How To Get the Most Writing Bang for Your Walking Buck

May 1, 2024 | Better Writing

Walking is one of the best things you can do to improve your writing. Walking helps you keep fit. It keeps the blood flowing, and it helps you get good ideas. So just go out and take a walk, right? Well, no, because not all walking is going to be helpful in terms of writing. Here’s how to get the most writing bang for your walking buck.

Why Walking Helps You Get Insights

We know several ways to get insights when you need them, and they have a few things in common. They put your body on autopilot. With the body on autopilot, your mind loses one thing to focus on. So, you’re free to let your mind roam. You’re free to daydream.

When you do that, a part of the brain called the Default Mode Network (DMN) kicks in. The brain has two networks. When you concentrate on doing something, you use the Task Positive Network. When you’re daydreaming or not thinking about anything in particular, your brain is still working, but on a different network, the DMN. Neuroscientist Dr. Marc Dingman describes the DMN this way:

“The default mode network is a group of brain regions that show lower levels of activity when we are engaged in a particular task like paying attention but higher levels of activity when we are awake and not involved in any specific mental exercise.”

You may not be concentrating on your writing, but your DMN is on the job. Pretty soon, ideas start to bubble up. You don’t have to walk for this to happen, but walking usually gives you enough time to make significant progress on whatever you’re working on.

Where To Walk

You want to walk where you don’t have to pay attention to traffic and dodge other walkers. Your mind must remain free to roam. If where you walk requires you to concentrate on anything, you’re walking in the wrong place.

Charles Darwin solved this problem by creating a place to walk. When he moved into the house where he would spend the last 40 years of his life, Darwin leased some land from an adjacent property owner. Then, he built a walking path on that land. He walked the route of that path every day, sometimes more than once. He called it his “thinking path.”

You probably can’t do what Darwin did. So, should you heed the standard advice to “walk in nature?” That’s great if you live in the country or the middle of a park. But most of us don’t, so we must pick our walking spots carefully.

Find a place close to you that will provide the best distraction-free environment. It should be easy for you to go for a walk when you need insight.

I live in a small town, so I pick quiet streets when I want to walk for insight. One writer I know who lives in a city walks in a nearby parking garage. Another strolls around a nearby office park. There are bound to be plenty of good places to walk close to you. You just need to find them.

Before You Walk

Before you walk, prime the pump. Review your notes or the last thing you’ve written. Then, leave them and go for your walk.

On Your Walk

Remember that you want your mind to be free to roam. So don’t listen to an audiobook or music while you walk. Just walk.

You’ll get insights and won’t remember them even a few moments later, so make sure you have a way to capture them. I use a small digital recorder. You can also use index cards and small notebooks. If you use your phone to capture ideas at other times, leave it at home when you walk.

I suggest using one of those methods instead of capturing your insights on your phone. I leave my phone at home when I walk. That way, I’m not interrupted by calls or a sudden compulsion to see what’s happening on social media. If you want to minimize distractions, leave the phone at home.

This Is Not a Speed Walk or a Rucking Session

Don’t be in a hurry. Don’t make this a workout. Walk gently, comfortably, and lightly on the earth. Thoreau called such walking “sauntering.” Daniel Kahneman called it “strolling.” For him, the pace was about 17 minutes per mile. He said, “I experience no strain, no conflict, and no need to push myself.” Kahneman learned that when he pushed himself, he began to concentrate on walking itself and maintaining a faster-than-natural pace.

When you need insight, go for a walk. Review your project before you go. Take a way to capture the insights you’ll get, and walk at a natural, comfortable pace.

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