Why Famous Writers Loved Long Walks

How a daily walk can boost your creativity

Kindred Spirits (1849) by Asher B. Durand depicting the painter Thomas Cole and poet William Cullen Bryant in the Catskill Mountains.

If you’re a writer, you probably spend a big part of your day seated at a desk in front of a computer. (In today’s world, this is true of most people too.)

There’s work to be done, stories and blog posts to write, comments to reply to, emails to send, Facebook pages and Instagram accounts to update, articles to Tweet, and the list goes on.

If we’re not careful, we can easily fall into the trap of staring at a screen for hours.

And that’s not only detrimental to our health but also detrimental to our creativity.

Science fiction writer Orson Scott Card once observed,

“Take care of your body. Writing is a sedentary business; it’s easy for many of us to get fat and sluggish. Your brain is attached to the rest of your body. You can’t do your best work when you’re weak or in ill health.”

Card’s solution? A daily walk. He writes,

“It’s worth the time to take an hour’s walk before writing. You may write a bit less for the time spent, but you may find that you write better.”

Card isn’t the only writer who lauded the benefits of walking. Read on to discover several famous writers who were also walkers and how a daily walk can boost your creativity.

Writers Who Loved Taking a Daily Walk

The ancients had a Latin phrase about the importance of walking: Solvitur Ambulando. It means, “It is solved by walking.”

The term originally referred to the Greek philosopher Diogenes’ response when asked whether or not motion was real. He stood up and walked away. Soon the phrase was adopted as a way to describe how taking a walk energizes us and helps us think through our problems.

For many famous writers, a walk was an essential part of their daily routine and writing process.

Charles Dickens loved traveling by foot. In his book The Uncommercial Traveller, he writes,

“So much of my travelling is done on foot, that if I cherished betting propensities, I should probably be found registered in sporting newspapers under some such title as the Elastic Novice, challenging all eleven stone mankind to competition in walking.
My last special feat was turning out of bed at two, after a hard day, pedestrian and otherwise, and walking thirty miles into the country to breakfast…My walking is of two kinds: one, straight on end to a definite goal at a round pace; one, objectless, loitering, and purely vagabond.”

In 1851, Henry David Thoreau delivered a fascinating lecture on walking at the Concord Lyceum. In his lecture, he observed,

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absoutely free from all wordly engagements…
Moreover, you must walk like a camel which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking. When a traveller asked Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she answered ‘Here is his library, but his study is out of doors.’”

Ernest Hemingway was another avid walker. In his memoir A Moveable Feast, he reminisced,

“I would walk along the quais when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out. It was easier to think if I was walking and doing something or seeing people doing something that they understood.”

Similarly, the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote in an 1847 letter to his niece,

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”

And a line from Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening,

“I always feel so sorry for women who don’t like to walk; they miss so much — so many rare little glimpses of life...”

Although these writers were relying on anecdotal evidence to praise the benefits of walking, recent scientific studies have proven that their claims were correct. A daily walk is an excellent way to improve health and boost creativity.

How Walking Improves Health & Boosts Creativity

A recent study by Cambridge University in England of over 334,000 European men and women found that a brisk walk of just twenty minutes per day could be enough to reduce an individual’s risk of early death. Walking also helps relieve stress and ease symptoms of depression.

In other words, enjoying a vigorous daily walk leads to a longer, healthier life and that means more time to hone our writing skills, to contribute to the world, and to spend with those we love.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once remarked,

“When Nero advertised for a new luxury, a walk in the woods should have been offered. It is the consolation of mortal men. I think no pursuit has more breath of immortality in it. It is one of the secrets for dodging old age.”

But aside from the obvious health benefits, walking can also make us smarter.

A 2011 study discovered that older adults who engaged in 40 minutes of brisk walking three times a week for one year showed an increase in the size in an area of the brain called the hippocampus and also improved memory.

In fact, an exciting new study from Stanford University revealed that creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter.

In an article from Stanford about the study, May Wong reports,

“The study found that walking indoors or outdoors similarly boosted creative inspiration. The act of walking itself, and not the environment, was the main factor. Across the board, creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to those sitting…
A person walking indoors — on a treadmill in a room facing a blank wall — or walking outdoors in the fresh air produced twice as many creative responses compared to a person sitting down, one of the experiments found…
The study also found that creative juices continued to flow even when a person sat back down shortly after a walk.”

Bottom line: If you’re facing writer’s block, feeling lethargic, or struggling with procrastination, a nice brisk walk might be just what you need to stimulate your brain’s creativity and get you back in writing mode.

Here’s another helpful activity you can use to stimulate your creativity once you get back to your desk:

The Takeaway: How to Fit a Walk into Your Daily Routine

Of course, you should always consult with your doctor before adding any type of strenuous activity into your exercise regime. However, if you are able, a daily walk is a wonderful way to stimulate your brain and get yourself up and away from your desk.

I try to make time for a 1.5-mile walk each day. In the colder months, I walk on a treadmill, but I prefer walking outdoors whenever possible and especially value the days when I have time to take a leisurely stroll on a forest trail. The Japanese praise the calming power of Shinrin-yoku: forest bathing.

Regardless of where I walk, I always find myself energized and better able to concentrate when I return to my writing.

For those of us with busy lives, it can be difficult to find time to be creative or to write, let alone find thirty minutes or more each day for walking.

But the good thing is that walking is one of those exercises that can be broken up into short sessions throughout the day: for example, fifteen minutes in the morning and then fifteen minutes in the evening.

The important thing is to make sure you aren’t slumped in front of your keyboard for hours on end. When you find that happening, step away from your desk and get your blood flowing.

As the novelist Haruki Murakami, an avid marathoner, observes,

“The most important qualities to be a fiction writer are probably imaginative ability, intelligence, and focus. But in order to maintain these qualities in a high and constant level, you must never neglect to keep up your physical strength.”

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy my eBook Famous Writers’ Productivity Hacks. Get a free copy here.

Nicole Bianchi is a writer, copywriter, and storyteller at nicolebianchi.com. By day, she works with business owners and creatives to help them clarify their websites’ messaging and craft compelling words that resonate with their audience. By night, you’ll probably find her writing a story or reading a good book.