What Famous Writers Know About Walking

Filed in The Healthy Writer, The Writing Life by on March 6, 2014 • views: 4209

Writers That Walk 2By now most of us know that walking is good for us.

Research has linked it to a lower risk of diabetes, stronger bones, a healthier cardiovascular system, reduced body fat, increased energy, and a more focused mind.

Long before modern studies revealed these benefits, though, writers had already keyed into the wonders that walking can bring. Here are a few famous ones, how they used walking to foster their creative activity, and how you may be able to do the same.

Walking Helps Writers Come Up with Ideas

The Art of Wandering by Merlin Coverly looks at the long history of writers who were also avid walkers, with the idea that the two are one and the same—a trip into the inner self. Walking for the likes of William Blake and William Wordsworth was a way to leave the outside world behind, to better navigate the imagination and slowly coax the subconscious to reveal some of its secrets.

“Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, “my thoughts begin to flow.”

In How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (1990), novelist Orson Scott Card has suggested that it’s “worth the time to take an hour’s walk before writing. You may write a bit less for the time spent, but you may find that you write better.”

According to research from California State University, walking has not only physical benefits, but psychological ones, too. Participants who walked more experienced a more positive mood and increased energy.

Lead researcher Robert Thayer noted that there’s more to the equation than “walk more, feel more energy: ” We’re talking about ‘walk more, be happier, have higher self-esteem, be more into your diet and the nutritiousness of your diet.'”

A 2010 study confirmed these conclusions. Research found that walking for forty minutes three times a week enhanced the connectivity of important brain circuits, reduced declines in brain function associated with aging, and increased performance on cognitive tasks. Another study the same year found that brain power was actually increased while walking, suggesting that the activity itself is a way to boost your ability to think through a plot problem or unearth a character’s deeply held secrets.

Walking as an Escape for Writers

One of the attractive benefits of walking today is that it can be an escape—if you leave the smart phone at home. According to Psychology Today, immersing oneself in a natural environment invigorates the body’s central nervous system, which may be why some of our best ideas come to us while walking.

This idea of sinking oneself into the moment gets more difficult as the years go on, and we are faced with an increasing number of distractions vying for our attention. The only way out is to leave it all behind and set out—and then increasingly bring the mind into one’s surroundings. Even Thoreau talked about how his mind wanted to wander back to the concerns of his day, rather than staying grounded in the forest around him—something he called the difficulty of “shaking off the village.”

Yet walking remains one of the few ways we can actually leave the real world and all its concerns behind us. There’s something about the meditative motion of one foot in front of the other that allows the mind and body to relax and drift where it will.

“Writing is one way of making the world our own, and… walking is another,” wrote Geoff Nicholson in The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, and Literature of Pedestrianism.

Walking is also known to relieve depression and stress, freeing the mind to explore imaginary worlds. A 2012 study found that participants with clinical depression who took a walk in nature experienced improved memory, while an earlier 2008 study found that healthy adults experienced a mental boost after walking for an hour in the park.

Said Charles Dickens: “The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy.”

Walk to Find Ideas

Stuck on your current writing project? Facing writer’s block, or just needing to spark some new ideas? Again, taking a walk may be the best idea.

“Nothing like a nighttime stroll to give you ideas,” said J.K. Rowling. Pyschology Today likens exercises like walking to dreaming, drawing a parallel between the REM dream state and the meditative-like state attained by exercise.

“Neuroscientists have identified that the non-thinking ‘default state‘ of consciousness is key to creative thinking,” writes athlete and author Christopher Bergland. “Exercise allows your conscious mind to access fresh ideas that are buried in the subconscious.”

Hemingway was fond of walking as a way working out issues in his writing. “I would walk along the quais when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out,” he wrote in A Moveable Feast. “It was easier to think if I was walking and doing something or seeing people doing something that they understood.” (I’ve read this book and highly recommend it. A wonderful glimpse into Hemingway’s writing world.)

Henry Miller agreed, saying, “most writing is done away from the typewriter, away from the desk. I’d say it occurs in the quiet, silent moments, while you’re walking or shaving or playing a game or whatever.”

When Will You Be Walking?

I’m looking forward to spring and warmer weather so I can get out on my walks more often. My German Shepherd has been looking in the window lately in the afternoons. It’s been a long winter and we haven’t gone for a couple months, but lately she’s been coming up in the afternoon (when we usually go), her caramel eyes asking, “Today? Is today the day?”

Oh, and in case you need an excuse to get out, “I’ve got to walk the dog” is one of the best ones.

Do you work walking into your writing routine? Please share your thoughts.

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  1. Lucy Maude Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables) used to work out her dialogues while walking.