We’ve all experienced it at one point or another: You’re typing away, happy that the words are flowing willy nilly and you’re making fabulous amounts of progress on your work, when suddenly BAM. Nada. The words just won’t come anymore no matter how hard you try to force them onto the page, and they won’t come, because they either aren’t in your head anymore or your brain is too muddled to make any sense of them. You, my friend, have hit the dreaded block. Sorry. You have our sympathies, we know how much it sucks. Now, what are you going to do about it?
Many different writers have many different cures for writer’s block, each one catered to his or her own particular personality and individual quirks. One solution that pops up over and over again, however, is walking. Henry David Thoreau famously wrote, “Me thinks that the moments my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow,” and Nietzsche wrote in Twilight of the Idols that, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” Okay, cool, but why? What is it that makes walking so special?
Well, for starters, walking (and exercise in general) is just plain good for your brain. Back in 2010, a study found that walking at one’s own pace for just forty minutes a day three times a week improves brain connectivity in older adults, which in turn increases the ability to perform cognitive tasks and even slows the decline of certain brain functions associated with aging. The benefits aren’t just for older people, either; another study published in the European Journal of Developmental Psychology found that nine-year-olds and young adults walking on a treadmill improved their cognitive performances when they were walking at their own pace versus when they were sitting or walking at an assigned speed.
Additional perks from walking include combating all the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle including weight gain and lowered levels of good cholesterol (which is a bad thing), as well as staving off depression. Kind of makes you want to go for walks all the time, doesn’t it?
On top of all these cognitive and health benefits, going for walks relaxes your brain. It temporarily takes you away from your notebook/laptop/typewriter, which is the cause of all your anxiety and stress (in terms of writer’s block, anyway). This break, however brief it may be, allows you to focus your mental energies on a very simple task (moving your feet) instead of on your writing. This in turn offers you a reprieve from that inner critic that we all have who’s likely causing the block in the first place, either because she’s saying things like “what you’re writing isn’t good enough you suck you should never write again” or “wow you can’t write right now what’s up with that you know writer’s block isn’t a real thing maybe if you can’t write right now it’s because you’re a bad writer and you should never write again” (my inner critic is a fan of stream of consciousness, if you couldn’t tell). Shutting that inner critic up, even for a little bit, gives you the chance to think about your writing in a more open, creative way, a way that isn’t plagued with self-doubt. This, coupled with the fact that getting exercise helps you think better in general, means that the words are much more likely to flow when you get home than if you go sit on a couch and watch trashy reality TV for an hour or two (I’ve tried that. It really doesn’t work, you guys, don’t do it).
And if walking isn’t for you, that’s fine! The type of exericse doesn’t matter, just get out there and do something. For the people who find walking boring, go for a run or a swim (Haruki Murakami says he either runs ten kilometers or swimming 1500 meters *every day.* If that doesn’t make you feel lazy, I don’t know what will). I personally switch off between walking and gardening, and some days I do both. Whatever activity suits you, do it. You’ll not only be healthier and live longer, but you won’t have to bash your head against a block in order to start writing again. That seems like win-win situation to me. Just make sure you eventually make it back to the page; it’s meant to be a brief break, not a month-long backpacking trip!