Some combinations are no-brainers: Peanut butter and jelly. Whine and cheese. Politicians and… Okay. Let’s not go there.
When it comes to writing, however, I discovered a connection that is easily overlooked: writing and hiking. That’s right. Hiking. Think of hiking as Walking With Attitude. In The Great Outdoors. Under achingly blue skies. In soft mountain meadows marinated in wildflowers. In forests so dense and quiet, you can almost hear the trees grow.
I’ve been hiking since the sixties (I’m way too young to be that old. So don’t tell anyone). But I recently realized that some of my best ideas, inspiration, and peak productivity are connected with an outdoor sport I’ve been doing pretty much all my life: hiking.
Here are nine ways hiking makes me a better writer. Hiking:
- Slows me down. This may seem obvious, but there’s nothing like hiking a stretch of highway you normally whiz down in a car to press the point. I did that last spring, hiking a stretch of Highway 123 outside of Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park. The road was closed to vehicular traffic due to snow. But it was open to pedestrians.
I’ve traveled that highway a zillion times. Once I started walking it, I was amazed at how much I’d missed at 45 mph. Gurgling creeks. Nesting birds. Waterfalls doing the cha-cha. They’d been there all along. I’d been moving too fast to notice.
It’s like that with writing sometimes. Sometimes it’s best to slow down. Ruminate. Take the time necessary to revise. Edit. Rethink. Prune and polish. That doesn’t usually happen when you’re hurtling through a story at warp speed, trying to wrap it up quick. But it might if you slow down and Take. Your. Time.
- Broadens my perspective. There’s nothing like standing atop a towering mountain peak or a thundering waterfall to give you some perspective. It’s easy for writers to get so involved in their work that they lose this.
Hiking gives me a way to get away. Take a step back. Roll characters around in my head. Think about how I want them to connect. How I want my story to conclude.
- Reduces distractions. There’s no TV, radio, or email out on the trail. If you do it right there’s no cell service, either. No disruptions. No electronic distractions.
I carry a small notebook and pencil in a pocket so I can jot down ideas to flesh out later. But I am not missing the adventure because I’m buried in my mobile device.
See how this works?
- Gets the creative juices flowing. I don’t know what it is about forward locomotion, but whenever I’m moving, my brain is moving, too. Some of my best story ideas have fluttered into the ‘ole cerebral hard drive when I’m out on the trail. (See #3, above.)
- Boosts creativity. I have a theory that a restful mind is a productive mind. Without a zillion different projects, deadlines, assignments and what not to juggle and track, a writer’s mind can be free to roam out on the trail.
I prefer back country hikes that are secluded and uncrowded. Trails that are quiet. Give me time to think. For example, hiking into Indian’s Henry’s Hunting Ground at Mount Rainier is where I decided to put the brakes on a historical fiction project and focus on a memoir instead. Trail time featured prominently in the latter.
- Sharpens the senses. Looking for that perfect verb or adverb? A sensational adjective? A sharp turn-of-a-phrase? How about grabbing some inspiration from warbling wrens or bugling elks? Huge chunks of conifer-crisped air? Silvered mountains collared in clouds?
There’s nothing like a walk in the woods to bring your senses alive. Bring them home to spice up your writing.
- Unblocks Writer’s Block. Every writer “hits the wall” eventually. The inevitable “blank screen” when you’re fresh out of ideas. When dredging up new inspiration is like trying to recover the Titanic.
When this happens, I hit the trails. Even if it’s just a jaunt through the neighborhood or a walk on the beach. There’s something about being outside in the fresh air that replenishes the writing well and ignites a fresh burst of inspiration. (It may take a while. But it always helps.) Remember those chunks of conifer-crisped air?
- Physical benefits of hiking are legion. According to the American Hiking Society, hiking can lower your risk for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. As a weight-bearing exercise, hiking and walking can also help reverse the negative effects of osteoporosis and arthritis.
- Mental benefits of hiking include increased cognitive benefits and working memory performance, reducing depression, anxiety and other mood disorders, boosting creativity, and strengthening social ties. Hiking benefits also include increased happiness levels and an improved sense of well-being and peace.
What writer doesn’t benefit from all that?
As Bill Bryson writes in A Walk in the Woods:
Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot. …
Life takes on a neat simplicity, too. Time ceases to have any meaning. When it is dark, you go to bed, and when it is light again you get up, and everything in between is just in between. It’s quite wonderful, really.
You have no engagements, commitments, obligations, or duties; no special ambitions and only the smallest, least complicated of wants; you exist in a tranquil tedium, serenely beyond the reach of exasperation, “far removed from the seats of strife,” as the early explorer and botanist William Bartram put it. All that is required of you is a willingness to trudge.
It’s quite wonderful, really.
So. Who’s up for a trudge?