Today, like most days, I have a series of tight deadlines. You probably do, too, so you’re either reading this blog to get help or as a displacement activity. Welcome!
Writing is a physically demanding job. Stop laughing at the back: I’m serious. I spend a whole lot of time sitting at my desk, which, as we now know, is correlated with an increased risk of death. Because I quite like being alive, I try to stave off the grim reaper by getting in a healthy 10,000 step walk every day before I start work.
Whenever a tight deadline looms I’m always tempted to cancel my walk and get started right after—and sometimes before–a quick breakfast. Occasionally I even give into this piece of dreadful stupidity. It’s stupidity because when I do it, I always regret it. My hoped-for surge in productivity never appears, and I end up completing the same amount of work over an even longer period of time than is usual for me.
If you Google ‘walking and writers’ you’ll find that this is a well documented phenomenon. Wittgenstein rambled over Connemara, Dickens took night time walks through London and Wordsworth wandered lonely as a cloud all over the place. They all claimed walking helped their work, and mostly explained the benefits by claiming that walking time secured them some valuable, uninterrupted thinking time.
But this isn’t true of me, because when I’m walking I’m never actively thinking. I’m usually listening to the radio or simply plodding along in a state of empty-headed, slack-jawed bliss. Quite miraculously, my ideas are all the better for it afterwards, especially when I come to solve problems which hadn’t previously seemed tractable.
Bonkers though it may sound, I’m convinced that moving my body is a form of thinking, and a deeply creative one at that. One reason I hate long commutes is that they rob me of walking time. Even though there’s plenty of thinking time on a car or train journey, my work never quite has the edge it possesses when I’m regularly putting in a couple of hours on foot before I start tackling my to-do list.
This could be an example of embodied cognition.
But anyway, my take home point of the day is this: thinking needn’t mean sitting at your desk straining your brain. I know from personal experience that this applies not only to writers but also to coders, students and scientists. If you’re faced with a concept you don’t understand or whenever you don’t know what to write or what to do next, get out there and spend an hour wandering round your local neighbourhood. Let me know if it improves your performance!