Friday, January 26, 2018

Walking--Why It Helps Me Write My Books

Not everyone will agree with this post, so skip it if you already know it's not your thing.  Walking has saved my writing life this week.  Even though I live in snow country, northern New England, and we've been hit with a series of snowstorms these past weeks, I have to walk.  It keeps me sane when I'm working out a gnarly problem with a story.
Julia Cameron made a big deal of walking in her sequels to The Artist's Way, which many of you read, as I did, to recover our blocked inner artist.  I thought, yeah, OK, when I first saw "daily walk" up there with "morning pages" and "artist's date."  I liked to walk, but not every day and certainly not as part of my writing routine.   
These past months have changed my mind.

I've been preparing my manuscript for an editor.  Finding problems, large and small, embarrassing and must-be-fixed, and getting excellent questions to ponder.  Problem is, I can't easily ponder at my desk.  When I'm at my desk, I write, revise, research.  I need to get away from the desk to think.
Add to that some family issues (elderly mom, young adult son) that arose this week, which were equally gnarly, which distracted me from the creative flow, to put it mildly.  After an hour of teeth gnashing and too many snacks, I threw on my down jacket and put Yak-Traks (netted metal grippers) on my walking shoes and went outside.
For about a mile, I just stomped.  Anger and frustration over life and writing pushed me up the country road by our house, which is mostly uphill.  When I reached level ground, I began walking faster.  The Yak-Traks kept me from sliding on the snow pack left by the plows and I didn't have to watch my step.  It took another mile before I stopped being mad, before the cold air and stretches of snow-covered farm fields and woods calmed me down.  By the time I reached my turn-around point, I had my first solution to the writing problem (family problems take longer).  By the time I got back home, I felt completely ready to start up again.
That afternoon's writing went very smoothly.  Surprisingly so.  I sent the chapter off to my editor and felt great about it.  I didn't attribute it to the walk, not that day.  But when it kept happening, I caught on.   
Those of you who run regularly, who work out, who garden, who kayak, who do any kind of sport or activity that lets the mind rest, know what I'm talking about.  It doesn't have to be walking.  It just has to be something that gets you out of your own way, which usually means getting you out of your head long enough to refresh the inner screen.  I imagine it gets jammed up like my browser does, loading old ideas and images, and it needs to be refreshed.  The mindless movement does that.
A tiny bow of gratitude to Julia, who first introduced the idea to this reluctant receiver.  Now I'm a convert.  I write, I walk, then I can write again.
Your weekly writing exercise is to notice your rhythm.  Do you hit a wall and keep pushing, because you think you should?  Because some writing teacher or friend said you were (1) lazy, (2) procrastinating, or (3) not a real writer if you took a break?  Because you are afraid you won't get going again if you stop?  How has this worked for you?  If it hasn't, consider a mindless movement activity.  Try a walk.   
And if you live in snow country, make sure you bring those Yak-Traks.