would look it up how to do so on google.

Look to Nature

Removing distractions is only half of the solution. Now that your workspace is quiet, it is time to amplify your creativity.

Many books have been written about finding your inner voice and maintaining a source of inspiration. The answer, in part, lies in nature. Nature serves as kindle for the fire that drives motivation. It will boost the signal of your inner voice and empower it with heart and meaning. The masterpieces of your dreams will roll off your thoughts to manifest on paper.

Urban environments, filled with dramatic pandemonium, demand our focused attention. It is not restorative. Nature is brimming with captivating stimuli. Without fanfare, it gently invites our interest, allowing the hypervigilant part of our brain a chance to replenish. This is partly why natural settings are relaxing and rejuvenating. 

There are many scientifically proven cerebral benefits to spending time in nature. After four days in nature and away from digital devices, creativity scores, measured by word associations, improve by 50%. Interacting with nature for one hour significantly improves short-term memory. It has similar effects to meditating. The same results were found when looking at pictures of nature scenes but not when viewing urban images. Twenty minutes a day outside is all you may require to allow your brain to refresh, restore and start functioning again at the highest level.

Studies indicate that spending time in nature also improves mental health. Taking walks in a natural environment reduces symptoms of depression, tension, anger and fatigue. Overall, 88% of study participants notice a general improvement in mood along with an increased sense of resiliency. People become more caring and generous when exposed to nature which opens our hearts to love and creativity.

Awaken your Inner Voice

Ecosystems around us inspire us and feed our souls. Even the most brilliant scientist is unable to prove why, but the results substantiate the conclusion. 

Perhaps it is because in observing the living world, we see that we are not alone. Or because it gives birth to a sense of wonder at the microcosms and macrocosms of the universe. The silence permeates our cells so that our soul’s poetry bubbles until they cascade like a waterfall. What is at first an uncertain composition becomes an essay turns into a novel gifted to you by the earth herself. 

Rediscover the wonders of the natural world through curiosity. When outside, search for inspiration through the vast array of colors, collect some unique objects, glance up at the sky (both day and night), find other sweeping vistas or seek out a body of water to sit by. If you enjoy photography, bringing a camera with you can help focus on stimulating sights.

This awakened voice needs feeding, so it’s important to maintain your visits into nature. Science has proven that you need to spend at least 120 minutes a week to improve your physical and mental well-being. The 120 minutes does not have to be all at one nor active. The time does need to be in genuine nature, not your local neighborhood children’s park. The optimal amount of time, for maximum benefit, is 200-300 minutes. More than that is not necessarily better-until you exceed 14 hours per week.

There is no substitute for being outside in nature. Yet access is easier for some than others. Wild areas are closer to Anchorage, Alaska than Chicago, Illinois. Seeking out hidden places of nature is a fulfilling and unexpected task. People who use a wheelchair will want to search for areas, such as in the National Park System, which offer alternative means of accessing the park. When you cannot escape to the great outdoors for your 120 minutes, there are strategies you can use. Watch Planet Earth videos, listen to nature sounds, view photos of nature and play with your dog. In nature, your mind expands, so practicing mindfulness at home will also help mimic the benefits of being outdoors.

To summarize, how to block out noise and boost your inner voice:

  • Shut off notifications;
  • Take breaks to go outdoors, in a natural environment, 20 minutes a day;
  • Go into a real nature environment for one hour twice per week which gives you 120 minutes;
  • If you are unable to get outdoors remember to try the alternative suggestions such as watching Planet Earth or viewing nature photos while listening to sounds from nature; and/or
  • Last, when and if able, gift yourself to an occasional four-day retreat into nature. Don’t forget to leave your cellular service behind. (Yes, you can do it!)

Find where the wild things grow–so that your soul can flourish. Your writing will follow.

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