How many times have you found yourself sitting at your desk in front of a blank computer screen trying to will a creative thought to leap from your vacant mind to your willing fingers and onto the page? Don't just take writer's block sitting down -- get up and do something about it. Specifically, walk away.
Walking is not only great exercise; it boasts a number of benefits to those who write for a living. The first is obvious: getting outside your physical box (whether it's an office, a cubicle, a laundry room, or the tool shed in the back yard) helps get you outside your mental box. The simple change of scenery can help stimulate new thoughts you'd never have come up with when trying to force yourself to be creative inside your box.
A second advantage, and it's major, is that walking is aerobic and the definition of aerobic is "Occurring only in the presence of oxygen." Your brain needs all the oxygen it can get in order for it to function efficiently, but gravity has other ideas. When you spend most of your day sitting down the majority of your blood and your oxygen tend to pool in your backside, not in your brain. Aerobic activity helps move the blood and oxygen to all your major organs, including your brain and heart, both of which are vital to good writing.
Not to mention that simply getting more exercise can be a big plus for writers because the act of sitting hunched over a computer keyboard or a typewriter (or a rock and a stick), can cause significant physical problems. If you have back pain, shoulder problems, or carpal tunnel syndrome, the more time you spend in an upright position, the better.
Last, but not least, when you walk away from your desk, you also walk away from your phone, fax, and e-mail. I recommend you not take any of these with you, especially your fax machine. The sense of freedom this gives you can be a big boost to your productivity. While out walking, you aren't constantly interrupted by distractions that add to your workload and detract from your writing.
Okay, now that you're convinced that hitting the road may be just the ticket to a better writing career, here are some tips to make your trip a good one.
1. Invest in a good pair of walking shoes and a lightweight, digital, hand-held recorder. The latter is a lot less expensive than it used to be and you can get one with individual file folder capability that lets you store different ideas in different folders. This makes it easier to organize your thoughts and transcribe them when you get back. If you are, for example, working on a magazine article, a screenplay, and your cat's memoir, you can flip back and forth between the files on your recorder and keep everything straight.
2. Make sure that you transcribe your thoughts as soon as you get home. Not only does the recorder capture the content of your ideas, but also the level of energy and passion behind them. If you wait too long, you may lose that.
3. Prepare before you go. Don't just lace up your shoes and do a brain dump while you walk around the block - have a plan. Decide beforehand the topics or projects you're going to work on while you walk. This helps give you focus and keeps your writing on track.
4. If you have a dog or dogs you regularly walk, try to do that separately. There's a tendency when walking dogs to get caught up in what they're eating or digging up, and in interactions with people who stop to comment on how cute they are. This can distract you from your writing goals. Bonus: You get two walks a day.
5. Don't combine your writing walk with other errands, such as hiking to the grocery store for a few necessities. If you walk to the store and on the way home have to lug a half gallon of milk and a bag of kitty litter, the sheer difficulty of the journey back will discourage you from going out again.
6. Vary your routes. Just as you don't want every paragraph you write to end up at the same place, neither should your walks. Different scenery brings with it different sounds, smells, sights and thoughts.
7. Keep a spare pair of batteries in your pocket -- It's very discouraging thing to be carried away with ideas while walking, only to see that "battery dead" light flashing. To me it's tantamount to seeing a "creativity dead" light.
8. Purge nagging thoughts. If other ideas come your way during the walk that are not part of your writing plan, things like groceries you need or chores that have to be done when you get back, go ahead and purge those from your brain to your recorder. You don't want nagging thoughts about what needs to be done in your "real life" to get in the way of your creative flow.
9. Pick a pace that works best for your creative process. For some, walking slowly and methodically allows them to think things through, while for others, too slow provides too much distraction. "Oooh, look at the pretty flowers, I never noticed this house was purple and lime. I wonder what smells so bad..." On the other hand a very rapid face can leave you out of breath and you'll sound more like an obscene phone caller than a writer when you play back what's on the recorder.
10. Avoid heavily travelled areas. You may be unaware of the street noise when you're walking and talking, but it can be a real annoyance if you get home and can't hear yourself over the traffic. Take this as a good reminder to always hold your recorder close to your mouth so that you are louder than the ambient noise.
11. Exercise appropriate levels of caution while exercising outside. Just because you're living in your head in the moment, doesn't mean you're not also living in the real world. Don't walk when the "Don't walk" light is flashing, be careful of bicycles on bike paths, wear brightly colored clothing instead of your old gray bathrobe, etc.
12. If you live in a rainy climate like I do, don't let a few showers stifle your creativity. Simply tuck your recorder in a baggy and hit the road.
13. Even of you can't squeeze in a walk every day, at least use it as one of your tools when you're feeling uncreative and stifled. It sure beats drinking or surfing the Internet to see how the latest American Idol contestants are doing.
Go ahead, put on a pair of walking shoes and take your creativity for a test drive. And instead of measuring your success with a pedometer that measures the number or steps you take, use your digital recorder to measure the number of words you wrote.
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