How Walking Can Help Your Writing by Kayla Dean

posted Jan 31, 2018, 2:30 PM by Writing Center
This may sound crazy, but one of the most productive things I can do when working on a writing project is take a walk. I say this because writing can’t be done in isolation from everything else. When I’m frustrated with my progress, need a new idea, or simply don’t know if I can write any more, I take a walk around campus. Sometimes the library, Writing Center, or parking garage is my destination. Often it’s not.

You may be asking why? Doesn’t writing require you to sit in one place completely still until you’ve written the thing that’s due tomorrow? Most of the time it doesn’t. Especially if what you’re working on has multiple deadlines and requires a lot of time and effort not usually allotted for a one-page paper. A thesis. A novel. Building plans. Whatever.

Rebecca Solnit writes that “thinking is generally thought of as doing nothing in a production-oriented culture, and doing nothing is hard to do. It’s best done by disguising it as doing something, and the something closest to doing nothing is walking.”

Walking acts not only as a guard against bad ideas, but it’s also important to regaining the sense of our writing selves. There’s something about observing others on their way to and from or noticing stillness in a quiet corner of campus that renews that part of me. Sometimes you must get away from the keyboard to inspire a rush of words in yourself. Then the problem is taking that thought back to the computer and remembering the sentiment in its entirety.

That’s why I usually take notes in my phone. You may think I’m texting, but I’m really writing the next scene. The next moment that propels my paper forward and makes it interesting.

What walking does is also remind me of the connection between written words on a page and real life as we know it. Although it doesn’t always seem like it, life is a struggle for meaning. We’re constantly trying to deal with, define, and navigate experience as it comes to us. That requires some degree of processing. Writing helps me do that.

When we walk, something similar happens. That’s why we have these baked-in cultural metaphors like taking the first step to describe what happens when we risk something valuable or take a chance when nothing seems certain. It’s a one-to-one connection to what we do when we write. The only way you can write a first draft is by placing one word after another in succession.

But therein lies the problem. The first draft can really be linear, that first moment when you put the words on the page in a solitary order and think, that looks like something. In another sense, to arrive at the point where we feel that we know enough to write anything at all we first have to plunge into the strange neural pathways that allow us to think in the first place to dig out what sometimes feel like incompatible concepts.

It’s not putting thoughts together, line by line, that makes a great piece of writing. Instead, it’s wandering through, getting lost, and emerging with a new sense of confidence that we know something we didn’t know before that makes writing satisfying, meaningful, and necessary.

Next time you’re stuck, take a walk. I can’t promise anything, but it usually helps me.

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