Walking the Walk
I’ve hiked with my daughters, and the friends they bring along, since they were babies. With all that energy, kids can trek long distances, but we tend to turn back after a mile, whether it’s to find a bathroom or get some ice cream. But even these two-mile stints outdoors reset me. Afterward I feel energized, peaceful, grateful, and more present for whatever the rest of the day may bring.
Immersion into writing is similar in that it doesn’t have to be a long stretch to have a lasting impact. In the way that a short walk puts you in touch with the raw beauty of the natural world, spending time to write just a few sentences puts you in touch with the details of your story—the setting, the characters, the mood.
To gain the most from walking, it helps to do it regularly. If I can’t get to the woods or the ocean, I take a walk around my neighborhood. It brings me back to myself, to breathe fresh air and to notice my breath, to see what’s unfolding around me in the moment. Writing regularly grounds you in your work, enables the story to tell you what it needs rather than having to refamiliarize you as a stranger who has been gone too long.
Recently, my husband and I found ourselves hiking in the forest on a rare weekend alone. I felt satisfied after a mile of mostly uphill ground and suggested turning back; the further we walked, the longer it would take to retrace our steps. By then I was craving the sugar and caffeine of an iced coffee, ready to sit on a bench and passively enjoy the view rather than be in it. But my husband was just getting started, and this time, we didn’t have kids begging to stop for a picnic or turn back to a playground. So we kept going.
A steep half mile later, I was tired but kept going, awed by the cathedral of redwoods and sequoias around me. And then, a half mile after that, something happened: I stopped feeling tired; in fact, I felt like I could keep walking, uphill or down, for an unspecified length of time, and I did. That day we reached several lookout points and saw the majestic redwoods give way to an elfin forest of chaparral trees, the river along the forest floor disappear into the hillside, the landscape reinvent itself many times over.
In the same way, if you keep on going, your writing will open up in ways you never could have imagined. Beyond what your characters look like, you will learn what they wish for, what they’ve been through. And then there is no more need to convince; you will make a way to visit often.