31 Days: How walking & running make you creative

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.

31 Ways to Keep your Head above Water

CillrialaigdawnGOOD INTENTIONS

Jan 1st 2013. We get out of bed and we want to do things better this year even though we might just slide back into the old ways, we’re starting with resolve and a heightened optimism. As we stare out the window and think, yes, i should get out there we know that we need to galvanise that wish into something more focussed. Our minds are wimps really, they need goals and encouragement and a kick up the…

As I writer I’m well aware of the swings between enthusiasm and doubt, as a parent of young children, one of whom has aspergers, I know about trying, about joys, failures, frustrations, exhaustion, delight, about getting up from setbacks over and over and keeping going. Across the world the recession has hit families badly and here in Ireland a harsh budget will bring massive trials and difficulties to already stretched people.

When I started this blog Head above Water meant mainly being able to juggle the demands of at that time, a very young family while finding headspace to write. Now I want to broaden that to incorporate the range of demands people find themselves under.

Note: As this series goes on I’ll add the 31 links to this post so you can access all other posts from here, so you’ll get the full 31 by the end of January.

Day 1: How writing & running help you get creative  Day 2: Finding the space & time to create

Day 3: Why flash fiction can change your life Day 4: Flash fiction creative writing challenge

Day 5: Incubation and how to find your novel’s Eureka moment Day 6: Inspiration and Daily Practice

Day 7: Writing Goals: How to achieve them and what if you can’t

Day 7a: Creative Flash Fiction Comp Winners Day 8: Celebrating the creativity of David Bowie

Day 9: Stop or HALT, have a day off and Smile! Day 10 Guest Post: Photography – taking up a new creative pursuit

Day 11: Photo Write Prompt Comp Day 12: Finding Wordfire

Day 13: Saying Thank You Day 14: Sad Thinking and How to turn it round

Day 15: Say what you want to be Day 16: Thinking about others

Day 17: Guest Post: Derek Flynn: When is a poem not a poem

Day 18: Five Fives for Inspiring the Mind  Day 18a: Photo Write Prompt Results

Day 19: I’m not here  Day 20: Questions of Flow in Writing

Day 21: Fiona Melrose: Poetry performed alchemy on my prose

Day 22: Reasons to Live, Reasons To Love, Reasons to Write

Day 23: What’s important to you Day 24: Using your writing creatively for financial resiliance

Day 25: Bowie WritePrompt & Gerry O’ Donnell Story  Day 26: The benefits of laughter

Day 27: Claire King: How do you keep the joy in writing?

Day 28: Take Heart

Day 29: Guest Post Eliza Green: Why Self-Publishing can be good for Debut Authors

Day 30: The Benefits of Creative Pursuits: Feltmaking and more

Day 31: When writing is at the heart of us we will not let it go


The dictionary definition of keeping head above water says:

1. Lit. to keep from drowning when swimming or floating. I was so tired I could hardly keep my head above water.
2. . Fig. to manage to survive, especially financially. We have so little money that we can hardly keep our heads above water. It’s hard to keep your head above water on this much money.
3. Fig. to keep up with one’s work. It’s all I can do to keep my head above water with the work I have. I can’t take on any more. We have so many orders that we can hardly keep our heads above water.
These definitions cover the physical, financial and organizational challenges we face. But there are also emotional and creative aspects.
So what I want to do in these 31 days of January is to explore ways of keeping our heads above water in all the areas above. I want to talk about keeping ourselves mentally and physically able, to enhance our creativity and to deal with financial issues as well. These are all things that have been covered here to some extent but this will be a more focussed and practical approach, using real examples and including fun activities and challenges. Alternatively we can have a long nap till February comes.
There’ll be an at least weekly creative challenge, some of these will be competitions for prizes. We’ll also have various other fun challenges and exercises. Every post will be interactive and allow people to share their experiences good, bad or indifferent of what we’ve been doing.
I’m not a guru. I don’t have all the answers. I want to know what works for you, what you’ve tried and if we suggest something new here I want you to tell me if it worked or if it didn’t and if the idea sucked. I am also very open to suggestions as to areas to explore. My background is psychology and communications so while I might lean in those directions I’d be glad to be drawn to other ways of looking at things.
For anyone who has done the Nanowrimo writing challenge (or any other) or Weightwatchers or anything of that ilk, what really gets us going is the camaraderie, the sense of charting our progress alongside others, comparing our ups and downs, so I’m hoping to get a good sense of community here. If you like what’s happening, share with friends and always comment and reply to what others are sharing.
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. This is my general blog notification but if you get fed up of me after 31 days you can unsubscribe! 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. I’m on facebook as Alison Wells but if we move to anything specific will let you know!
Posts will commence later today with a walking/running post. So my first challenge to you is to go for a vigourous walk today and come back later and answer some questions about how it worked for you creatively and energetically. We’ll also see how walking goals work & if there’s any point!