The moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.
Henry David Thoreau
Spring is finally here, bringing sunshine & longer days. After months of being stuck indoors & weeks of endless rain, I’m ready to get out & play. Then I think that maybe I should be working more & playing less.
But what if getting outside could be work, too?
Four years ago, trying to lose a few pounds for my brother’s wedding, I started taking a long walk every evening. One day I forgot to charge my phone, so I walked in silence. No music, no podcasts. About halfway through that walk, two people I’d never seen before strolled into my head and started arguing. That was the seed of the first Fox Sinclair mystery.
The creative side of my brain took over during those walks. I would start out with my mind consumed with my to-do list, but within the first ten minutes or so, all those things began to fall away. As my mind cleared, it wandered back to my story. Over the course of weeks and months, more characters and details fell into place.
Need some persuasion to lace up your walking shoes and head out the door? Here are 5 reasons walking is the perfect exercise for writers.
#1 Writing is a sedentary occupation.
The dangers of a sedentary lifestyle are numerous—increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and depression; back problems; even a link to dementia and cancer. When I worked in data entry, we were required to take a break every hour to get up and walk around. Writers often work from home, though, where there is no supervisor to remind us to get up and move.
Scheduling a daily walk makes it much more likely that you’ll actually do it. And I do mean scheduling—write it in your planner, set a reminder in your phone, whatever works for you, just make sure it’s set for a specific time in your day. Once you get in the habit, you’ll be surprised how quickly you come to crave that daily walk and resent anything that keeps you from it.
#2 Writing is a solitary activity.
Sometimes writing can get a little . . . lonely. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool introvert who can happily spend hours alone, but I also know from personal experience with depression that too much alone time can be a dangerous thing. Sometimes those walls start to close in, and getting outside for a walk is a great way to combat that solitude.
I’m not saying form a neighborhood walking group, since I really prefer walking alone. Especially since silence is best to encourage a wandering mind. However, just the act of getting out of the house and around the neighborhood, waving at a neighbor doing yard work or greeting other walkers, can make you feel less isolated.
#3 Walking is an exercise you can do anywhere.
One of the best things about walking is that you can do it just about anywhere with no equipment aside from a sturdy pair of shoes. At home? Lace up your shoes and head right out the front door. On vacation? Take a walk to explore the new city you’re in or hit the beach for a nice barefoot walk along the water’s edge. Raining? Head to the mall and walk indoors. Although I admit I kind of enjoy walking in the rain, as long as it’s a light rain.
Most days, I walk around my small-town neighborhood. The route is so familiar to me that I don’t even have to think about where I’m going—which makes it even easier for my mind to go wool-gathering. In the summer, when we head to the beach, I love waking up early (and that’s a big deal for this non-morning person) to walk alone on the beach as the sun is rising.
#4 Walking improves mental health.
I’ve struggled with depression off and on for most of my life, and I know that many other writers deal with it as well. I find that when I’m walking regularly, my mood is much more stable. On days when I’m in that dark headspace and really, really don’t want to get up off the couch for anything, if I can make myself get out for a walk, my mood always improves.
Whether it’s the sunlight, the physical activity, the fresh air, or something else, I always find myself feeling better about life in general after a walk. (A little tip for those of you who struggle with depression: if going out for a long walk feels overwhelming, tell yourself that you can turn around and come back after ten minutes if you want to. I promise you, nine times out of ten, you won’t want to.) And don’t just take my word for it. Studies prove that physical activity like walking improves mental health.
#5 Walking begets creativity.
Feeling uninspired? Struggling with writer’s block? Get up from the desk and go outside. Your mind will clear and ideas will come—even Thoreau recommended walking to get ideas flowing.
A Stanford University study found that walking increased creativity by an average of 60%, and that increase didn’t end with the walking itself but continued for some time afterward.
Why does walking spark creativity? I always assumed it was because my walks got me outside, seeing and hearing things that sparked ideas, but according to the study, creativity increases were the same for subjects walking outdoors and those walking indoors on a treadmill facing a blank wall.
A Few Tips For Your Next Walk
Ditch the tunes
While an energizing playlist is great when you are walking just for exercise, if you are hoping to release your creativity, you’re better off walking without the earbuds. Or, like me, with earbuds in but no music. The earbuds make it easier for me to smile and wave and keep walking instead of stopping to chat. (I’m a Southerner—the instinct to be polite and friendly is strong.)
Plus, music drowns out all the sounds that you’ll hear on your walk. Birds, the wind in the trees, the distant sound of a lawnmower . . . once, a murmuration of starlings swooped so low over me as I walked that I could hear the rush of their wings. I wouldn’t have heard that if I’d had music blasting through my earbuds.
Now, if you live in a city, you might need something to drown out the noise and get you in that creative mood. Instead of music, try a white noise app. There are some really fantastic ones available now. I love Rainy Mood and Relax Melodies. Even music without words can work. Movie soundtracks are great for setting mood.
Have a way to make notes
One of the most frustrating things for a writer is coming up with a fantastic idea, thinking that you’ll write it down later, and when you go to do that, realizing you’ve forgotten your brilliant idea. That happens to me all. the. time. Especially as I’m falling asleep at night. I’m getting better about always having some way to take notes handy.
When I’m walking, I use my phone for notes. There are so many options—voice memo apps, Scrivener mobile, sending yourself an email or a text, note apps, even saying “Hey Siri, take a note.” Then you don’t have to stop or dig your phone out. It’s like having your own personal assistant following you around all the time.
Enjoy your walk
If you head out the door determined to generate some ideas, you’ll stress yourself out before you even get started. Don’t have an agenda—just walk. Feel the sunshine on your face, smell the fresh-cut grass, enjoy the rhythm of your feet hitting the pavement (or the path). Not all my walks generate ideas, and that’s fine. For all the reasons listed above, walking is always worthwhile. Relax and enjoy yourself!
And in the words of the podcasters behind My Favorite Murder . . .
Stay sexy, don’t get murdered
As a mystery writer, I feel obligated to remind you to always let someone know where you are going to be before you head off on a solitary walk, whether through the forest or around the block. Be aware of your surroundings and listen to your instincts. They’re there for a reason.
How about you—do you enjoy walking or are you more of
a gym rat? Where do you find that you are most inspired?