Several years back, I took a course with writer Chris Woodside on the connection between walking and writing. The class was an intimate group, and it turned out nearly all of us were from Deep River. So, for 6 weeks we were canvassing the pavements, woods, and waterways of our town, pens or recorders in hand, hunting for good words. I never ran into another writer during my treks, but when we compared notes in class we discovered that we’d been in the same places, in one case even the same random tombstone at Fountain Hill Cemetery. And we’d amassed some hefty word counts. We listened to each other’s early drafts with great appreciation and curiosity.
Is there something magical about taking a walk that helps us slay the dreaded writers’ block beast? The course wasn’t so much about the “whys” of the connection between walking and writing—it was more of an experiment in this approach, and it confirmed something I had already intuited. I often took my dog Molly on the same path, and it was always at the intersection of Bokum Road and Bridge Street that ideas came to me, but only after a long walk (45 minutes or more). Did these GPS coordinates foster some Brigadoon of creativity that only appeared at the right pedestrian rpm or heart rate?
My own, simple theory is that walking “loosens” the brain, and also that its rhythm invokes a meditative state. Engaging the body and the senses in an outward journey gives us permission to let the mind wander, and to ultimately go deeper inward. In my case, it certainly worked. The Book of Noticing: Collections and Connections on the Trail is, quite literally, a collection of my walks and the observations and insights that they sparked. Also, the curiosity that they amplified—I find the process of peering into flowers or ferns or ant hills such a great engine for questions, big and small. These explorations have me happily researching the whys and wherefores of the world when I arrive back at my desk. My own connection between walking and writing is quite obvious, since I am a nature writer, but many writers come home from their rambles and write fiction—nothing penned about the experience of the walk itself.
I might have known The New Yorker would have some wise words on this phenomenon. This piece by Ferris Jabr lays out the rich history of writer-walkers, including William Wordsworth and Virginia Woolf. And Jabr gets into the science, too: the blood circulating, our neurons firing, the effects of rhythm, and studies that prove the connection is real.
Virginia Woolf fondly recalled the “solitary trampling” of her youth. Here’s more about Woolf’s walks and the resulting novel.
What a promising tool, the trample. It should be in every writer’s kit. Here’s to sneakers at the ready and lovely, long meanders through countryside, cityside, and page.
Katherine Hauswirth’s writing focuses on connection and contemplation inspired by the natural world. She has been published in Christian Science Monitor, Orion online, Whole Life Times, and Connecticut Woodlands. Her blog, First Person Naturalist, reflects on experiencing and learning about nature. Her awards include artist residencies at Trail Wood (Connecticut Audubon’s Edwin Way Teale memorial sanctuary) and Acadia National Park, and first place in the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition. She lives with her husband and son in Deep River, Connecticut. | Photo by Kelly Kancyr