by Chris Mandeville
Any hikers out there in writer-land? Or writers who love to go for walks? Well, hiking-slash-walking isn’t just for pleasure-slash-exercise. It can actually be a valuable writing tool.
Just ask Kevin J. Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of more than 142 published works, most of which were written while hiking. Yes, while. He regularly plots, plans, and dictates prose while he hikes, and says it’s a critical part of his creative process.
“I like to ‘get away’ from real life and spend time in my fictional universes with my imaginary friends. Too many distractions at home, and I love to go out to walk, to move, to receive input in all five senses as I walk on trails, even on tame bike paths. It allows me to THINK, to have quiet time with my characters, to save the world (or, in certain circumstances, destroy it). Walking on a trail is like pacing around a room—a time-proven method for pondering—but a thousand times better. Especially if you live in beautiful Colorado.” – Kevin J. Anderson
Even if you’re not one to dictate or compose while you’re out-and-about, there are lots of ways that the act of walking can benefit you as a creative type. The New York Times, The Atlantic, Psychology Today, and the Washington Post have all published articles in recent years touting the cognitive benefits of walking, which include improved memory, spatial relations, and cognitive processing speed. Further, research indicates that walking can help stave off cognitive decline, possibly including dementia.
Taking this a bit further and looking at walking specifically in relation to creativity, the American Psychological Association (APA) concludes that walking is more conducive to creativity than sitting — an important observation for writers who spend a lot of time at our desks trying to be creative! And while it can be very inspiring to traipse through the great outdoors, the APA article concludes that creativity improves just as much when the walker is inside on a treadmill as when taking a walk outside.
Many famous creatives credit walking with contributing to their success and/or being integral to the creative process: Thoreau, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dickens, Wordsworth, and Lovecraft, among others. You’ll find this to be true of many of our contemporary writer peers as well. I talked to a few who shared with me how they use walking as a writing tool:
Anne Hillerman, daughter of the late, great Tony Hillerman and an author in her own right, uses walking to get ready to write each day:
“I start every morning with an early walk. I use part of that time to remember where I left off in yesterday’s writing session and to envision what I want to accomplish that day.” – Anne Hillerman
Multi-published author Aaron Michael Ritchey is a big fan of going for walks to ponder his stories. He says that for him, walking is the best way to get out of his own head and into his story, especially when he has a problem to solve:
“When I’m stuck, when the next scene doesn’t come, or when I need to fix something I know is broken, I walk out the problem. For example, when I wrote The Never Prayer, I came up short in word count. More important than that, I knew the story needed another layer of conflict. I had a secondary villain that did a lot of posturing and ‘I’m gonna get all evil someday’ but didn’t actually do anything. I knew this villain could provide the extra conflict and words I needed, but I didn’t know how to tie it all together. So I went for a walk.
“This is what happens: I walk. I get bored. I start telling myself stories. The story I told myself that day was the story of the secondary villain. It involved insanity and bombs and lockers and cell phones. I got the word count up, I got another layer of conflict, and the ending turned out better than I’d originally planned. It was a much better book.
“I also walked out the plot in Long Live the Suicide King. When I started walking, all I had was a great start: my hero encounters a barking little dog. But then what? I walked, got bored, and told myself the story. It took eight miles, but I plotted the entire book.” – Aaron Michael Ritchey
When Laura DiSilverio gets a case of writer’s block, her go-to solution is to head outside for a walk. Whatever the weather—wind, rain, sun or snow—she takes a long walk in the great outdoors. She says it never fails to blast the barriers away and get her writing.
How can walking help you in your creative endeavors? There’s one way to find out. Follow in the footsteps of great writers past and present and take a hike!
Chris Mandeville writes science fiction and fantasy, as well as nonfiction for writers. Her books include Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure and 52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block. You can find out more about her at chrismandeville.com