This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here.
Walking & Running
New Years Day is a traditional day for getting out and shaking off the inertia of the Christmas season. So on our first day of exploring 31 ways to keep your head above water I’m going to talk about walking and running.
Of course many of us start out in the new year with good intentions to walk more or take up an activity like running. We know we need that regular exercise to be healthier and to guard against some hereditary illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. We know that exercise produces serotonin and helps us feel happier and sleep better.
Exercise and Creativity
Exercise can directly affect creativity. According to this Newsweek article
‘Almost every dimension of cognition improves from 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, and creativity is no exception. The type of exercise doesn’t matter, and the boost lasts for at least two hours afterward.’
The article does go on to stipulate though that you need to be physically fit to get the benefit of this energy boost, if you are out of shape then exercising will make you tired.
Well known author Haruki Murakami is also known for being a serious runner. He has completed a 64 mile ultramarathon. While this article reviewing his book What I talk about when I talk about running says that he is contradictory when talking about the relationship between running and his creativity and ideas, he admits to transferring ideas while running into this novels. For Murakami running might be something that adds to the stamina of this prolific author.
I spoke to writer friend Tamsin (@dandeliongirl) on twitter who runs regularly and asked her how running feeds into her creativity.
‘I often think of ideas while I’m running. It’s very good if I have a tangled plot line. I have time to totally focus on it. No distractions. I run through woods and cross country so I’ll distract myself with thinking of ways to describe what I see. Try and work out how to capture it. Those are my small stones.’
Tamsin describes here how the process of running can clear the mind and help her work out problem areas in her writing such as plot tangles. Attending a talk by writer John Boyne, he explained how the entire plot for his recent novel The Absolutist was elucidated during an hours walk. Tamsin told me that running was a stress relief and gave her greater energy for life and writing.
Flow and inspiration
My own experience is with walking rather than running but I have consistently found that I come up with plot ideas, characters, titles and snippets of text while even on a short walk. (I take my phone with me, which has a notebook for jotting down ideas!) Activities like walking, sports, crafts etc can lead to an experience of flow: complete energetic immersion in a task, an effortless attention that has been shown to correlate highly with scientific and artistic creativity and helps with incubation (the process where disparate ideas come together to form a new leap or idea with a particular project.)
Recently I read this wonderful riff from Karen Rivers on how walking and writing might be intertwined. She says she’d call it nanowalkmo! I hope it will inspire you.
Persistence and habit
Writing is often a slog. We find it hard to start, it’s not all we want to do. Like regular walking or running we need to make it a habit, to build it into a regime that we can build on over time. We may have a ‘bad run’ but similarly we’ll reap later benefits from that initial effort. Like my marathon running relation, we may sometimes hit a wall but need to find ways to fight through it. Being physically fit will also help us keep up our stamina to complete longer projects.
My walk today
Earlier I went on what I hope will be a daily walk. This one was with my mother who is visiting for Christmas. We headed for the seafront in Bray (I’m lucky enough to live by the sea) and discovered that the New Years Day swim was on. Many hardy folk were taking a swim in the chilly sea for charity, a great example of people doing something different, challenging and of which they could be proud. (Sounds like writing a novel, that leap of faith into a chilly sea!) Later on the walk we found an art exhibition of beautiful Van Gogh like paintings of the local area. So today’s walk was one of new experiences rather than ideas, but, as all writers know, experiences are often stored up and show up later in stories.
Walking, Running and You
- Can you share with us how walking, running or other sports has contributed to your writing?
- Do you get ideas while you exercise or do you phase out completely?
- Does it give you more energy?
- Are you making plans for exercising more?
- And for those that do exercise regularly, how did you get yourself in the regular habit of running or walking and how do you keep motivated day after day? (I really want to know this!)
If you want to make sure to receive all the 31 ways to keep your Head above Water posts, sign up for email notification on the sidebar. I’ve also set up a twitter account specially for this. It’s @31HAW (the more obvious handles were taken!) Otherwise I’m at @alisonwells. I’ll also hashtag on twitter mainly under #31haw and #headabovewater.