Get (Ideas) Moving

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Source: Michaelangelo Allocca

When I was in high school and would get stuck on some homework issue (most often a geometry problem), my mother would tell me to stop fussing over the problem and go outside and take a walk. My mother was a very wise woman. Usually, at some point during that walk, even though I wasn’t consciously thinking about the sticky homework problem, the solution would come to me.

I’ve fallen back on my mother’s advice countless times through the years. I don’t know how many dissertation issues got worked out during walks along the shore of Lake Michigan. Now, I use walks to help with inspiration for my creative writing.

The initial ideas for what was to become the Light-Bringer series came to me during my daily walks. A character might show up or a snippet of dialogue. After my main character had appeared and enough of the pieces had come together for me to realize I had a real story idea, I started actively working, putting the puzzle together, sorting through logic problems or potential plot hazards. And, again, much of that initial working out happened during walks. When I got back home, I’d scribble my thoughts in a journal, sometimes taking the ideas beyond where they’d gone during the walk. After the ideas and notes had reached critical mass, I started writing the first draft of A Gift of Wings.

Walking has become the way I work out my plot issues or character problems. When I’m stuck, I trust that something will show up for me during a walk or some other kind of activity. And I’m not alone in this. The abundance of articles on physical activity and creativity attest to the importance of getting the body moving in order to get ideas moving. The following are just a few examples. A Newsweek article, posted on the Daily Beast, urges us to “Forget Brainstorming” and get moving instead. On her blog CreateShift, Elizabeth Watt writes about how walking can power our creative thinking. And the Huffington Post tells us that hiking in the countryside can boost our creativity.

Some articles suggest it’s the aerobic exercise that stimulates our thinking, others that the bilateral physical movement activates both hemispheres of the brain, and others that the key is simply getting away from our desks and computers and freeing the mind, in a kind of walking meditation. Whatever the reason, it seems that the act of unplugging from our various technologies, getting outside, connecting with nature, and moving our bodies spurs creative ideas.

I used to carry my iPod whenever I went for a run or took a walk. In fact, I purchased my first iPod as a bribe to make myself start running. Even if I didn’t want to run, I could look forward to listening to some favorite songs while I did it. That worked very well for me for quite a while. Now though, I hardly ever carry my iPod on my walks. (I’m not really running anymore either, but that’s another story.) I prefer to walk unplugged, listening to the birds, the wind in the leaves, and the writing ideas that show up when I open up space in my mind for them. The ideas that come may not be related to the scene or chapter I’m currently working on. They may have to do with something that happens earlier in the story or something that won’t show up until the next volume. But the ideas are there. And when I go for a walk, I look forward not only to the opportunity to get my muscles moving, but also to discovering what creative ideas might present themselves this time.

What do you do to help boost your creativity? Do you find that walking or physical exercise of some sort is an important part of your creative life?

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10 Responses to Get (Ideas) Moving

  1. tpolen says:

    Stephanie, your mother was definitely a wise women – when I’m stuck with something, I get on the treadmill. I’ve had some of my best ideas there!

  2. Michaelangelo says:

    Beautifully written post. I don’t know that I would go so far as to boast of even having a ‘creative life,’ but I too find that probably half of the best inspirations I get either for classes I’m teaching, or for lectures I give, come to me when I’m walking. Leaving the iPod off probably helps, but I do still sometimes have an idea; listening to something familiar and well-liked actually serves to cut off distractions for me sometimes, leaving the part of my mind that just rolls along like a rock tumbler to work uninterrupted.

  3. L. Marie says:

    I take a walk or a drive. I’ve also solved thorny narrative problems by washing dishes! But going outside and listening to the birds really helps stimulate the creative juices.

    • sstamm625 says:

      Doing dishes is good. Cutting the grass can work as well–as long as I stay focused enough not to mow over the electric cord. I did cut through the extension cord when trimming shrubs once. Teach me to use a green extension cord for lawn work. They’re all orange now.

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