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Publishing Note: Walk, Think, Write


Writing may seem incongruous to walking but in fact it is quite the opposite. That’s the case made by Ferris Jabr in his article, “Why Walking Helps Us Think” (New Yorker, September 3, 2014). Read the article for the fascinating details of brain chemistry. A key sentence from the piece gives you the essence of the matter: “Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre.” So it isn’t a matter of walking to take a break from writing, or to become physically fit, or to get red blood cells flowing through the brain—though all of those are benefits of walking—but walking as a sort of cocoon for the mind to think.

As a writer, you need to think before you write, at least to have an idea you want to write about. Walking is a gift you can give yourself, the gift of automated activity that keeps your body engaged while disengaging your mind. The great thing is that walking can spark ideas or allow you to connect news and information that is floating around disconnected in your brain or subconscious. Be forewarned, though; if you believe that in walking you’ve found this trustworthy, reliable method of overcoming writer’s block on demand, think again. For the value of the wandering mind is its wandering, which is anything but reliable when it comes to delivering concrete results. The beauty of this downside, however, is in the big picture or broad view of the writing journey that you can achieve if you make walking a routine part of your day. As your legs do the walking, your mind does the wandering, and over time from one day to the next what seem like random thoughts from one walk will collide with random thoughts from another walk, and a new idea is born. Or you may be concentrating on a specific topic you’ve been thinking about, or problem you want to solve, and out of the blue you see a beautiful bird alight on a branch yards away, and the next thing you know, the answer to your problem pops into your head as clear as day.

The walking part may have a beginning and end but the thinking part is more likely to meander than move from point A to point B. Embrace the meandering mind that accompanies the walking legs. When you return to your stationary writing desk after a walk, jot down notes on whatever thoughts stand out from your walk. You might keep a written journal of ideas that emerge from your walks. You might decide to record short audio snippets on your cell phone with the ideas that bubble up while you are walking. After you sit down to write, get back to the discipline of writing. Your mind will do the rest. It will assemble the thoughts and ideas stimulated during your walk as they relate to what you are writing. As you walk and think, your book will come to you, ready to be written.