27th January

In the real world

I remembered something this weekend, something I’d forgotten… how important it is to retain a sense of equilibrium in this rather surreal 21st century world that we live in.  As a writer, it is easy to become so involved in our stories, our creations, that we shut out everything else.  I know that when I am really immersed in a peice of writing, as I am now, I can find myself writing for hours on end – for many more hours than I would spend at a ‘normal’ job.  Working on two big projects at the moment means I am often ‘in the zone’, but being ‘in the zone’ takes me away from reality, and sometimes the balance can slip a little.

Of course, social media often interrupts this focus, allowing for a bit of light relief… but it is not always beneficial light relief is it?  It can be, but in order to interact, I find I am still sat looking at a screen, still typing words into it.  I felt the weight of this recently, and have put it right, in the best way I know how – going out for long walks with the hound across boggy fields.  I’ve taken my camera and stopped to take photos as I’ve gone along. I’ve watched the clouds flit across the sky, stared at the reflections in the babbling stream that skirts one of the fields, watched a beautiful grey heron take off with wings that caught at the air, and watched how the light played on the edges of branches.  It’s reminded me that there is a world ‘out there’ and that the one in my head isn’t always enough.  Sometimes I’ve had company and conversation.  I met a woman with two lovely lurchers one day, one of whom got very giddy over my hound, and she told me a doggie story, which I wouldn’t have heard if I’d been sat at my laptop.

On my first boggy walk I noticed that the gate I’ve used in the past was locked, so me and the hound had to find another way round, cutting across the back of a farm.  There’s something about slightly derelict places that has always fascinated me, and old broken things lying around in fields – its the contrasts that appeal I think.  If I hadn’t had to bypass the old route, I wouldn’t have noticed the reflections of this lorry in the puddles, which had me transfixed for quite a while – greyhounds are very patient beasts.

Sometimes, we forget to be spontaneous.  We forget to talk to people we don’t know.  We forget that if we lie down on the grass and look at the clouds, we might see one shaped like an elephant, or a wizard.  We forget what it is to be really alive.  This week, I have the evidence of life clinging to my footwear… I hate cleaning the mud off boots, so the result of all of this is that my walking boots have great clods of mud clinging to them and I have very artistic splatters on most of my jeans.  But I’m so glad!

What do you do to get out of the zone and back into the real world?

About Abi Burlingham

I write children's books and paint pictures inspired by nature, animals, trees etc, mostly in acrylics. I am a crisp addict.
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25 Responses to 27th January

  1. Jo Carroll says:

    Like you, I walk. I’m privileged to live in Wiltshire – Savernake Forest is a 10min walk in one direction from my house; turning the other way it takes a bit longer to hike up onto the Downs. Avebury is 6 miles away – along an ancient road, and crossing the Ridgeway. These are paths that have been walked for centuries. My tiny footprint is just one of thousands that have stepped this way.
    I love that buried-in-writing feeling, but a hike across the Downs is enough to remind me that my efforts are not so important, really, in the wider scheme of things.
    (And I have daughters. They can be relied on to import enough real life!)

  2. Oh your walkways sound lovely Jo. Love the idea of the ancient road and your footprints being a part of that – there’s a poem in there I think! Yes, you’re right, our children bring us back to a very lovely reality don’t they?

  3. Martin Day says:

    Abi, like you, I regain a sense of perspective in being out and about in the great outdoors, and like you, I have a dog to take me there. I am away this week and walking on the beach late at night in almost pitch dark was a magical experience – all I could see was the faint arcing advance of the white horses.

    For me it is ‘people’ that are the double-edged sword on the one hand they constantly distract me from what I am trying to concentrate on (not least the person that is me!) and on the other when I withdraw from company something within me starts to die; there is no one to stir up the pool of imagination in me. But of course people aren’t there to be switched on and off as I require them. And that’s all from an acutely selfish perspective that doesn’t start to account from what I have to offer to others.

    So for me getting ‘in the zone’ is the usual problem not the need to balance it.

  4. Oh yes, you’re away aren’t you? Hope your having a fab time – your beach walks sound wonderful. I do agree with you re other people – they can act as a distraction, but fuel your imagination too. Very hard to strike a balance. Hope you’ve managed to get into ‘the zone’ this week – and a big thank you for reading and commenting from your retreat!

  5. I agree — so important to get out and about, but it’s so easy to be sucked into the imaginary world I’m editing in my WIP as well as Twitter. Thank goodness for the dogs, right? They will not stop for anything for their daily walks. For some reason my lab isn’t as entranced with either my WIP or my social networking 🙂 Hence, out we go, rain or shine or these days snow. And I’m with you, I hate cleaning my boots — luckily I have a pair that are only just for the snow/rain/mud!

    • Yes, you’re so right. How do people manage without dogs? There are so many times I wouldn’t bother going out for a walk if we didn’t have one, and those walks really do break that cycle of being locked into another world.

  6. I’m an anti-social so and so. My imaginary world is the best and . . . actually, I know what you mean. While I can get lost in my writing, I’m not a workaholic, and I do rather like to be distracted from time to time. Having young children takes care of that – better than having a dog, I reckon, but more expensive!

  7. I have both… you’re right, it helps. Can’t resist my daughter whispering the word “Scraaaaaablllllle” in my ear!

  8. You are so right about this – I’m always complaining that i have no time, but I waste so much of it. I walk daily with the dog and see wonderful things on my daily walks, but I often fail to give them the attention they deserve. I notice much more when I go somewhere unfamiliar, but unfortunately the most rewarding walks, like those you describe above, are a 15-20 minute drive away. Your post has made me want to slow down and take note a little more, even if it’s only in the local park.

  9. Ah! So glad the post has had that effect. I’m exactly the same too Susan a lot of the time. The fields are always there, literally 5 minutes walk from my house, yet I haven’t been across them for ages. It’s been lovely to remind myself to live in the moment a bit more…. hope I can carry on doing it now.

  10. Emma Pass says:

    This post is spot on! It’s all too easy for me to get lost in my writing and everything that comes with it – Twitter, blogs, email etc. Like you, the best way for me to reconnect is to take The Hound out for a walk (with hubby too if I can get him out of his ‘zone’! :-)). You never know what you’re going to see, where you might end up or who you’ll bump into. And having a dog is so sociable – you always end up chatting to other dog-walkers and indulging in a bit of mutual canine admiration! After some time away from my writing I always come back to it feeling rejuvenated – I find real life, far from getting in the way of my imaginary life, is what allows it to thrive.

  11. We’re so lucky with our dogs (and children!) aren’t we? I love getting out on long walks with Roxy and hubby (and kids if it’s not too much trouble!). Got some great walks where we live, we’re at a bit of an intersection and can walk in five different directions so get about seven different walks all in easy reach of the house. I love driving down to the beach though and just letting everything go, the sea calms me and inspires me, with or without the dog! The only downside right now is our favourite dog walk is now off limits. We used to walk a few minutes away and onto a disused railway, by a river, (you can see the tracks in my blog header pic) but they now want to reopen this end of the railway and are making plans to rebuild, so the river, where Roxy loves to leap about in the summer, and the path with tracks are now closed to the public… 😦
    So dog walking is number one getting back to reality, closely followed with doing something crafty (scrapbook page or project, not something devious or sly!).

    • Thanks so much for commenting, Lisa. You’re so right – dogs really do make you get out in the countryside and explore more. Your walks sound lovely. What a shame about the railway and river walk being closed though – that walk sounds idyllic. Lovely that you have a beach not too far away. I, like you, feel a real affinity with the sea. Sadly, being in Derbyshire, we are slap bang in the middle of the country – no sea, great countryside though, and we always go on a seaside holiday so I can get my fix!

  12. Spot on Emma – writing doubles, yet again! Yes, amazing how many people stop to talk to you when you have a greyhound too and how many lovely stories you hear on the way – rejuvenating is the word!

  13. Lovely post, butI’m afraid I’m with Dan: I love my air castles. Where else could I be queen? Although I do love the beach at twilight 😉

  14. Those air castles are rather fab aren’t they? Beach at twilight sounds lovely… *sigh*… sadly not in Derbyshire, but the fields and trees are a good substitute.

  15. Martin Day says:

    Abi, With all the comments on dogs and the sociability that results when walking them, you and your respondents might be amused by a song I wrote in my early 20’s which I still find holds true today… http://www.shallowdeep.com/song_dogslife.htm

  16. I’m still wheezing with bronchitis at the moment but on a Saturday or Sunday morning, I like to run for an hour. I like to get outside and nosy in people’s gardens or tramp through the local nature reserve, catching up with gossip with my running partner. I have normal life foisted on me more often than many writers as I have a day job that takes me into town (I do love walking through the city) and puts me with real people 4 days per week. I mainly hate it though because I don’t always want to spend time with those people and I don’t want to be in a subterranean office with no light or fresh air. My only escape from my surrounds and the burden of responsibility is my imagination…

  17. Oh, poor you Marnie. I know what you mean – it’s all about balance isn’t it? Up until a couple of years ago I was teaching 3 days a week and spending hours at home buried in paperwork. I was so desperate to escape into my writer’s world. Now I’m only teaching 3 mornings a week, I am most often IN my writer’s world – I have to break the cycle then and get in touch with reality again, which in turn inspires more ideas The balance is a lot better now and I wouldn’t change it now for the world!

  18. Jenny Alexander says:

    Great post – and I love the pictures, Abi. Walking every day is so much part of my writing practice that I’ve chosen every house I’ve lived in as an adult according to the walks I can do from the door! From here, I can walk straight onto moors, woods, fields, meadows and lovely little lanes 🙂 I think Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) has written a whole book about the value of daily walking as part of a writer’s life.

  19. Yes, I completely agree Jenny. I have to have access to the countryside from where I live too, and, luckily, we virtually back on to fields. Your walks sound lovely. That sounds like a really interesting book. My mum has always walked miles every day and still does and swears by it.

  20. This post really spoke to me, Abi. I find that when I’m doing exactly the thing you stumbled upon recently (being out in nature, whether hiking, walking or running), I am actually most creative. That inspiration filters into my fictional world as well. The photos were lovely. And I love nothing more than discovering an elephant in the clouds! Great post (and who knows what stories you may conjure up from conversations with the folks and things you bump into).

  21. Ah, thanks Melissa. Yes, it never fails to amaze me how inspiring nature can be. I think it’s something about having time just to connect and to be in the moment – it seems to ignite creativity, just as you say. Glad I’m not the only one who searches for elephants in the clouds 😉

  22. Nadine says:

    I second your sentiments. Thanks for that reminder, because, for me, the balance tends to slip a lot more than I would like. My feet are firmly planted on the ground, and yet, I get caught up so easily in the world in my head.

    I really enjoyed taking that walk with you. It felt refreshing, and encouraged me to make some changes in my life. Thank goodness for my doggies, who literally come for me if I’ve been spending too much time at my desk, lol. I guess that’s their way of saying, “That’s enough! Time to get up, get out, and live!”

    My camera, tucked away nicely in an overnight bag, must be saying the same thing too.

  23. Yes, exactly! My greyhound always gives me a good excuse to trudge across the fields. I do like to take the camera too to snap away as I see things. I know what you mean about the world in your head – it’s a lovely world isn’t it, but we do need to surface sometimes to make sense of it.

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