Henry David Thoreau

Why Writers Need to Walk

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It requires a direct dispensation from heaven to become a walker.” What beautiful words, fitting for a man who spent two years, two months, and two days in his singular “experiment in simplicity” at Walden Pond. Thoreau’s time at Walden included daily walks in the Walden Woods–long rambles that could last for hours.

Jane Austen stated her devotion to perambulating more simply. Ms Austen declared, “I walk: I prefer walking.” Her walks from her home Chawton Cottage to Alton Village, a bit over a mile away, have now become the Jane Austen Trail–a testament to her mark on literature and the countryside she called home.

It’s easy to be carried away by the sense of romanticism we project onto the times and places these authors inhabited. Thoreau’s marvelous solitude at Walden Pond, his long walks through the woods, writing by a crackling fire at night, kept company by the night sounds surrounding his one-room cabin.

And Jane Austen! How many women have pictured themselves walking those miles from cottage to village, gathering up their skirts to step the stiles and cross the footpath bridge over the stream, experiencing in that simple activity a wonderful timeless freedom.

As a writer and devoted daily walker, I believe there will always be a romance, a dance of sorts, between the writer and the natural world, the solitude of the pen on paper (today fingers on keyboard), the flow of words from the unseen to the seen. A unique connection exists between the writer and the world we inhabit. Many of us are inspired by walking; our muse speaks more clearly as we make our way along the trail or road or path. But why is that?

Fast forward from the 1800’s to just a few years ago and we find out why walking is the writer’s best friend. In 2014 Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, and Daniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education published Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking. Their research proved that walking increases creativity by 60%. Goodbye writer’s block, hello wonderful words! And don’t worry, when seated at your desk, capturing the brilliance from your walk in written form, you will still be experiencing a “residual creative boost”.

In summary the study showed, “Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.” So regardless of what kind of wordsmith you are: author, blogger, essayist, speech writer, editor, journalist, etc, walking is your optimal work space. How wonderful is that? The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking”.

That’s why writers need to walk.