“I would walk along the quais when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out. It was easier to think if I was walking and doing something or seeing people doing something that they understood.” — Ernest Hemingway, A MOVEABLE FEAST
As the summer folds into itself in the cooling nights, as the buses take children to school, leaving parents who get to write at home or who make time to write in the pre-dawn or midnight hours in a profound, holy, hollow silence, as we confront the blank screen or page, what is often waiting there is a proverbial layer of dust. The hinges squeak, the house settles, sighs, distracts with noises that have been muffled for months under the patter of bare feet, shrieks, fights, questions. It’s sometimes hard to remember how to start.
A memory sneaks in: the yearning you felt while on forest paths, sandy beaches, kayaks, and motor boats, or from the stark unnatural coldness of the office AC. You thought, if I just had peace and quiet I could write again.
But you were writing, friend. With every plucked flower, thrown ball, office commute, snapped jump rope, and swing’s creak, you were beginning the steps of writing.
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Nathaniel Hawthorne was a prolific, legendary, obsessive walker. He most enjoyed his night strolls in Salem, when he could avoid small talk and disappear into the mists of his phantasmagoric tales. While walking through Concord, he could be absorbed in the shadows of the forests bordering town, or possibly run into Henry David Thoreau—another famous walker—who provided just the right kind of quiet companionship Hawthorne could tolerate.
Thoreau wrote, “Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”
C. S. Lewis said, “Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them.”
And Beethoven: “[My ideas] come unsummoned… I could seize them with my hands out in the open air, in the woods, while walking.”
Studies about the positive benefits of exercise, specifically walking, are numerous and recur in countless articles. We’ve all heard of the desk job death sentence. We must reverse what is being done to our hearts, backs, and bottoms by the stillness of the act of writing. Now, as autumn looms, when the bulbs need to be planted to give them the time and space and dark to become what they are meant to be, it is a good time to resolve to walk. It can un-block even the most un-boxed of us.
Consider letting your writing process involve the simple cadence of a daily walk. Wind or rain, sun or snow, get your heart pounding, your lungs breathing, your body working, and you might just find that you are able to begin again.
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Do you exercise, and do you find it helpful to your process? If you are largely sedentary, will you commit to motion, even if just for the fall, to see if your writing benefits?
*Photo courtesy of chocobocloud at Deviantart.com.