Writing, and any art, is a ritual. Show up at the same time every day, sit at your desk or stand in your studio. Keep showing up and your muse will show up as well, and all will be right with the world.
But what happens when you or your muse get bored with the same ol’?
This is the third year that Kristen and I have done the Reboot Camp in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, with Michael Andreula. We came here for the work out, and work out we do. Every morning we’re up with the sunrise and do a full hour on the beach, punching and kicking with a group of other morning warriors, working with hand and knee pads, round house kicking in the surf, yoga stretches in the sand. Breakfast and decompress immediately after it all, and then it’s 10 a.m. and I’m in a hammock on a rooftop deck with a view of the Pacific, writing.
Something about the workout clears my mind, a sort of meditation. Regular meditation has never worked for me. Put me in a Zendo and I’ll sit with my eyes closed and think over plot points and character development. Kick boxing doesn’t allow that, especially not when done on the beach. You’re too busy thinking about how to land a punch without snapping your wrist while struggling to stay upright in shifting sand as the surf pounds at your calves. There’s no time to consider anything else.
There’s quiet interstices, though. After the punch, breathing deep, shaking out the wrists and shoulders, preparing for the next strike. That’s where the ideas come. The idea for this blog post. A little bit of a character note for someone in the novel I’m writing. Both of these are informed by the location of the beach and the activity. Other things popped over the course of the week: working out at twilight, watching the most impossibly thin sliver of a waxing moon come out and the stars winking in around it. Boom. Science fiction story idea. Talking to the waiter at the restaurant, trying to get a tico to understand what “Family style” dining means. Instant character trait.
I believe it was Neil Gaiman who once wrote (and no, I’m not going to look it up with my limited internet in Tamarindo, you can do that if need be) that if you suffer from writer’s block, or have no more joy in writing, then just do something else. Take a trip, get a job somewhere, walk away from the blank page for a bit, and maybe you’ll find something interesting to fill that page. And even if you don’t have problems with writing at the moment, doing something new will give you some different ideas; give you a few new tools for the shed, some new colors for the palette. New facts to add to the back story.*
Look at it this way: If you always look at the same things, always live your life the same way, then you’re more likely to create the same way. Yes, there’s Google and Facebook and Twitter and we’re all a big international conglomeration of a family, but the internet isn’t real. You will learn a hundred percent more about a people by sitting in a bar and having a few drinks with locals than by spending days reading blog posts and Tweets.
I’ve long been a proponent of changing your environment. I left home at the age of 18 and spent six years in the Navy, and while I’ve got mixed feelings about the Navy experience, I am eternally grateful that it got me out into the world and showed me, through my own unfiltered eyes, how others live. There’s nothing like a change in location, people, and weather to shake up what you “know” and show you things in new light. And while I don’t travel as much as I did in the Navy, I do still like to – sometimes need to – get out and see the world from a changed perspective. Remind myself that it’s all different.
Shake it up, get out there. If you can, get on a plane and go somewhere new for a week or longer, walk the streets, watch the people and the stars. They’ll be different wherever you go. If you can’t take trip, then do yoga, paint a picture, go to a bar, visit a museum, and look at the people around you instead of your phone. Maybe even talk to someone. You’ll likely find that a new angle on life, on art, and possibly even yourself, can come out of changing your environment and doing something new. And if you do it with Michael Andreula or ZenSpaceStudios, you’ll end up coming home in better physical shape than when you left.
*Here’s a fun fact: How many people can you fit on a scooter? In New York and New Jersey with the laws on the books, the answer is two. In Tamarindo? I’ve been told several times the answer is five. Five. I still need to see that to believe it. But I do know, unlike the States, down here they can tie anything, and I mean anything, to the top of a car down for transportation: mattresses, refrigerators, washing machines.