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✍️ Tiptoeing Through the Tulips*, and Other Alliterative Illuminations
Or, how walking can help you boost creativity so you get your words’ worth
For some reason, there is a disagreement about when William Wordsworth wrote the poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (sometimes referred to as “Daffodils”). Wordsworth himself said in was in 1804, though apparently some scholars believe it could have been written as late as 1807. We do know two things for sure: the poem was published in 1815 and it was inspired by daffodils Wordsworth spied on a walk he took with his sister on April 15, 1802.
Of course, “wandering” and “Wordsworth” are as synonymous as they are alliterative. He is famous for walking the mountains and valleys and sheep grazing grounds of the Lake District. It’s a chicken-or-egg situation in English Literature – did the Lake District make writers, or did writers make the Lake District?
(In a fairly real way, chalk up one for the writers – it was Beatrix Potter who started buying up land in the Lake District in the early 20th century to conserve it. Writers – or anyone – can rent Beatrix Potter’s house for inspiration £1,750 or about CAD$2,700 per month.)
Lots of famous writers were walkers: Charles Dickens, Henry David Thoreau, and Stephen King are just a few. Hemingway walked along the quais of Paris while he was stuck and trying to work things out with his early short stories and novels. The whole idea of walking to spark imagination goes so far back that there is a Latin phrase: Solvitur Ambulando which means, “it is solved by walking”.
And it’s not just writers. Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Tchaikovsky, even digital guru Steve Jobs all swore by his decidedly analogue walks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jobs would go so far as to inflict his obsession onto others by forcing them to walk with him during meetings.
But does this walking thing actually boost creativity, or is it a conspiracy by Big Health to get us into shape?
Walking as an Idea Generator
Susan Rogers, an IRL friend and fellow writer, sparked the idea for this post in a comment she wrote on the post about where writers get their ideas. “I often get my ideas while walking, snowshoeing, hiking,” Susan wrote. “That's one of the reasons why I never listen to music when engaging in these activities.”
Hard to imagine Wordsworth wandering with a Walkman, even if they had been invented (and despite further juicy opportunities for alliteration).
For the record, I’m not a natural walker when it comes to creativity. I love to walk cities when I travel, as well as climb (reasonably sized) mountains, and circumnavigate (reasonably sized) lakes. Usually, it also involves drinking (reasonably sized) coffees and beers and wines, depending on the country and time of day.
But I do recognize the fact that walking works for a great number of writers, so it’s definitely worth a discussion. I mean, I think we can take all of these writers at face value when they say that writing helps them. But there is also considerable scientific evidence to suggest that walking can boost creativity. There is even a whole website dedicated to the concept of “Walkitate”.
Psychology Today listed five surprising facts about walking and creativity from a Stanford University research project, including:
Walking is better than sitting when it comes to generating ideas
You don’t need to take long walks for full benefits – 5 to 16 minutes will do to boost creativity by 60%
Walking indoors on a treadmill is just as effective as walking outside
Walking doesn’t have to be strenuous – a leisurely stroll will get the mind moving just as well as an Ironman-paced run
Walking can give you other creative benefits indirectly. For example, walking reduces stress and anxiety – and what’s more stressful and anxiety-inducing than pouring your heart out onto the blank page? Many people get inspiration from The Great Outdoors – much like Wordsworth and his daffodils. And there is a lot of biological evidence that that breath of fresh air and all the new oxygen it contains will do wonders for your brain power too. Exercise through walking provides a snowballing trove of benefits that go beyond the simple physical act.
How to Schedule Walking into Your Writing Routine
Like writing rituals, how you add walking into your writing routine will be highly individual and come down to what works best for you. For that reason, I’d suggest approaching it the same way: try something you think may work for a period of time. If it’s not giving you the desired effect, try something else.
For example, you could plan to:
Walk for 10 minutes before every writing session
Use walking to help you “work out problems” – in other words, go out for a walk once you get stuck
Walk in between writing sessions as Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, and Charles Dickens do/did
Walk after writing to decompress as Alice Munro did
Incorporate walking into your errands like going to the grocery store so that you’re active but not necessarily walking as part of your writing routine
I think it’s important to point out that this will help boost creativity whether you are meditating directly on a writing problem or not. In fact, I often find that I find breakthroughs when I’m not actually thinking to hard about it. The clockworks just keeping ticking and spinning in the back of my brain, and the answers pop out when they’re ready. I’ve heard that this is true for other writers too – and walking can help you get to those solutions faster.
I’ll leave you with the words of another writer and good friend of mine who loves walking so much, she created a whole movement around Global Walking Adventures. Sam Plavins of She Walks the Walk said that walking gives her the “space to think and dream”. Well, what the hell else do we need than that?
Walking even a little bit can help boost your creativity. Walk all the time for an automatic creative boost, or take a walk the next time you’re stuck staring at the blank page.
Now It’s Your Turn. Tell Us Your Walking Habits!
Do you already walk as a way to boost creativity? Did you give it a try after reading this post? Or do you something else to spark your creativity? I’d love to hear your insights in the comments below.After that, check out the TEDx video below by Marily Oppezzo, one of the researchers whose work was cited in Psychology Today, above.
Until next time, keep writing with wild abandon!
*PS – yes, I know tulips and daffodils are different. However, tiptoeing through the daffodils doesn’t have the same ring to it somehow. And it’s definitely not quite as alliterative. So, I’m exercising some poetic licence...