Walking for Writing

Walking through the Pandemic

When the pandemic hit, we had nowhere to go but out — as in outside. We couldn’t go among the public, and the usual avenues of getting away from it all were closed to us. Around the time the pandemic hit, I was a three-day-a-week walker on average.

But, as isolating became a thing, and going out among others — even masked — seemed unnecessarily callous, I started walking more and more until I was walking six and sometimes seven days a week.

Seriously, those shoes up there in the picture? I bought those shoes in the spring, once I was able to go to a store and try them on. I threw them away last month.

With all this extra walking, not only did I feel better physically and mentally, but I felt more creative. Oh, I won’t lie about it. Sometimes the pandemic has just about sapped my will to do anything, but those have been the times I have realized I really needed a walk.

If you are a writer busy with life like me, you may think walking is a waste of precious time. I encourage you to think again!

Walking benefits writing

Tapping into creativity

Walking can, indeed, improve your creativity.

I have long known anecdotally that walking benefits my writing. Even when listening to podcasts during my walk, as is my habit, random ideas will pop into my head. Often, I will pause the podcast just to listen to the ideas bumping around in my brain.

Engaging with the world enhances my written descriptions with vivid imagery, too. And, being out and about gives me a chance to “people watch,” which is good for character development, as Angely Mercado explains in her article 3 Ways Working Out Helps My Freelance Writing.”

When I get back to the desk, I usually have a few good ideas to write down. In fact, I wrote the notes for this post last week after a walk, and I brainstormed another writing idea related to podcasts, as well. Not all ideas come to fruition, but often when writing about one thing, another emerges. I’m kind of a cluster-bomb thinker anyway. When an idea explodes in my head, pieces go everywhere, and then I just need to start rounding them up and examining them. By the way, for those afraid of letting an idea get away, Rachel Dodman includes some good tips for capturing ideas on the go in her article “Walking — A Writer’s Greatest Tool?

Take some time every day for a walk to improve your creativity. Instead of thinking of that hour (or less!) of walking as a waste of precious time, think of it as an investment in your own creative process.

Evidence of the impact of walking on creativity

I have proof that walking is time well spent!

I recently found evidence that walking does benefit writers. Four experiments reported in 2014 by Stanford researchers show that walking — on a treadmill or outdoors — does enhance creativity and generation of ideas.

You don’t have to walk outdoors if the weather isn’t cooperating where you live. I invested in a treadmill for those days when it’s just too cold or too hot to get outside, and I admit the effect is almost as good for me. But there’s something about hitting the pavement — winding through local neighborhoods or hiking one of the nearby parks — that enhances the experience. I like the lack of control outdoors, too. On the treadmill, I can say, “Well, let’s go up the hill now,” or, more likely, “Let’s not.” On the road or trail, you take what comes at you. Don’t feel like climbing that hill at the park? Too bad. Your car’s on the other side. Oof.

Don’t have a treadmill? That’s fine. Before I had the money for one, I found a couple of ellipticals online for under $200 that each lasted more than two years. While this isn’t exactly walking, riding the elliptical provides mental and physical benefits similar to walking. The elliptical also provides a workout for the entire body, a bonus!

Solving problems

Walking is good for problem solving, too.

Although the Stanford researchers saw benefits mainly for divergent rather than convergent thinking, I have noticed that when I am trying to solve a problem, writing related or otherwise, and I go for a walk, I often do find the solution during or shortly after. Just getting away from the desk probably helps — and sometimes I will get up and mosey around the house while my mind churns. However, I do think the longer walk outside or on the treadmill frees my mind and paves the way for clearer thinking most effectively.

Stuck on a problem? Trying getting away and taking a short walk. Clear your mind and then come back to it.

In the mood

Feeling stressed or down? Take a walk.

Walking is good for the mood. It helps to decrease stress and just makes me feel better mentally. In fact, it turns out walking even 12 minutes can lift one’s mood. When I start feeling stressed or overwhelmed, my natural tendency is to read or watch TV, something to take me out of my own head, rather than write. Taking a walk helps me get my head back in the writing game, so I will nudge myself in that direction when it’s time to boost the old mood.

Sometimes work can be irritating. When you’re facing pressures all around you from phone, email, meetings, it’s easy to get frustrated and annoyed. It’s easy to lose the writing mood. Add to the problem that many of us are working from home, and it can seem like there is no escape. Walking can be an easily justified form of escape that will provide you with a quick mood boost.

Shaking a leg

Feel better, think better, write better.

And, while I think reading is one of the best mental activities a person can engage in, and watching TV in the Golden Age of Television can be almost as enjoyable as reading good literature at times, neither of these is going to benefit me physically. (Jumping to your feet and shouting “NO” repeatedly at Game of Thrones does not count as exercise.) I have noticed that when I feel healthier and feel better, I think and write better. As I tell my students, good writing comes from good thinking.

You don’t need to use writing as an excuse to get healthier. Just doing something like walking that benefits your health is excuse enough. The impact on writing is an extra benefit.

Walking on sunshine

Warning! It could become a habit!

After I had been walking through the pandemic a couple of months on most days over routes that typically took 50 to 60 minutes, I noticed something else. If rain or work or something else kept me from walking, I started to get pretty crabby and didn’t want to do anything but get out and have my walk. It became a habit. A healthy one, at that. And, I had come to associate writing with that habit, making me even more productive.

Walking each day gave me time alone, away from my fellow pandemic inmates (some call them “family”). It was my time to do something I enjoyed without guilt (listen to my podcasts, mainly). It was my time to let my mind roam free. And when I came back, I brought my revitalized, relaxed, and happy brain right to the computer and keyboard and turned it loose.

How can you benefit?

Set aside some time each day to walk. Even a 15 minute walk brings benefits. Find something to do while you walk that encourages you to stick with it — listen to an audiobook, a podcast, your favorite music. Record your ideas into your phone or even carry a small recorder or take a little notebook and pen along and pause to jot down ideas. But, don’t forget to look up, enjoy the scenery, and let that inspire you, too.

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