Sometimes I imagine what I would say if I were some old salt who dispenses writing advice, the kind of person who is grizzled and has "seen some stuff," like I’m the writing version of Yoda without the swamp.
I don’t know why I do this, exactly. A lot of things run through my head as I walk, which is one of the three big W’s of my life during this stage of it. I Work, I Write, I Walk. Often at the same time. Call me W Cubed.
In my little imagined scenario it seems like Yoda-me has this great penchant to tell people to take to the streets, the woods, the museum. Any place you can ramble afield.
We so often associate writing with something stationary. There you are, pencil nub behind your ear, hunkered down at your computer, your trusty coffee mug beside your mouse pad, the glow of your screen keeping you company late at night, a word processer version of that old motel slogan of "we’ll leave the light on for you."
I don’t write like this, but I used to. So it’s kind of my big tip to run out an alternative that I think can work pretty well, even if you’re doing a stripped down version of it, because it’s the gist that’s the point in this case.
When I’m at the desk formally writing, there isn’t a second when my fingers are not moving. Rapidly. Percussively. There’s not a second of "gee, what would I like to do now" or "darn, I am stuck."
There are a bunch of reasons for that, but one of them is because I write so much in my head while I walk that I am typing from something that is already there, that is given somewhat new form—and entirely new components can arise—as I sit at the desk. But on top of that, my entire process has become more compact because for dozens of hours each week, I’ve been writing as I do something else. And, consequently, writing is easier for me, an extension of the very biological necessities of my existence, like breathing oxygen or sweating when I’m hot.
Writing is an active pursuit, something done "live," that can be doctored up in the studio later, if you will. Same with a studio recording by your favorite band. But there are ways to get what you want in fewer takes; with that master take you ultimately go with requiring less post-production tidying up. So that you can reach a point where your first take is pretty much your final take as you get more skilled and comfortable in bringing the point at which you start closer to the point at which you finish.
I cover about 3000 miles on foot a year. Most days I get up and run three miles, then I walk three, then I climb the Bunker Hill Monument and its 294 steps five straight times, as a kind of cardiovascular extra credit session that doesn’t count in my grand tally. The average person walks three miles an hour. So it’s a lot of hours, and more than you need, but if you walk an hour a day, and work in your head on that story you have, I bet you’ll be pleased what happens.
Let’s say you start out with an idea and some characters. You walk, and you start knowing them. What is so-and-so like? How well does she get along with so-and-so? Why do they have trouble talking about that thing they both experienced a few years ago? Could you talk to either of them? Well, probably her, but he’s a tough one. But then again
wait, what’s that? Such-and-such happened to him? Well, you can’t blame him. What’s that thing he’s always saying? That’s a good phrase. That could be the title.
And off you go.
The next day out, things may take a turn. That child? Nah, ink him out. That child should have been an elderly woman. And what does she have to say, knowing these two? You change and you change and you assemble the pieces, because when you have real characters, they are going to tell you the story. They have their own stories. You simply need to spend time with them, if they are real enough, and they’ll impart. Walking with them is a great way to spend that time.
This is how Van Gogh did a lot of his painting, and how Dickens did a lot of his writing. A Christmas Carol was written almost entirely in his head as he walked the streets of London at night. So, writing friends: give your fingers some down time and put your feet into the mix. You might be surprised where the next mini-journey takes you.