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Does walking unleash creativity?

A lot of glories have been attributed to the humble act of walking by writers and thinkers. William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, and Henry David Thoreau were all avid walkers.

Henry David Thoreau has written,

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements .”

“Scratch a writer and you’ll find a walker.” Tegan Bennett Daylight said in an interview titled, The Writers Room.

Tegan was discussing how daily walks are a vital part of her writing process as they assist in the unlooping of her thoughts. Though she uses walking as a way to stay fit, this particular form of daily movement has had a positive impact on her writing craft, especially when she encounters creative problems,

“Almost everytime I go for a walk on my own, it brings me the solution I was looking for.”

Tegan believes that walking allows you to become distracted enough from yourself to let the creative play start to happen. She is not alone in that belief.

Now there is a scientific study to prove this wildly held belief. Stanford University did an elaborate study that proved that the simple act of walking increases creativity by a whopping 60%. That’s just walking, anywhere, not only in nature. Even on a treadmill.

But. another separate study by the University of Munich found the color green also has a positive effect on creativity. Now, combine the two – walking and green – and you’ve got exactly what a walk in nature has to offer.

Australian author Sarah Schmidt often documents her daily walks by taking photos and posting them on her blog. The often eerie and unsettling images mirror the mood of her equally eerie and unsettling (though engrossing) debut novel, See What I Have Done.

The photographs complement the mood and imagery of Sarah’s work, thus supporting her creative process, but the walk also grants her the time to contemplate her novel on a deeper level.

“I’m one of ‘those’ writers. You know the kind: fidgety, annoying, needs to walk out their thoughts, sees something along the way and thinks, ‘now that’s interesting. I wonder if…’ takes photos of it and then just stares at said photo for hours. I’m also desperately, heavily reliant on nature to help me write.”

Author and renowned nomad, Sarah Wilson – who’s lived out of a suitcase/backpack for eight years – offers the following insight into movement.

“I know this: It’s in movement that we find so much joy. It’s in movement that we create. It’s in movement that we fend and grow and connect more readily with big minds and reach more important touch points […] Studies show babies are most settled when rocked at the same pace at which a woman walks. We are calmed by the primitive memory of our moving ancestors.”

In a New York Times piece about writer and nomad Bruce Chatwin, the following line was offered, “Movement itself might be the ideal human state.”

John Muir recorded in his journal, “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

Writing could be described as a conglomeration of personal experiences, observations, external stimuli consciously or subconsciously absorbed and the occasional random insight.

These different sources of information settle in our brains, as Ann Patchett describes, like a “mental compost.”

It’s through the act of walking that an author is able to shake free this compacted knowledge and discover something useful.

This can only occur, however, if the mind is unclamped or enters a non-thinking state.

“Go outside. Don’t tell anyone and don’t bring your phone. Start walking and keep walking until you no longer know the road like the palm of your hand, because we walk the same roads day in and day out, to the bus and back home and we cease to see. We walk in our sleep and teach our muscles to work without thinking and I dare you to walk where you have not yet walked and I dare you to notice. Don’t try to get anything out of it, because you won’t. Don’t try to make use of it, because you can’t. And that’s the point. Just walk, see, sit down if you like. And be. Just be, whatever you are with whatever you have, and realise that that is enough to be happy. There’s a whole world out there, right outside your window. You’d be a fool to miss it.” – Charlotte Eriksson

Photo by Nicolas Cool on Unsplash

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