Creative Slump? Overcome Writers Block Through the Outdoors

Hard science suggests the outdoors hold the cure for droughts of inspiration and creativity that inevitably face writers and all other creatives.


Whether you're a creative professional or just a hobbyist creative, droughts of inspiration and creativity inevitably face writers and all other creatives.

While it is a problem that faces artists and creators of all mediums, the challenge confronts writers of all genres and experience levels so often that the term "writer's block" is used almost interchangeably for anyone struggling to generate ideas.

Methods like brainstorming, freewriting, and indulging in other writers' works are all touted as potential cures for writer’s creativity block. But, these organizational methods often fail to treat the body's creative engine—the brain.  


Curing the Body’s Creative Engine—the Brain


Even the most prolific names in literature such as Leo Tolstoy and Ernest Hemingway at one time or another faced this struggle, and are just two names on a long list of famous authors struggling with writer's block.

Those literary legends have offered sometimes vague hints and inspirational musings to struggling authors on curing writer's block, but hard science suggests that overcoming creative slumps may actually be as easy and simple as taking a walk in the park.

That time you spend in nature has a profound effect on the brain and its relationship to creative thinking. Those individuals who indulge in the outdoors create the mental conditions needed to stave off and overcome writer's block.



Studies on Unblocking Creativity in Nature


Artistic genius is typically discussed in nebulous or evasive terms, but there is actually a significant body of scientific study into the phenomenon.

Neuroscientists have made significant progress in connecting the underlying processes in the brain and creativity, showing it involves a complex web of cognitive processes, rather than the tired and erroneous left/right brain paradigm.

Everything from concentration, mood, problem solving to short term memory play a role. Spending time in nature has a measurable effect on these individual processes, thus making the brain more capable to overcoming writer's block.

Bursts of creativity come and go, often lingering in the short-term memory just long enough for writers to jot them down for expanding upon later. Improving short-term memory is, therefore, vital for writers who find their "eureka" moments of creativity hampered by writer's block.

Spending time outdoors has actually been shown to improve short-term memory and also boosts your creative thinking and problem solving by as much as 60% when combined with exercise. This makes nature a more reliable method for curing writer’s block than sitting at a desk painstakingly brainstorming or using other intellectual techniques.

This isn't the only relationship found between boosts to creative thinking and nature. Short-term memory, mental sharpness, and reduced stress are also connected to spending time in nature. 

Research by Ruth Ann Atchley, associate professor of cognitive/clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, found these effects increased on longer outdoor excursions, firmly establishing it was the natural environment that improved the cognitive functions.


Stave off Anxiety and Writer's Block


In many ways, writer's block is a self-sustaining problem. Struggles with creativity lead to depression and anxiety, which in turn make the creative process more difficult to approach. In that sense, anxiety and depression are not just symptoms of writer's block, but also causes. However, mental health professionals and neuroscientists alike have shown that patients who immerse themselves in the outdoors are more equipped to handle these dangerous creativity-killers.

Vitamin D and anxiety have a complex but well understood relationship. Though available in a limited amount of foods, the body's ideal source of Vitamin D is natural sunlight. Those who spend time outdoors are less likely to suffer from a crippling deficiency.

Sunlight also plays a role in the body's production and regulation of serotonin, a chemical intimately connected to mood regulation. While it's commonly suggested as a supplement to support calcium absorption, Vitamin D is a necessary ingredient for healthy brain function. It staves off inflammation in the brain, improving cognitive function and potentially supports memory retention.

In terms of anxiety and depression, two common partners of writer's block, these conditions are more likely to be present in those who suffer a Vitamin D deficiency. Nature's potent effects in fighting these conditions that hinder creative thinking are so powerful that health professionals have opted to move out of the sterile walls and lighting of the psychologist's office and into the outdoors when treating patients. Known as wilderness therapy.

Wilderness therapy programs have grown dramatically from the 1990's and are now considered a viable complement to traditional treatment paradigms.


Get Back to Nature


While some of the underlying creativity processes remain mysterious, there's more than enough scientific understanding to show that spending time outdoors is a reliable way of breaking through writer's block.

Nature not only treats the psychological troubles that come when imagination won't, it also creates the necessary conditions in the brain that foster the growth of new ideas.

While every writer has their own process for penning new works, the outdoor's effect on creative thinking is rooted in biology, and therefore offers a universal cure to writer's block.

See Also: More People Are Returning to Nature for Creative Inspiration and Inner Healing.

Elliot Caleira is a freelance writer in the self-mastery and health and wellness spaces. Follow him on Twitter: @elliotcaleira.