Writing and Walking

I try to walk every day. Outside. Without a phone in my hand or headphones plugged into my ears. Just me, and the path ahead.

Because I live in the Chicago area, this can get a little challenging in the winter, but I still try to get out and walk, sometimes stamping through the snow and braving the wind chill, maybe lasting only fifteen minutes.

I’m one of those writers who finds that time away from the keyboard is actually some of my best writing time. It’s then that the characters and plot and setting and dialogue that have been bouncing around in my head seem to straighten out and make some sense.

I’m not alone in this belief.

“Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow,” wrote Henry Thoreau. Well-known walking writers include Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth, Henry James, Thomas Mann, and Joyce Carol Oates.

So what is it about getting outside and moving your feet that helps get those creative juices flowing?

Research is finding that walking allows the brain to work in a different way. Walking has been shown to improve the ability to shift between modes of thought, increase attention and memory, and allow us to recover from mental fatigue, all of which are important when creating. And walking has another benefit — it elevates our mood.

I’ve found this to be true, as well — when I get too busy doing, I don’t dedicate enough time to thinking.

I know that after sitting for hours at my desk, fingers curled around the keyboard, staring at the screen, I feel instantly better the moment I get outside. When I walk, my mind has time to meander. To roam and wander and stroll along, with nothing awaiting my attention. At least for the next hour or so.

The beauty of walking is that all you need are a good pair of shoes. You don’t need to take lessons or join a club or pay a membership fee. And you can do it whenever!

If all this isn’t enough to convince you to close that document and open your front door right now, there’s another benefit to walking around your neighborhood. What you observe, feel, hear, and smell can find its way into your work in progress! I’ve had this happen a number of times.

Are you a walking writer? Have you found it helpful in your work? Leave a comment and share your thoughts. That is, when you get back inside.

Michele Weber Hurwitz, the author of Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House 2011) and a forthcoming middle grade novel in 2014, is on her way out for a walk. Visit her at www.micheleweberhurwitz.com.


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Michele Weber Hurwitz
Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of Ethan Marcus Stands Up (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin), The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold (both Penguin Random House). Visit her at www.micheleweberhurwitz.com
  1. I love walking! And it’s true that it does help stimulate ideas and clarify problems. I’m also a gal who figures out story snags while cleaning toilets – oddly enough! The mindless chores are good for daydreaming.

  2. Definitely a walking writer. Or a jogging writer. Or a biking writer. Being out in nature is very good for the creative mind. Thanks for this post!

  3. I can totally relate to your post, Michele. I live in North Idaho and try to walk for thirty minutes every day year round. I don’t mind tromping through the snow, but a steady rain usually makes me stay inside. It’s funny how it makes me feel guilty though! But I agree that walking clears your head and makes you feel better. I’ve written many story scenes and worked through difficult plot challenges while walking.

  4. I am a walking writer who has stopped walking. Thanks for the reminder to walk away from the computer and…write!

  5. I think best when I am walking my dog off leash on a hike. I use crampons over my boots to navigate the ice during the winter and just wear tons of layers to last for one hour in the cold.

  6. Yes! I’ve always loved walking, even as a teenager I felt a great need to take walks. When I went through particularly bad times, I walked. I enjoy finding new paths, new roads, and they say doing something in a new or different way is also good for the brain. Glad to hear it’s a writer thing!

  7. I love taking my characters for a walk – or a run. Sadly for me, however, I’ve find that I do my best plot unraveling when I’m scrubbing bathrooms or vacuuming:)

  8. Thank you for this post.
    I often read about people running or going to the gym…makes me feel guilty just for my lazily slow walking (in bitter cold weather, dressed like a snowman!)…but now i know i’m not alone. Walking and writing ….luv it.

  9. A good walk really clarifies my mind. It’s easy to get lost in words, ideas, and the indoor chores sandwiched in between. Whole days can be eaten up with all that. I can forget to get out of the chair, get out, get active. Once I AM out and moving, I wonder why I didn’t give in sooner! And, yes, after a good, long, fast walk, everything does go easier with the writing and the artwork. It’s a lesson I seem to have to learn repeatedly. (WHY is that? Especially when, as Kate says, all our senses come alive with the sounds, sights and aromas all around us as we walk along).

  10. I couldn’t agree more, Michele! I take my characters out for a good airing every day, walking the same route so that I can devote my brain space to dialogue and plotting! Not to mention thinking about the sounds leaves crunching underfoot, the smell of rain in the air or fireplaces in winter. I agree that it’s great for all the senses, and that can help color our writing.

    • @Kate Hannigan, I walk the same route every day too! And I’ve been known to talk aloud, so my neighbors probably think I’m nutty! And yes, totally agree about the sounds and smells!