Stuck for inspiration? Walk among trees – Catherine Ferguson

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By Catherine Ferguson

One of the biggest challenges for a writer working alone all day with just the computer screen for company can be motivation. That’s certainly a problem for me. Unless it’s one of those occasions when I’ve had a flash of inspiration and am excited to nail it down on the page, I find that displacement activity will always creep in – checking e-mails, making phone calls, even doing housework (although I can usually resist the lure of the hoover). All so that I can delay the evil moment when I have to get back to my characters and my story, and write some actual words.

I think a lot of it comes down to fear. Fear that I’m not good enough. Fear that I’ve just been fooling people that I can string words together reasonably well. But mainly, I think, it’s fear that my store of brilliant ideas has finally run dry and I’ll never, ever be able to replenish it.

I’ve learned, though, that there is a sure fire way to pull myself out of the gloom and despondency – and that’s to get into my walking gear and get moving. Preferably among trees.

There’s something magical about walking – especially along country lanes or in woods or even in quiet leafy suburbs. In fact, walking and looking at trees seems to be even more therapeutic for me when my creative juices are running low.

In 1984, an American researcher called Robert Ulrich noticed a curious pattern among patients in a hospital recovering from gallbladder surgery. Those who’d been given rooms overlooking a little group of trees were being discharged a day earlier than those whose windows faced a wall. Another more recent study examined the effects on residents’ well-being of planting trees in their neighbourhood. They concluded that planting an additional ten trees corresponded to a one per cent increase in well-being, and that to get an equivalent increase with money, you’d have to give each resident ten thousand dollars – or make them seven years younger! Reading about this made me very happy because it confirmed what I’d discovered for myself.

Trying to solve problems with my characters or fill in those yawning plot holes by sitting at my computer screen, thinking, isn’t always the best solution. Far better to let the mind drift, so the subconscious can do its work.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve slunk away from the computer screen feeling thoroughly despondent because I’m not making progress, then forced myself to go for a restorative walk in the leafy lanes around my house, only to return home brimming with fresh inspiration and desperate to get the ideas down before they vanish.

I’m now convinced it’s those magical trees …

Catherine Ferguson burst onto the writing scene at the age of nine, anonymously penning a weekly magazine for her five-year-old brother (mysteriously titled the ‘Willy’ comic) and fooling him completely by posting it through the letterbox every Thursday. Catherine’s first novel Humbug and Heartstrings is very loosely based on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and is a clever, modern tale about the price of friendship, the cost of enmity, and the value of love. Her latest, The Secrets of Ivy Garden, is out now.


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