‘Walking about the country by day – prowling about into the strangest places into the strangest places in London by night – sitting down to do an immensity – getting up after doing nothing – walking about my room on particular bits of all the flowers in my carpet – tearing my hair (which I can’t afford to do) – and on the whole astonished at my own condition, though I am used to it…”
Sound familiar? This is how Charles Dickens described his work mode at the height of his popularity. Dickens was a high-energy guy: in his late twenties, he was known to take long vigorous walks at a brisk pace, sometimes covering 20 or even 30 miles in a day. A restless man, he also explored some of the seamier sides of London on long evening rambles, searching for unique characters.
Dickens is by no means alone in his love of long walks as a source of inspiration and a means of shaking cobwebs from the brain. In my hometown of Montclair, author Laurie Lico Albanese writes a colorful, energetic blog that chronicles her local wanderings (MyBigWalk). For my part, I’ve found that walking in nearby parks — either with my four-legged dog or on my own two “dogs” — is a great way to loosen up my computer-cramped muscles and recharge my creative batteries. The simple, everyday act of making leisurely loops around a leafy park somehow pries loose hard-to-catch ideas or phrases from my mind. It also lets me feel virtuous: I’m “working” while walking – and also squeezing in some much-needed exercise.
There’s something about the soothing, almost incantational rhythm of footfall after footfall that lifts one’s awareness. Why not try a walk the next time you find yourself stuck or sluggish? Or why not start a “Fruitful Footfalls” program? Making a few walks a week – or a daily constitutional – part of your writing routine can be very enlivening. It certainly worked for Dickens!