“It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Lots of people who produced impressive creative output loved to walk. Here’s a partial list.
- Charles Darwin
- Charles Dickens
- Ludwig van Beethoven
- Sigmund Freud
- Carl Jung
- Søren Kierkegaard
- Frederic Chopin
- Thomas Mann
- Gustav Mahler
- Richard Strauss
- William Faulkner
- B. F. Skinner
- Jonathan Edwards
- Immanuel Kant
- Henry James
- Wallace Stevens
Impressive, huh? All those people made walking a central part of their creative working day. Steve Jobs loved walking meetings because he was sure that walking fostered creativity and clear thinking.
Walking for ideas
Most of the people in the list above made walking a regular part of their day. They took a long walk every day to sort out their thinking or clear their head. Several of them also took shorter walks when they needed fresh thinking or to clear a creative blockage. But their walking was not what most people mean by “walking” today.
Modern-day walking and multitasking
Today we multitask when we walk. We walk for exercise, keeping up a brisk pace and checking our Fitbit. Or we walk while we listen to an audiobook. That’s multitasking and it’s not good. It’s not the kind of walking that Beethoven and Darwin and Wallace Stevens did to work out ideas.
Neither is walking someplace where you have to devote your attention to dodging pedestrians or crossing with the light. That’s walking to get someplace and it won’t help your thought process much, even though it may keep you from getting run over.
Just walk, damn it
Don’t walk and … Just walk. Keep up a moderate pace, but don’t walk for exercise. Just walk. Let your mind wander. And walk.
Activities that occupy the body but leave the mind free are excellent for getting ideas. Taking a shower and housework and driving a familiar route are all examples. So is walking.
How to make walking more productive without forcing it
Ideas will bubble up, so be ready. The great creative walkers of the past carried something to write on and something to write with. You can carry a digital voice recorder or make notes on your phone.
Walk in the wild if you can. Walking in a park or in a rural setting make it easier for your mind to move lazily over possible ideas.
Walk the same route every time. That way you won’t devote precious mental energy to noticing things along your route.
Walking will make you a better writer, but only if you do it right.