5 Unique Walks that Boost Writing Focus and Creativity

Filed in Boost Creativity by on October 9, 2017 • views: 1986

Walking is great for writers.

I talked about it in a previous post (“What Famous Writers Know About Walking”), and shared some great quotes from famous authors like J. K. Rowling and Charles Dickens. In general, writers love walks not only because they provide an easy and enjoyable way to exercise, but because they encourage new ideas and story solutions.

Research has shown that walking works directly on the brain, stimulating creativity, improving mood, and helping to limit distraction, say nothing of the health benefits. If you’re getting in a walk on most days, you’re doing something great for yourself.

But you could be doing a lot more. By making some simple adjustments to the kind of walks you take, you can gain more creative benefits from them.

Want to improve your ability to focus when it’s time to write, stimulate your imagination, and relieve stress? Vary up your walks in the following ways and you may be surprised at the results!

1. The Plot Struggle Stroll

If you’re struggling with a difficult plot point or otherwise feeling blocked about something in your current work in progress, choose a route that you know well. The goal is to go deep into your creative brain while you’re moving so you can encourage those alpha waves to come up with a solution.

According to a Stanford study, creative output jumped by 60 percent while walking. On top of that, it didn’t matter where the participants walked—inside, outside, in nature, not in nature, whatever. It’s the physical movement of walking that did the trick, so choose a well-known route and go.

Think about your story as you walk. Go over the scenes right before your block. Ask yourself, “What if?” You may want to take a small pad and pen with you so you can jot down ideas that occur to you. (I’d advise against taking electronics—they offer too many tempting distractions that will take you off task.)

2. The “Tune In” Meditative Move

Your muse is your guide, but it can be hard to hear her voice when you’re wrapped up in marketing your latest book, parenting your kids, and holding down your day job.

Many will recommend that you practice daily meditation to get better at hearing what the muse has to say. This is great advice, but if you just can’t sit still for fifteen minutes chanting “om,” try taking a walk in nature, instead.

Researchers have discovered that you can actually meditate while you’re walking, and experience the same mental and emotional benefits as you would doing a sitting meditation.

In 2016, for example, researchers showed that participants who practiced “mindful walking” alongside a river experienced reduced stress and anxiety and improved mood. Even better—after doing the walking meditation for a period of days, the effects continued to improve, creating an “upward spiral” of benefits.

For this walk, choose a nearby park, nature trail, or somewhere you can be near trees and water, and stay mindful of your surroundings. Notice the colors, shapes, smells, and sounds around you, and let them lure you into being fully present in the moment. This is the type of meditation that can encourage your muse to come forward and help you to hear more clearly what she has to say.

Don’t be surprised if, while you’re focused on the way the sun’s rays reflect off the surface of the creek beside you, you suddenly get a great idea for what new project you should try. It’s the way walking meditation works. Use this walk whenever you’re unsure of your next step in your career, and let the ideas come to you.

3. The Quick De-Stress Stride

There’s no doubt that a writer’s life can be super stressful. Sometimes we are so stacked with things to do that one day tends to blur into the next.

This can be dangerous to your creative senses, as the overload makes your thinking rote and habitual—definitely the opposite of original. When you’re super busy, such as during a book launch or when getting in your final edits, take more quick re-centering walks. These are your 10- to 15-minute grabs where you just get out and move.

It’s amazing how much better you can feel after taking just a short walk. When you’re in the middle of stressville, head for the door. Don’t plan. Don’t worry. You’ll be back in 10-15 minutes. Just go and walk, wherever your feet take you. Give yourself a chance to move and regroup. It can be just what you need to center your thoughts and slow your racing heartbeat.

Scientists have discovered that walking sparks nerve cells in the brain that relax the senses and help you ward off anxiety. That’s why these sorts of walks are critical just when you think you don’t have time for them.

4. The Search-for-Novelty Amble

Life can become so routine. In some ways, that’s a good thing. Strong routines can produce a good stack of pages.

But writers need novelty to keep the creative gears turning. Studies have shown that those eager to explore new things tend to be the most creative. Writing workshops, conferences, and retreats can do the trick, but sometimes they’re out of reach, for whatever reason.

You can inject some novelty into your writing life by simply taking a walk somewhere you’ve never walked. Have you ever noticed that you can drive by an area a million times, but when you actually park and walk, you notice a number of new things? Maybe you explore new buildings, find unique spots in nature, or discover back-alley surprises you never would have expected.

For this walk, you don’t have to go very far. Find a location where you’ve never walked before, park the car, and use your legs. You’ll likely be surprised at what you discover. No matter what it is, it will be new to you, and that’s what’s important. The new sights, sounds, and smells will help stimulate your creativity.

5. The Collaborative Hike

We writers spend a lot of time alone, and sometimes we crave human interaction not only for connection, but to talk out ideas, problems, and emotions.

If you’ve got writing friends, invite them for a walk. There’s really no better way to get the conversation going about whatever’s on your mind. Interacting with other writers can help you feel less isolated in your career, and can also help you find new ways to approach any difficulties you may be experiencing.

As you all walk, the movement gets your brains working, and the ideas are likely to fly freely. In fact, if you have a writer’s group, you’d be wise to get them moving more often. It will make the group time much more productive for all of you.

As an added bonus, you’ll all be healthier. Studies show that people who joined walking groups had lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol, a lower heart rate, and also had better luck losing weight.

How do you use walks to benefit your writing?

May Wong, “Stanford Study Finds Walking Improves Creativity,” Stanford News, April 24, 2014, http://news.stanford.edu/2014/04/24/walking-vs-sitting-042414/.

Rinske A. Gotlink, et al., “Mindfulness and mood stimulate each other in an upward spiral: a mindful walking intervention using experience sampling,” Mindfulness, 2016; 7(5):1114-1122, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5010615/.

Tim Vernimmen, “Where Creativity Comes From,” Scientific American, September 16, 2016, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/where-creativity-comes-from/.

Sarah Hanson, Andy Jones, “Is there evidence that walking groups have health benefits? A systematic review and meta-analysis,” British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2015; 49(11): 710-715, http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/49/11/710.

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Comments (7)

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  1. Kathy says:

    I like the fact that walking can be such a therapeutic exercise for the body, mind and spirit. I need to get out and enjoy time to mull over the current edit, meditate on what could make a scene more insightful and find someone to come alongside of me as I talk over ideas to make my writing come side. Thanks for such a thought-provoking message to make writing and wellness become integrated and healthy for heart and body.

  2. I miss my walks as much as Sassy Dog does. We were doing 30 minutes a day until I got sidelined by a lower back problem. Hopefully that will resolve soon and we can hit the trail again. Walking lifts my spirits and brings me joy…and that’s worth a lot, even if that plot point doesn’t get resolved.