Friday, 22 April 2016

Walking for Creativity



I was surprised to read somewhere that the concept of walking for pleasure is reasonably recent. Recreational walking was only made fashionable in the nineteenth century, by writers such as Wordsworth, Thoreau and Baudelaire. Before then, apparently it was far more prosaic and purposeful. You'd walk to get from one destination to the next and not take a step further, no matter how picturesque the scenery. I know people didn't have much free time in the Middle Ages or Industrial Revolution, but still!



Charles Baudelaire, the French poet, admired the type of person he called the 'flaneur' - one who strolls with no purpose in mind other than to observe his surroundings. Baudelaire's own Parisian environment, with its shops, and tree-lined streets and boulevards, was perfect for his purpose. It caught on with his admirers, took off across the channel too, and suddenly, walking became a leisure activity. Perfectly able-bodied young men acquired walking sticks to prove they were serious about their hobby.



When I think back over the novels I've loved in the past, they are full of people who walked for pleasure in the same way they breathed. The young ladies in Jane Austen's novels wouldn't miss their constitutionals in towns like Bath, which would keep them fit with its steep hills. Granted, their underlying purpose may have been to catch the attention of the polished young gentlemen, but they were still doing it for fun. And over in cold Canada, the characters of L.M. Montgomery wouldn't be without their walks. Anne of Green Gables knew the sights of Avonlea like her own reflection almost as soon as she arrived. Others have written true life memories supporting this love. When Laura Ingalls Wilder was a girl, she'd stroll out onto the prairie with her sisters, being Mary's eyes, since Mary was blind. None of these girls were the sort of people who'd wait for permission, or latch on to fashion fads.

Charles Dickens became well-known for his long, nocturnal rambles through the streets of London, often out for no purpose other to observe the street life and watch people by moonlight. When asked, he expressed his belief that walking was the key to maintaining his sanity and providing inspiration for his writing. He didn't say, 'I'm just trying the most recent trend.'




I discovered that, as a boy, Henry Lawson loved to walk, whether or not he needed to get somewhere. 'Walking was freedom, his escape from the sad box he lived in.' The text goes on to describe how he valued his walks so much because they gave him time to think. 'The mind and feet travel together, as if one is peddling the other,' was young Henry's opinion. I totally agree with him. Fashion has nothing to do with it.

Surely an isolated ten-year-old in the Australian scrub, miles from fashionable civilisation, didn't set off on walks because some faraway British and European authors started recommending them. He wouldn't have had a clue what was going on over there. I'm sure walking is not a fashion so much as something many of us choose for our own benefit and joy.

I decided to take up walking regularly when I was a teenager, and my reason at the time was to stay in shape. I was serious about my writing aspirations back then too, but considered them two things I did separately. I'd go off for a walk to get fit and for a bit of relief from study and brain work. But I soon found out how closely connected walking and writing are. Using my own two feet to travel down a road or trail helps to pump ideas into my head, similar to what Henry Lawson said. Maybe they're sparked by some of the scenery along the way, or maybe it's because the rhythm of my steps cranks up my subconscious mind and helps ideas to flow. I'm sure getting more oxygen moving through my brain doesn't hurt either, especially when I return to my desk or reading chairs.

So walking and writing aren't mutually exclusive activities, but complementary ones which make us more effective the next time we decide to do the other. It's something we know deep down, and even if those trendsetters from the nineteenth century helped to make walking popular, it was surely because they knew the benefits too. In fact, I'm sure people from even earlier times got it too, even if they didn't call it by the names of leisure or sport. You can't convince me that Shakespeare's characters from plays such as 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' or 'The Tempest' weren't ever caught up by the scenery as they had their jaunts through forest or virgin island. 


I wasn't surprised when I read that Soren Kierkegaard said, 'I walk myself into my best thoughts.'
Do you?



Paula Vince is a South Australian author of contemporary, inspirational fiction. She lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills, with its four distinct seasons, and loves to use her environment as settings for her stories. Her novel, 'Picking up the Pieces' won the religious fiction section of the International Book Awards in 2011, and 'Best Forgotten' was winner of the CALEB prize the same year. She is also one of the four authors of 'The Greenfield Legacy', Australia's first and only collaborated Christian novel. Her most recent novel, 'Imogen's Chance' was published April 2014. For more of Paula's reflections, you may like to visit her book review blog, The Vince Review

18 comments:

  1. I totally agree Paula. I do my best writing on my feet. If I am stuck on a scene the best thing I can do is leave the computer, go for a walk, and mentally hash it out. In fact, the same principle works in my day job as a software developer.

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    1. Hi Adam, yes, it's great to have such a fun, relaxing and cheap technique for getting ideas rolling which works pretty well every time :)

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  2. I also love walking, I really must get back into it... I find that exercise does clear my head and I often write better when I'm getting out in the fresh air and going for a walk, even if it's just around the block.

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    1. Hi Melissa, it's true. Even on rainy, wintry days it's good to dash out between showers, just for a quick stride around the block to clear our heads.

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  3. I find showers and driving to be equally creative - and sometimes just lying in bed and daydreaming. But walking has the added benefit of helping with fitness :) Walking was just a part of life rather than a luxury.

    Fascinating, if true, that ' Recreational walking was only made fashionable in the nineteenth century' - but that may just be because other forms of transport (like horse drawn carriages and trains) made walking to your destination less common. More than likely, the average person in earlier centuries spent their days walking - and many also went on long pilgrimages (walking). Even today, in Africa women and girls often walk up 10 or more kilometres just to fetch water for the families need's - or walk similar distances to go to church. Which reminds me of that the Bible Society was started after a poor Welsh girl called Mary Jones walked 26 miles to buy a Bible (in 1800).

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    1. Oops - 'Walking was just a part of life rather than a luxury' was meant to go at the bottom of the second paragraph - not the first.

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    2. Hi Jenny, yes, maybe people from earlier times didn't value walking as highly because it was all tied in with the daily grind for them. The same might be true for people from primitive places today. I had a little book we bought from Koorong for homeschooling about Mary Jones and her Bible.

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  4. What a refreshing post, Paula. My childhood friends and I virtually lived in the bush. We'd all read May Gibbs Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and our imaginations ran wild. Now my hubby and i have lovely prayer times as we go walking. But I need to be alone to get my imagination working and it takes walking around our suburban block to iron out certain problems my plot may present.

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    1. This is the first time Blogger allowed me in for some days!

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    2. Hi Rita,
      You must have plenty of childhood yarns to tell, by the sound of it. Yes, a brisk walk around the block is perfect for ironing out plot issues.
      It's great to see your problems with Blogger have been solved.

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  5. Lovely post, Paula, and I so agree with you and Henry Lawson. I find walking clears my head and allows new thoughts to germinate. My husband and I have done some serious trekking over the years too, most of which have been inspiring in regard to appreciating creation, but also very testing in regard to stretching my capacities. I do also love a relaxing bush or beach walk, and in fact am going on one this weekend. I'm hoping all the things you talk about will be a reality for me over the next couple of days. Thanks for the reflection.

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    1. Hi Carol,
      You and your husband could probably write a book about your different walks and treks. I definitely find flat wandering strolls are most conducive for reflections. Those seriously steep, long, rugged treks keep us fit though :) Have a lovely walk over the weekend. I might do the same.

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  6. An interesting history of recreational walking. I also read the other day that movement can help spur creativity. Julia Cameron advocates walking to unblock or inspire ideas. I must admit that when my husband and I have a knotty problem a walk and talk often help us to sort things out.

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    1. Hi Elaine,
      Sounds like a really good way to sort out the problems which crop up. I agree that Julia Cameron is right about this, along with many other tips of hers I've taken on board over the years.

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  7. Oh, and I also meant to add that looking into the history of recreational walking really is interesting indeed. It makes me keep wanting to delve into it and discover new snippets from people in the past.

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  8. Inspiring post, Paula. Autumn is such a good time of year to get back into walking, too. Loved your references! I can just see Elizabeth striding around, getting her hem inched deep in mud, or Anne Elliot walking around Bath - not running like in an ill-advised recent film scene! - and Anne's walks in PEI. My sister has just been in the Lakes District, following Wordsworth's footsteps (literally!) on a walking tour. I'll have to ask her how inspired she was afterwards!

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    1. Hi Carolyn,
      Like you, I love the rich tradition of walking for leisure which comes through so strongly in our favourite works of literature. I did the same as your sister a long time ago, and hiked in the Lakes District. It was when I was 20, and I've never been able to make it back yet.

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