Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Go Green, Write Outdoors

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Go Green, Write Outdoors

Don’t fool yourself. After surviving what felt like nearly six months of winter weather in Toronto, the outdoors are clearly where it’s at. You are now able to take in the sunlight until at least 8:30 pm. If you have kids, they are out of school. Plus, it is patio season, so all you brew and bud mongers (aka Trinity Bellwoods Park dwellers) are winning right now.

While it’s one thing to be feeling confined indoors due to inclement weather (or for hypothetically doing a 12 month bid at a corrections facility for behaving badly on Bloor Street), is there a more solitary art form than writing? Sitting indoors at a computer and staring at a blank screen for dozens of hours at a time is not exactly the most physically engaging activity in the world. In fact, it is crazy sedentary, but it’s the life I chose.

The interesting — or maybe not so interesting — thing about The Writing Life is in the ideal conditions in which we create these onomatopoeias in order to be somewhat controlled: little background noise, few humanly distractions, no professional sports playoff games in sight — doesn’t matter the sport. Despite the preponderance of Starbucks, Second Cups and indie cafés sprouting up, coupled with the infinite number of creative types who inhabit these environs, I’m not convinced that it’s the best environment to hang around in, and to try to generate some award-winning words and concepts.

While there are some writers who actually enjoy creating in cafés or cubicles and don’t mind the homebound confinement thing, I don’t count myself as one of them. Immediately after completing a paragraph, chapter, blog post or FB rant (sorry, FB is not quite dead for us Generation X types), I need to get as far away from my tool of the trade, my Gateway laptop, and head outdoors, where I can get my legs moving again. And that usually means spending an inordinate amount of time around parks, trees and bodies of water.

This summer I’m thinking about taking this outdoorsy-dude schtick to another level. My next manuscript will get completed outside, and Mother Nature will serve as my guest editor. Not to sound all Adria Vasilian, but I’m going Ecoholic. Her series of superb books (Ecoholic, Echolic Home, Ecoholic Body) have created somewhat of a prescription for smart green living. But one thing I’ve always wanted to get the dirt on, is how much and how many of these books did she ever write outdoors?

In fact, have you ever written anything of consequence outdoors? Has Mother Nature ever ghostwritten (with or without credits) any of your works? Have you ever felt the need to immediately head outside to clear your mind as writer’s block inevitably sets in? Or are there any sources of literary inspiration that can come from hanging out in the wilderness? If you answered yes to any one of my questions, then maybe it’s time to escape the basement, cubicle, living room pine table or cafe shop and take your next manuscript to the mountains.

Now, I’m not sure if doing this will get you any closer to that Giller or Griffin Prize, nor am I entirely convinced that scribing in the great outdoors will do anything to combat climate change or reduce CO2 emissions. But what I will say is that it is risky and means you’ll have to rely less on your gadgets, G-chat and Hootsuite, and more on trees, birds, and if you’re out writing into the night, raccoons (yes, Toronto has earned the reputation of being a prime breeding ground and chill spot for these furry, masked critters).

It might also mean that you can write with much less distraction. Quickly — what’s the greatest source of distraction for you, Writer Boy / Literary Lady? I know, it’s the gadgets, right? Many digitally-inspired scribes I know personally are struggling to complete works they’ve been contracted to write. They are finding it next to impossible to focus on their plot lines or string together reasonably functioning sentences because there are so many weapons of mass distraction within arm’s length, from iPods to iPads. For me, its them darn sports-ticker news updates on traditional TV. I’m not sure why I perpetually find myself needing to find out who scored and when. Did the game go into double overtime? Did footballer Luis Suarez really bite another dude on the pitch? Is the Toronto Raptors 2014 draft pick from Brazil Bruno Caboclo another Rafael Araujo? Too many pages to write, too little time.

Reading outside is one thing. I complete all kinds of novels while outdoors, or on public transit, where daily TTC delays routinely bolster my reading experience times; 40 minute treks quickly become 75 minute ones. But writing outside is another beast. And it is not all peaches and cream. There are all kinds of potential background noise distractions coming from our dreaded summer construction season (what street isn’t being dug up?) and the copious amounts of condominium developments in-progress. And your senses will get attacked by the smog-filled air. But despite all of that, getting outside to write might actually help you get your wordsmith mojo back, while organically getting you into better physical shape. And who knows. Once you overdose on the smells and sounds of nature, you might just be compelled to take your new outdoor writing obsessions to another level by joining the Outdoor Writers of Canada organization (yes, such an organization exists), and actually start cranking out books about nature — “hunting, fishing and other traditional outdoor activities” — like their advanced membership does. Anyways, I gotta run…it’s time for me to go and get my David Suzuki on — with a literary twist!




Dalton Higgins is a National Magazine Award-winning journalist and radio and TV broadcaster who blogs and therefore is. His latest book Far From Over: The Music and Life of Drake (ECW Press, Oct. 2012) sheds light on the cultural conditions in Toronto that helped create the Drake phenomenon. His four other books (Fatherhood 4.0, Hip Hop World, Hip Hop, Much Master T) examine the place where the worlds of technology, diversity, hip hop and hipster culture intersect. His daily Daltoganda, musings, rants, jabs, pontifications and fire-and-brimstone blather can be accessed from his digital pulpit on twitter: @daltonhiggins5

Click here to read Dalton's archived articles on Open Book: Toronto.

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