Writers Need to Walk

 In Productivity for Writers, The Writing Life

This is a new part of my blog -- I'm calling it Productivity for Writers.  Each post will be geared for writers, rather than readers, and focus on how we writers can write more and better by improving both the quantity and quality of our productivity.  This is the inaugural post.

A book I cannot recommend enough is Mason Curry’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. In it, Curry profiles the daily routines and habits of 161 writers, artists, choreographers, scientists, philosophers, composers, etc., ranging from the seventeenth century until the twenty-first.  Each profile is between one paragraph and several pages long, making it easy to read in bits and pieces, or flip back and forth between different thinkers.

One of the things that stood out to me was how many great writers and artists walked.  To give you one example, American poet Wallace Stevens walked six or eight miles each day!  Check this out:

Between work and home he walked, a distance of three or four miles each way. Most days, he took an additional hour-long walk on his lunch break. It was on those walks that he composed his poetry, stopping now and then to scribble lines on one of the half-dozen or so envelopes he always had stuffed in his pocket. – Daily Rituals: How Artists

Stephen King is also famous for his long walks.  According to him, he walks four miles each day when he’s at his summer home unless it’s “pouring down rain.”

Why sitting so much for so long is SO bad for you

We all know that writing is a sedentary activity.  That wouldn’t be so bad if the only time we sat was while we wrote, but we also sit to drive, usually sit at our day job (if we have one), sit to eat, sit to socialize, sit to entertain ourselves with movies, books, television, and video games.

Have you heard the saying “Sitting is the New Smoking” yet?  Here’s the basic gist:

Millions of workers who sit at desks for hours on end before going home to sit in front of the TV are increasing their chances of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity, says Professor Marc Hamilton of the University of Missouri…

“These studies demonstrate a significant impact of inactivity on a par with smoking.” – from an article at Daily Mail

You want to know what else too much sitting is associated with?  Take a look at this list, culled from the Washington Post:

  • Some pretty obvious ones:
    • Bad back, including disk damage
    • Strained neck
    • Sore shoulders
  • A little less obvious but still not surprising:
    • “Foggy brain” syndrome
    • Mushy abs
    • Tight hips & limp glutes
    • Obesity & diabetes
  • You might find these surprising:
    • Colon cancer
    • Heart disease
    • Poor circulation in your legs
    • Soft bones

Walking More Step One:  Break Up Sitting with Walking

The first thing you should know is that sitting for hours and hours without interruption is worse than sitting for many hours but breaking it up with short bouts of walking.  Multiple studies are showing that just standing up or walking around for five minutes when you’ve been sitting a while improves metabolism.

When it comes to writing for a long period of time, having a standing desk is a good idea.  If you don’t have a standing desk and you don’t want to get one, use your dresser, or use a table and put a few thick books underneath it.

Walking More Step Two:  Remember that Walking Increases Creativity

A 2014 study at Stanford found that walking increases creativity.  It’s no surprise that Wallace Stevens wrote poetry as he walked, or that Charles Dickens was famous for his ultra-long walks — the Stanford study showed that creativity increases during a walk and immediately after it.

Stuck on your book?  Maybe what you need to do is take a break and go for a walk.  Leave your phone behind (unless you’re tracking your steps).  Just get some fresh air for ten or fifteen minutes as you walk the block before you sit down again.

Walking More Step Three:  Brainstorms on How Writers Can Walk More

Here are some ideas for how you can work walking into your writing routine:

  • Set a timer:  I don’t know about you, but once I get involved in what I’m writing, I get REALLY involved.  Hours can fly by without me even noticing.  To prevent this from happening, set a timer on your phone or your computer for an hour or ninety minutes, then get up and take a five minute walk.
  • Make your critique partner your walking partner:  Some of us writers engage in “writing sprints,” where we write together for a length of time — fifteen minutes, half an hour, an hour.  If you’re doing this, create a “Sprint / Walk” cycle with your writing partner(s).  Stay focused on your writing for a set period of time, then get up and walk for a set period of time.
  • Make walking a reward:  Sometimes, it’s not the walking we’re avoiding, it’s the writing!  Turn walking into your “reward” for completing a writing goal, like 500 words, the end of a chapter, or the completion of a draft.
  • Walk at the beginning of each writing session:  Remember step two?  Writing boosts creativity?  Well, why not incorporate walking as part of your writing session?  Walk for a mile before you sit down to write.

However You Do It, Walk More

The modern lifestyle is a sedentary lifestyle, and the writing lifestyle might be even more sedentary than that.  Rather than letting a lifelong passion for writing turn into a life-shortener, make sure you’re incorporating walking as a part of your writing routine.

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right. – Soren Kierkeegard

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