Dérive (to drift). Déambulation (wandering). Caminar sin rumbo (to amble aimlessly). Andante (in music, a walking pace). Philosophers, writers, and musicians have romanticized walking throughout the ages because walking expresses the fundamental rhythms and tendencies of our common human experience. Walking liberates personal expression. Personal expression is characterized as art when dynamics are conscientiously crafted for effect on an audience.
Before beginning your walk, set the intention to write afterward. The tension that builds when you’re lacking a pen, computer, or notes app to record your thoughts will prime you with readiness and enthusiasm when you sit down to write after your walk.
1. Pick a mantra for the walk. It can be as simple as thinking “Wow!” as you observe the things you pass, cultivating a sense of awe for the mundane. This is one of the main aims of creative nonfiction: to elevate the mundane to the miraculous.
by David Whyte
if you move carefully
through the forest,
like the ones
in the old stories,
who could cross
a shimmering bed of leaves
without a sound,
you come to a place
whose only task
is to trouble you
but frightening requests,
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.
Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
to stop what you
while you do it,
that can make
that have patiently
waited for you,
that have no right
to go away.
2. Notice the different influence that walking in nature versus walking through town has on your writing. While you’re walking, notice the distinct sensations that the hustle and bustle amid the concrete jungle evoke in you; and next time you walk amid flora, notice how chlorophyll and quiet affect you differently. Plan to work this into your writing. Write about the air quality, aromas, your gait, your skin, your body temperature, your soundscape, and your relationship with the living and man-made things in your sphere.
3. Choose a question to carry in your mind while you walk. It could be, “Where did this come from?” Or, “Why am I seeing this?” Or, “What do I have in common with this person?” Julia Cameron wrote, in Walking in This World, “Walking often moves us past the ‘what’ of our life into the more elusive ‘why.’” In this book, she expands on the methods promoted in The Artist’s Way (notably Morning Pages and the Artist’s Date) to include a Weekly Walk to boost creativity. Her latest book, The Listening Path, just came out.
Generating New Writing After a Walk
Walking might energize you to work on an ongoing project when you return, or you can try these prompts to generate new writing after a walk:
- Write about an essential feature of the place, without which it would not be the same; then relate it to an essential feature/trait of yourself, without which you would not be the same.
- Let this place remind you of another place, and write about that place. Start with a brief description of this place, and make the link or trigger to the place in your memory very clear. Example: “This forest is right behind my home, but it could be halfway around the world. The sound of wind through the leaves sounds like ocean waves. And suddenly I’m on the beach in Kawaii, 2008, the year we got married and took our honeymoon…” Pair a physical feature of the immediate surroundings with a sense that catapults you to another place.
- Solvitur ambulando is a Latin phrase that means “it is solved by walking.” Write about a problem that is alleviated by spending time outside.
- Write about a person you wish could walk with you.
- How to Be An Explorer of the World by Keri Smith
- Walking In This World by Julia Cameron
- The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
- Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit
- “Theory of the Dérive”
- “Experimental walking (and writing): Surrealists and Situationists”
Michelle invites readers of this column to share up to 250 words generated from these prompts for personalized feedback. Please use either the contact form on her website, or email email@example.com.