Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Guest Post: The Walking Writer by Jennifer R. Hubbard

Redwood Trail
By Jennifer R. Hubbard
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I don’t know how strong a trend this is, but in the past couple of years I’ve heard of several writers setting up “treadmill desks.”

As I understand it, this consists of a treadmill (set on very slow speed!) and a shelf with a computer. The writer walks while working. It’s supposed to be healthier than sitting at a desk for hour after hour.

I love walking and I love writing, but I’m not sure I could do both at once—or at least, that I could compose on a keyboard while walking. (I write while walking all the time, as I’ll explain later.)

Treadmills make me dizzy. And even though the treadmill in this case would be set to a low speed, my writing sometimes requires moments of absolute stillness for an idea to work its way from my brain to my fingertips.

But for writers who can work this way, it sounds like a great idea. I’m all for movement, however it’s achieved. Writing can be a very sedentary profession. We need to get our blood flowing, our muscles working.

I walk or hike daily. This serves a few purposes, beyond the basic need of exercise. It serves a few writing-related purposes, in fact.

(I also use a stationary bike, but I find I can’t think writerly thoughts while doing that, so I read or watch TV instead.)

Walking enables me to take a break from the writing desk. Sometimes I need to stop engaging my conscious mind with the story at hand, and let the subconscious work. I get fresh air and exercise and mental rest.

But other times, as I walk, my mind will keep working on the story. New scenes and bits of dialogue will come unbidden as I walk. This is how I first learned to tell stories: they unreeled in my head while I went about the daily business of living. A good long walk, with nothing else required of me, allows my mind the freedom and focus to compose.

Hiking vacations also take me to interesting new places, some of which end up in stories.

The waterfall in Try Not to Breathe (Viking, 2012) was inspired by years of hiking trips, many of which included visits to waterfalls. (In fact, as my husband plans our vacation hikes, he knows that anything featuring a waterfall will get an automatic “yes” from me.)

Myrtle Falls

The river in The Secret Year (Viking, 2010) was a composite of several rivers and creeks that I’ve lived (and walked) near. The feel of moss, the scent of pine needles, the crunch of fallen leaves, the glint of mica in the sun: all of these have found their way from my hikes into my stories.

Panhandle Bridge

Writers put a lot of stock in the “butt in chair, fingers on keyboard” moments, as well we should. But sometimes it’s useful to stand up at, or even step away from, the desk.

Trail to Burroughs

14 comments:

Julie D-G said...

I completely agree with you about treadmills. I'm a runner but I hate running on a treadmill. The ground feels so strange for a few moments after I get off.

I also find that I "write" well while walking, running, doing anything besides sitting in front of a computer. The problem is that the incredible sentences that I think disappear before I get back to my computer. Any tips? (Besides bringing a pad of paper with me on a 5 mile run?)

Chihuahua Zero said...

I just took a walk a few hours ago. For the most part, I use it mostly as an opportunity to take a look around the neighborhood and think a little more about my story.

For the first few minutes, a random dog decided to follow me, and I tried losing it. It gave me an idea for a short story.

Kai Strand said...

Hooray for walking writers! My scenery is often garnered from my hikes as well. Our family vacation this summer is a week long camping trip to ghost towns. I want to just SIT in them and absorb them. And take pictures and imagine what they were like when they were lived in. SO excited.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Julie: I'm low-tech, so I do take a couple of stray scraps of paper and a pen along sometimes. But I've heard of others using those recorders that doctors dictate into, or you could bring your phone and leave a message on your own voicemail with your great story idea.

Chihuahua: It's nice when a story follows you--literally!

Angelina C. Hansen said...

You already know how much I agree with you on this subject, Jenn. Thanks for sharing the gorgeous photos. We just discovered a new waterfall close to home last weekend. Racehorse Falls. Getting to it was treacherous, but it was well worth it!

Mieke Zamora-Mackay/@MZMackay said...

Lovely pictures and a great way to refresh the writing brain. I think it rather cool to enjoy that with your husband.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Julie, I know what you mean about disappearing. There's a theory that if it's a really key thought, it'll stick. But I've been known to write on my own arm.

CZ, best wishes with your short story. When inspiration calls...

Kai, that sounds like great spooky fun.

Angelina, be careful out there. And yes, Jennifer's photos are gorgeous.

Mieke, I think it's rather cool, too.

Jennifer, thanks again for sharing your thoughts and offering additional tips here in the comments. Best wishes!

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Kai: I love ghost towns, too!

Angelina: Happy exploring!

Mieke: Hope you are feeling refreshed yourself!

Thanks again, Cynthia, for hosting. :)

The Golden Eagle said...

Walking and writing at the same time? I've never heard of that before. But I do love walking because of its ability to open up ideas. There's something relaxing and inspiring about it.

Great pictures!

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Inspiring to be sure, Golden Eagle. Happy skies!

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I'd love to take a hike in any of the places in those pictures; they look beautiful! And I'm not even an outdoorsy person! :) I'm not sure I could walk and write at the same time, though. I do carry my journal with me most of the time, so I can jot stuff down if I think/see/hear something interesting while I'm walking.

Lauren - Editor @ Pure Text said...

The treadmill/writing thing--I don't think--is for me. However, I'm a fan of stand-up desks (even just standing is supposedly better than sitting for hours), and am very sad my laptop broke, leaving me confined to sit at the desk with the desktop PC.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Carrying a journal is a great idea, NW. Best wishes with your writing-and yes, you could just step into those pictures.

Sorry about your laptop, Lauren. But thanks for the tip on standing desks.

Austin Lehman Bike Tours said...

Great photos and amazing story. I am with you, I don’t think that I could work or concentrate while walking on a treadmill. Your photos were amazing, no matter how you get your muse, keep up the good work. :) -Daniella

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