Will Walk for Words

My writing routine begins with a walk outdoors. Not a long walk or a fast one. Two miles up the street and back, early in the morning in summer before our California sun blisters the city, or before rain turns a winter walk into a slog. Most mornings it’s a walk on the shady side of the street, a familiar trek that doesn’t require me to think about where to turn or when to start ambling back home.

I’m lucky if I can get going without returning for one last thing, like replacing the house phone for my cell, realizing I’m not wearing my contacts, trading stiff shoes for a more comfortable pair, one more trip to bathroom, another smear of sunblock. Once I’m finally on my way, it’s a slight uphill hike and a reverse easy jaunt down.

A walk is a great opportunity to get a bit of exercise, because I will never wear those dorky rubber band outfits I’d have to don to go to a gym. I work out problems, even if I don’t work up much of a sweat, like the chronic situations that give me nightmares if I sleep in too late. I worry about personal problems, because as much as I’m fortunate to have loving family and friends, there is always someone to worry about.  I worry about the injustices of my employment, politically inspired office intrigue affecting even my paltry claim to the working world. The walk uphill gives me a chance to excise those devils, though they’ll return like persistent hiccups. I walk more and more determinedly, relinquishing the pain in my calves for concentration on those cerebral irritants. Most days I realize there is little I can do except let go my worry, anger, and frustration, so I do, which is a resolution of sorts.

At the top of the rise my palm swings around the light post that signals my walk homeward, and I begin to write. I work in my head because I can’t walk with a laptop though I’ve considered it. Some of my effort will get lost on the way home, but I’ll retain the essence of my work.

I hunt when I walk. I am a bird of prey. I seek words and pluck them before they scurry to safety. I stash interesting words that say things other than boring things like thing, (could you be more specific?) or stuff, (could you please be more specific?) or something (oh come on now.) Words rally, inspired by the crack of a brittle tree limb, a flash of sunlight tackling a flag on a house balcony, the blap of a horn as a car zips by. Sensory imprints cast words like paladin (I want one of them for my very own, with sword or without), bleat (the sound of losers whining or of animals trapped in tales about Cyclopic pigs with batwings), contrafactum (just hum along here). I cache words for late night writing snacks.

Then I’m on to phrases, collections of words strung in movable pieces like fridge magnets, passages whizzing around pesky as gnats. Found this one after passing an odorous clump left by someone who owns a dog but “forgot” the blue plastic baggie: “a dapple of sunlight teasing shadows on the ground, the only beauty in this muck.” Technically the dog left it, but you know what I mean. This next phrase is a bit of a cheat as I discovered it after falling into the cul de sac trying to remove a stubbornly rooted weed, minutes after completing my walk: “I see myself as a force of nature but a submissive one.” Maybe this one is usable: “Why is it that when something drops, it always slides under a cabinet so massive and low-grounded that you can’t reach it without a backhoe?” Cheating again, a complete sentence but not a profound one. The idea came after the pretty stone I wanted to keep dropped and rolled under a tangle of weeds, lost forever. How many unidentifiable clumps did I want to turn over?

Finally it’s the serious stuff I’m gathering. Like the sight of the lady who used to push a baby stroller done up in hot pink tiger stripes with sequined bows on the sun awning. A close look revealed it wasn’t her child she was pushing. Well, not her human child, anyway. It was a shih-tzu-oodle-hua, one of those toy pooches bred not for walking or running like other wild critters, but a little fluff of squeaks to salve a lonely soul who doesn’t have a hope of having grandchildren. And then my pity rolls out, because as awful as I find the tawdry contraption in which the yapper rides, I also respond to the woman’s isolation, so removed from the world that she can best communicate with a mini dog that can’t talk. Or walk.

The sensations, images, and words I’ve collected on my walk will show up in my writing. I’ll bring them to the front when I need to feel an activity in my gut, when I want to describe something with authentic detail. I’ll twist, tweak, and change elements to suit, but they’ll end up in some story. The best walks deliver the opening to writing gridlock that’s kept me scribbling drivel for the last day or two. Engaged with story, I’ll delete crap, write passages, correct problems, or know how to get my main character rolling off the sofa to make a decisive move in my WIP.

Back home in an hour, I’ve worked off 27 calories – 32 if I’ve walked fast – a paltry effort at improving my health. But I’ve started to write and can hardly wait to get on the computer. That’s my routine, odd as it is. For me it works. Let me know what works for you. Be well, friend.

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8 thoughts on “Will Walk for Words

  1. You need Siri, Shari. Hang your iphone around your neck (I know you don’t have one–just sayin’), engage Siri, and have her write down those words and thoughts. Me–I’d forget them. They’d be epiphanies on my walk and unknown memories by the time I got home.

    • Bob gave me a small recording device just for this purpose. Have not used it yet. I fear it will put me in the category of the lady who walks her dog in a baby stroller, so sad. I will be the lady who talks to herself while walking, so sad.
      I force myself to remember. You know why.

  2. I have a dumb phone because I refuse to have a handheld device which is smarter than I am. But I digress… when an idea comes to me and I want to be sure not to forget it, I will send a text message to my email. It’s only a Twitter-length message I can send, but at least the idea is captured. When I get home, I can save off that email and/or expand upon it. The trouble is that I have so many things on my mind these days that the thoughts and words and phrases come in and go faster than I can memorize them. If I don’t send the text message to myself right away… it’s gone. There are mornings when I’m sitting at Starbucks and I’ll send a dozen text messages to myself, just so I don’t forget!

    Life may be dictating that a smartphone is in my near future. But I suspect I’ll end up continuing the text message thing even then because so far it has worked.

    • You will not be surprised to know that I have never sent a text. Likely never will. I do see its advantages. And pitfalls. But so far have never sent a text. Bob keeps offering to show me how to do it but I resist.
      Funny thing is that if I forget something from one walk, the walk the next day will often recall almost exactly the same thoughts. Not sure why, but it seems to work like a return to the library for the notepad I left the day before.

  3. I’ve done the voice memo thing while out for a walk. It’s nice to have captured the idea, but a bit embarrassing to listen my huffing & puffing voice on the recording.

    • Huff and Puff – my alter ego. Tells me to get out and walk more. Walking with friends is worse – they can hear it too. So what am I doing this morning? Skipping the walk – too much to do.

  4. A quite walk around the neighborhood is the BEST way to get your creative juices running! I think my entire first novel was written as I strolled the 1 mile radius of my neighborhood! Of course, when I got home I still had the task of getting the words down in a concrete way- but the story absolutely wrote itself as I walked!

    • Those days I can’t walk leave me a bit depleted. Working at the computer, I often stand and walk around the room or on the deck, culling ambiguous thoughts into useful form. I talk to myself also, the overall effect one of nuttiness. When I see the startled look on someone’s face witnessing my behavior, I say, “I’m writing.” They arch their brows and wisely leave me alone.

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