Every occupation has its hazards, from the moral injury of soldiers to the everyday burnout of teachers. Tilers suffer bad backs, and hairdressers are prone to carpal tunnel syndrome. Nurses and counsellors succumb to compassion fatigue.
Even writing comes with a catalogue of complaints. Authors are the masseuse’s best clients, with their cricked necks, tight shoulders, and lower back pain from too much sitting. Endless staring at bright screens leads to eyestrain, headache, and sleeplessness. And then there’s the author’s bane: writer’s block.
Put Away the Pen; Pull on the Boots
No need to pop pills or guzzle booze. Writers can walk their way to health and creativity. Walking does wonders to loosen hunched up shoulders and compressed organs. Walking is aerobic, so it oxygenates the blood and refreshes the brain. It causes the release of endorphin, the balancing of cortisol levels, and improvement of brain function.
The benefits of walking go beyond the physiological realm. Researchers have proved that walking uncramps the imagination, making it the perfect antidote to the dreaded writer’s block. A 2014 study at Stanford University showed walking boosts creative ideation. You read that right: walking enhances creativity!
The Stanford study is recent, but this is old-world wisdom. Dickens, Woolf, and Stevenson were avid walkers, but William Wordsworth left them in his dust, clocking in an estimated one hundred and eighty thousand miles in his lifetime.
“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live!” –Henry David Thoreau
Old Old School
Long before these literary giants rambled, the great teachers of Antiquity used walking to promote learning. In ancient Greece, lessons at the Peripatetic School happened while meandering among the colonnades of the Lyceum of Athens.
Ever heard of the Method of Loci? It’s a mnemonic device that uses memorized spatial relationships to order and recollect the things you’ve learned, and it came from this method of learning while walking along a familiar route or through a well-known building. Greek and Roman orators used the technique to help deliver long speeches without notes. I’ve experienced this with audio books. If I re-listen to a section of a book, I can automatically recall where I was when I heard the passage the last time. It’s kind of freaky.
Memorization is one thing; creativity is another. A contemporary of Plato and Socrates named Diogenes summed up the power of walking:
Solvitur ambulando. It is solved by walking.
That little Latin lesson is worth remembering if writer’s block strikes.
Maximise the benefits of walking with a few steps of preparation. Do take a notebook and pencil (or a recording device), but don’t take the dog. Keep writerly perambulation free of distractions (even the cute K-9 variety). Vary your routes, and don’t be afraid to focus your walk by honing in on a plot problem before you set off.
Give the fingers a break, and let your feet do the writing. Your body will thank you, and your writing will be blessed.
CC 2.0 Image Credits
Girl Walking by Spyros Papaspyropoulos
The Athens School by Justin Norris