Listen Up, Writers: Take a Walk!

I am a writer and an athlete. I’m also prone to bouts of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that crush my motivation to write or exercise. And as those who suffer SAD or depression will tell you, the longer you go without doing something, the harder it is to get started again.

I’d heard about treadmill desks from Mixed-Up Files alum Hélène Boudreau and had it in my head the desk had to be attached to the treadmill. But I didn’t want an attached desk because I use my treadmill to run, and so never pursued the idea. Flash forward to the end of October when I was curled up on the couch, berating myself for being a non-writing, gelatinous waste of humanity. The thought of the long, dark months ahead had me in tears.

I needed to do something.

I remembered the walking/writing idea and did a little research. Guess what? Treadmill desks do not have to be attached! Treadmill desks can be free-standing shelving!

I went to a restaurant supply store and bought two 14” x 48” shelves and four poles for about $60. I thought I wanted shelves that were only as wide as the treadmill but am glad I was forced to get the 48” size because it turned out that extra room is great for my water bottle, dictionary, notebook, etc. I recommend getting two shelves so you have extra space but also because the second shelf makes the “desk” more stable. This type of shelving is fully adjustable so you can tweak the height until it feels comfortable. (We had an extra ping-pong table net and I attached that to the poles to create a backstop so I don’t have to worry about knocking my laptop onto the treadmill).

So far I’ve walked 47 miles and logged over 2,600 minutes of walking and writing time. I use a spreadsheet to keep track of my sessions, including calories burned (7,050!) In addition to those stats, here’s what I’ve learned:

  • It’s important to take frequent eye breaks. Every ten minutes or so I look up and out my window where I’m fortunate enough to see things like this:
  • Because I’m a runner and geared for “faster/farther,” I initially also had that attitude for walking and writing. Wrong! I learned the hard way it’s best if I work in 60 minute sessions at the slowest speed: 1.0. This means I walk exactly one mile in one hour, but it also means I don’t suffer eye strain and upset stomach. I do, however, set my incline at 3.5 because that’s most comfortable for me. (Note: my heightened vision sensitivity may be due to the progressive lenses I wear and you may find you don’t have any problem walking faster and/or longer. The key is building slowly.)
  • It’s helpful to increase the screen magnification.
  • There are days the treadmill seems extra creaky and loud, so I keep earplugs handy.
  • When I’ve reached my walking/writing quota I stand on the unmoving treadmill to continue working because while walking beats standing, standing beats sitting.

Verdict? My mental, emotional, and physical health improved via the treadmill desk. You know what else happened? (Beside gaining a new-found evangelism for treadmill desks? Ahem.) My writing life has improved. I’m writing more consistently and the writing feels stronger. My current work-in-progress is more cohesive than the second drafts of other manuscripts I wrote while sitting. Granted, much of that is due to writing from an outline for the first time, (HA!) but I also believe my brain is working in different ways. Now when I’m stuck, I walk slowly and gaze at the finches and clouds as I work out the solution. I don’t quit and go visit the refrigerator. I don’t quit and check my email.

I don’t quit.

(Speaking of email, when I first mentioned having a treadmill desk my spouse wondered if I’d want internet connection in our basement and I said, “Absolutely not!”)

The walking/writing has also reignited my exercise routine. I’m back to daily yoga and runs, and even hooped outside one warm afternoon. I’m no longer the weepy woman on the couch. I realize converts can be an annoying species, but hope you’ll look beyond my zealotry and consider incorporating a treadmill desk in your life.

Remember: when you walk and write, you’re always moving forward.

Tracy Abell plans to walk and write her way through her latest middle-grade novel which she hopes doesn’t end up being the equivalent of walking to her former home in Alaska.

Tracy Abell