A Universal Drug for Creativity by Katherine Longshore
I get writer’s block. I get it in the early stages (I don’t have a theme! My character doesn’t have a goal!), as a first draft progresses (Middles! I hate middles!) and on into revision (I know this isn’t working, but what will make it work?)
However, the final revision of my second book (TARNISH) blocked me into a standstill. So much so that I sent my editor a neurotic e-mail, worrying that I’d have to start over from scratch.
Her response was some of the best writing advice I’ve ever received: Close the document and step away from the computer. Take a walk. Give yourself some fresh air, a chance to move around and clear your head. Then enjoy the rest of your day and get a good night’s sleep. DON’T LOOK AT THE MANUSCRIPT AGAIN TODAY.
My first reaction was: Are you insane? I’m on a deadline, here!
But then I closed my document, shut down my computer, and went for a walk.
I’ve been walking ever since. Not just when I’m in the throes of writer’s block, either. I walk when I’m brainstorming. I walk when I’m struggling with a plot point. I walk when I can’t figure out a character’s motivation. I walk when the history and the story don’t match. I walk when I’ve written myself into a corner with no escape and I think the only way I can fix it is with a can of gasoline and a box of matches.
Walking is amazing. I often get my exercise in other ways—I go to the gym, go for a run, take a dance class. But walking is like a creativity drug. Not only do I get my body moving (something that doesn’t happen when I’ve got my bum in the chair—though bum glue is another great piece of writing advice), but the fresh air truly opens up my mind.
I’ve solved plot problems and ironed out character arcs. I’ve come up with a phrase that feels so perfect, I have to stop and type it into the “notes” on my iPod. I’ve come up with entire scenes, like watching a movie in front of me. Those are the days I walk home as fast as I can, replaying the best bits and barging through the front door shouting, “Don’t disturb me, I think I may be on to something!”
Occasionally, this doesn’t work out as I anticipate. I was revising MANOR OF SECRETS (out next week) and BRAZEN (out in June) at the same time, trying desperately to keep them separate and yet meet all my deadlines. I was having trouble with a plot point in MANOR and a character in BRAZEN, and I left the house, hoping I would untangle one of them.
What came to me was a different book entirely. A surprising, vibrant scene with a clever narrator and charismatic love interest. A scene that belonged at the center point of a novel I hadn’t known I intended to write. I didn’t solve my problems on that walk, but I envisioned a story that I’m desperate to write with characters I’m in love with. What could be better than that?
So you see, walking can be a writer’s best friend. It can keep you fit and offset the chocolate every revision requires. It shakes out the tingling you get in your toes after sitting on the edge of your seat too long. It improves your posture and expands your lungs and builds your stamina.
And it clears your mind so the “boys in the basement” can do their work. This is the best and most important thing for me—quieting the evil inner editor.
I walk around my neighborhood. We don’t have tons of trees. There’s no beach or lake or beautiful view. The biggest hill is a freeway overpass. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying every step of it.
I know writers who have wristbands that track their steps and calories. I, myself, have a “Fitbit” that I clip onto my pocket. But these aren’t necessary. Mine can be a good reminder that I’ve spent too much time at my desk (really? I’ve only taken two thousand steps today? And it’s after four?) But usually I know when I need to take a walk. It’s about the same time I think I might watch YouTube videos because I’m feeling a little restless.
My belief in the beauty of walking has even inspired me to get a treadmill desk. In fact, this WOW post is the first thing I’ve ever typed while walking at the same time. It feels pretty amazing, though I’m surprised by how tiring it is, too. The great thing about it is that I can’t just walk away—like you can from a chair. Having a treadmill desk could very well be the ultimate bum-glue that gets my next book written. I’m sure I’ll still take walks outside, though. Fresh air can sometimes be the key ingredient.
Of course, the real beauty of taking a walk is that you can do it just about anywhere. You don’t need a special app or device. You don’t need sunshine or a membership or the right clothes. It’s free. There’s no special training involved.
And I have the full support of my editor.
I’m sure there are similar strategies that can work just as well—yoga or dancing or cooking or painting. I’ve had flashes of insight while driving or taking a shower or even while washing the dishes. But for me, a walk almost always does the trick.
How about you?
About The Author
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About The Book
Lady Charlotte Edmonds: Beautiful, wealthy, and sheltered, Charlotte feels suffocated by the strictures of upper-crust society. She longs to see the world beyond The Manor, to seek out high adventure. And most of all, romance.
Janie Seward: Fiery, hardworking, and clever, Janie knows she can be more than just a kitchen maid. But she isn't sure she possesses the courage -- or the means -- to break free and follow her passions.
Both Charlotte and Janie are ready for change. As their paths overlap in the gilded hallways and dark corridors of The Manor, rules are broken and secrets are revealed. Secrets that will alter the course of their lives. . . forever.
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