Writers—Take a Hike . . . If You Know What’s Good for You

We’re continuing looking at healthy lifestyle for writers this month, so we can all start the New Year with vigor and focus. Today’s guest post is by author Ian Martyn:

I’m a hiker. When I venture out my door, I like to take photographs, which I often use to illustrate my blog posts. Now, I’m not fanatical, always out there, striding across the hills, but I do enjoy it when I can. This usually means a trip or two away for a few days, such as in the Lake District, as well as the odd day in the Surrey Hills.

I walk mainly for the simple pleasure of placing one foot in front of the other and the views that swing in to view round every corner. But I do believe there are reasons walking is especially good for writers:

  • Writing is a sedentary business. As writers, our natural territory is the desk. If you are lucky, you have a study or a room that doubles as a study, or perhaps a section of a room you dedicate to writing. In our walled rooms we spend hours tapping at the keyboard, inhabiting our own worlds, almost forgetting that there is an actual physical world out there, filled with nature and real people. So get out there and remind yourself of what it looks like. And there’s a bonus, because if we are to have a healthy mind we need a healthy body. What better way to achieve both than by walking in beautiful surroundings.
  • Walking gives you precious time. In a car a blurred world whisks by, and I don’t know about you, but I’m usually driving, concentrating on the road. I also cycle, which allows for a bit more leisurely view of the world, but still the act of cycling requires some concentration on the road. This is where walking has the advantage for the writer. The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other (as mentioned above) is automatic, with the possible exception of making sure you don’t trip up or walk off some edge. But even then your brain seems to take care of most of that with little conscious effort, leaving the rest of it free to roam, to think. This for the writer is invaluable.
  • Walking inspires a meditative mind-set. If you’re like me, my stories or whatever I’m working on are never far from my mind, so when you’re walking, your brain is allowed to wander, and it naturally turns to the writing. You’re relaxed and there’s no pressure. There are no nagging thoughts that you should be doing something else. Your mind is free to mull over alternative plots, new ideas, story lines, that phrase you’ve been searching for.
  • Walking shows you your world. You actually get the time to look at the world you’re passing through—the world around you. You can see the detail, the individual leaves on the trees, the flowers. You can take in the whole view, not just catch a brief snapshot as you whizz by. And you don’t have to go far to find some great views or intriguing locales. You might try describing the things you see, test phrases that might be incorporated into your work at some later date. And even if they aren’t, this is a great exercise—a bit like life drawing for an artist. You have time to test words and phrases against what’s in front of you, to see if they work, do they capture the scene, can they be improved.
  • Walking fills your senses as you access the world. The sounds, the bird song, the breeze in the leaves, your boots on the path. The scents that fill the air. The feel of tree bark or the bench you sit on to admire the view. To give our writing life, we need to weave all the senses into our work. If you only experience the world from a metal box or through the television, how are you going to know what the “real world” is really like? How can you describe it to other people in a way that’s meaningful?

So go on, put on a pair of boots or trainers and experience the world at walking pace. Be inspired.

Ian Martyn headshotIan Martyn lives in Surrey in the United Kingdom, where he writes and published science fiction stories. Two—“Project Noah” and “Ancestral Dreams”—are available on Kindle. He is presently working on a volume of short stories entitled Dancing with the Devil: 10 Short Stories of the Weird and Wonderful for Those Pressed for Time. You can find more about Ian Martyn, his books, blogs, and stories on his website here. Visit Ian’s Facebook Page here or follow him on Twitter.


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  1. Wise advice and in the past, as a journalist, walking was one of the things that I tried to do. Sadly now I’m in a wheelchair – multiple sclerosis – but when I can get out, the fresh air is a relief and relaxation.

    1. Roland, sorry to hear of your situation, but glad that you get out there and enjoy it while you can. I did a walk last week with friends close to home. I’ve lived here over 20 years but still found parts I didn’t know. All the best Ian

  2. Since my knees need some help, walking is the best way to keep them free from pain. It also gives me exercise for my whole body as well as my soul. I also find walking is relaxing as I unwind from the pressures of work,slow down as Iobserve the scenes around me and reflect on life and the writing I’m doing. It is an inexpensive way to become an observant participant in the world that surrounds my little cocoon where I write.

  3. love this post! I write and read a great deal, as well as lecture for a living, but I always make time for exercise. You hit on some valid points here. Sitting so much can lead to so many problems if one isn’t careful.
    Thanks for sharing! Hiking/walkin is one of my favorite things to do, too.
    Keep writing and walking!
    S.J. Francis

  4. Wonderful advice!

    I love to go walking with my camera. I take photos of all sorts of things, mainly birds, but I never know what intriguing thing will catch my eye.

    Getting outside is one of the best things we can do to lift our spirits! 🙂

    1. Funnily enough taking the camera with you is on my list of possible blogs. For me, I’m always on the look out for the unusual, something I can use in the blog that has a scif-fi feel.

  5. I work in a back corner of my local library. Sometimes I don’t get off my chair for hours – and usually then it’s only because I need to use the bathroom! Good reminder that we all need to get up and MOVE. Also, stretching helps. We writers hold a lot of tension in our backs and shoulders. Mine are aching a little right now! Thanks for a good post.
    julie mayerson brown
    (The Long Dance Home)

  6. Timely reminder! Between writing and my job as an editor, I’m always sitting, and I often need a reminder to get up and get out. This is a good one. And I might bring a camera with me next time!

  7. I would love to go walking, but unfortunately, I have chronic osteoarthritis and walk with a cane. There is no cartilage between my knee joints at all, so it’s bone grinding on bone. Extremely painful even just to go to the shops. I used to do a lot of walking, but the two occasions I actually went hiking were disastrous. The first time, I broke my foot and had to be carried out on a stretcher. The second time, the person in charge got us lost in a very remote area. It took hours for searchers to find us. Both times were before everyone had mobile phones 🙁 I try to remember to get up and walk around the house, but when you’re on a roll with a story… ~sigh~

    1. Sorry to here about your condition and your unfortunate walking experiences. But one thing about reading and writing it can take you anywhere. In my case that’s usually off this planet.

  8. Great advice Ian. I live just off the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, so i always have access to hiking though, as you well know, we often get too “stuck” in our own stuff to even get out hiking. But like writing, and anything, including hiking, there’s a rhythmic pattern that must happen.

    I’ve ALWAYS found that my mind clears after a hike, or a swim. there’s something about the aerobic, endorphin, and adrenalin high that comes with a good hike, or swim, of bicycle ride….you feel just plain wonderful afterwards….hopefully that is. But yes, a walk in the woods, taking it all in around you, filling your senses, opening the channels in your brain to let new ideas enter.
    All of it…..good stuff for the writer!

  9. Great place to live – I’ve read the Bill Bryson book and it sounds spectacular. Once or twice a year I make it to the English Lake District which is spectacular and accessible. I cycle as well, but there’s something about walking that opens up all your senses.

  10. Thanks, Ian, for the great post and for inspiring writers to take a hike! I love hiking and backpacking, and The Lake District is a favorite of mine. I hope to return with my husband and trek the hills, hit the inns, and look at all the wooly bits.

      1. Well, when I get ready to go back to the Lake District, I’ll get in touch so you can share with me your favorite places. I enjoyed staying in Grasmere, and loved hiking in Derwentwater, but I was only there for five days, and there is so much to see (also went to Ruskin’s and Beatrice Potter’s and the awesome sculpture park!).

    1. I’m a cyclist as well, although I have to admit a bit of a fair weather one. It’s just when walking I find I can take everything in. I’ll check out the link.

  11. Too much sitting is certainly not a good thing for your body! I really enjoy my walking, running, and cycling time. It’s good to get away from the desk and into nature. And since my phone is always with me, I can always make notes if inspiration strikes while I”m away from home.

    1. I generate a lot of my book ideas while walking. If I have my phone with me, I’ll creating a voice memo. That works well when driving too (if you have a smartphone that will do it on command). But it can help to take a little notepad and pen if you don’t want to cart a phone along.

  12. I did feel the way , exactly, as told by you!
    everything that comes by inspires me to form a new phrase.

  13. I believe any aerobic exercise opens you up. There’s a “natural high” that comes with breathing and lots of fresh – hopefully fresh – oxygen going to the brain, your blood pumping through your veins, and you just feel…better. It’s sometimes tough for me in NE Pennsylvania during winter when the ice covers the ground for a month or two, so I have access to a University pool where I swim at least twice a week. I’ll be honest….I think swimming is the most “forgiving on the body” exercise available, and one uses EVERY muscle in the body. What I’m saying is that it’s difficult to “injure” oneself swimming, of course unless you have a fear of water, and not everyone is a water person.
    The bottom line is this…aerobic exercise, no matter what kind, opens the mind and the soul, and allows us to THINK more clearly. Amen to that!

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