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Walking and Writing

01 October 2020

I regularly have to get up and move my feet when my brain stops working. One answer, of course, as with many things, is to get a dog. When I’m really stuck I walk in the woods. I think it’s better to be in the enclosed space of the woods, rather than out on the hills. Somehow the view and light and space intrude, but in a wood you’ve got the gentle white-noise of the trees. And the physical connection between our bodies and our minds and our stories is undeniable. I sometimes take it one step further and say out loud what I’m thinking. I walk through the wood and tell myself - out loud - what the story I’m working on is; what’s happening, who thinks and feels what; and what the problem is, why I’m stuck. It does make me feel pretty self-conscious, but self-consciousness is very helpful for writing. I often feel extremely self-conscious at times when I’m writing; like all my nerve endings are on the outside of my skin. A nice, containing, wood is a good place to do that.

Mind you, it helps that I have the dogs with me. They act as a shield and give me privacy. They notice anyone else about before I do and let me know, so I can try to appear less like a nutter; walking along talking to myself.

Talking of physicality, I also find that lying down is very helpful sometimes. Lying on my back under a tree. Or just lying on the floor of my work-room. Perhaps it’s that when you’ve struggled and struggled, you have to let go. And lying down on the floor is a physical surrender. When you’ve chased it and chased it and not caught it, lie down on the floor and let it catch you. And when did a quick nap ever do any harm?

And then, of course, a story is a journey; a physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual movement from one place to another. We often take our journeys while physically stationary; in a car or helicopter, or whatever; but if you walk somewhere, you go from one place to another by your own physical volition; often returning to the place you started, but not arriving quite as the person who left. Just as you, and your characters, and hopefully your reader, do. And of course when you go for a walk, you almost always arrive at the end. That’s encouraging for a writer. Let’s face it, starting a book is one thing, finishing it, quite another.

One important feature of the walking writer is trust. You have to be able to trust that what you find, will stay with you even though you’ve not written it down. That feeling when you suddenly understand that of course Joan wouldn’t have put the knife back in the drawer because she’s really in love with John, and that means that Sam hates her and… When it all suddenly makes sense and the pattern is there. Raise your hands and punch the air and celebrate, and feel the feeling of it all coming together in your mind, in your body too. And trust that when you get back to the office it will all still be in your mind and you can make a few notes and then go for a beer with the lads, knowing that you’ve done your work for the day.



by Rod Humphris