The Moving Word

Writer, Preacher, Bookworm, Student of the Word

Interesting Perspective on Finding Ideas

I want to share a wonderful essay with you.

Barbara Samuel explains how she gets her writing ideas. This may not work for you, but the concept of finding your own method is important.

She begins:

One of the number one requirements of a commercial fiction career is that you must reliably produce good material, year in and year out. Reliable and good are not always an easy combination. To do it, a writer has to take care of her body, her mind, and her spirit.

Over the years, I’ve found many ways to do that, but the mainstay is walking. I walk every morning, and take long walks on weekends and evenings; I walk around the cities I visit when I travel. I’ve done a marathon and a half over two days (Avon walk) and twice now have walked over a hundred miles in the course of a week. Walking is my passion (which you might have guessed from the title of my blog, A Writer Afoot).

She later writes:

I spent the winter and spring writing a book that tested me, made me reach harder and higher than I ever have, and by the end of May, when I finished the last of the revisions and finally polished it to the place I wanted it to be, I was bone-dry. The girls in the basement crashed, refusing to give me one more word.

So, as planned, I spent the month of June wandering and walking. I followed the public footpaths that loop through the English countryside, and across grassy meadows started with tiny yellow flowers. I admired a white horse, and had time enough to notice the details of gardens in the villages and the quiet haze of light over velvety hills. On the west coast, I walked on the beach and thought about the faded midcentury culture of seaside towns and walked the steps to the top of Glastonbury Tor to ponder Arthurian legend; on the east coast I shivered deeper into my coat and picked up fossils.

I did not think on these walks. I tend not to. My brain falls into a meditative state that is hard for me to achieve without physical movement. My senses gather details and I muse over things that are not very important.

By the time I arrived to walk a portion of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route, the chatter part of my brain had gone quiet. I walked for days on end, only walking. Some distant part of me kept wondering if characters or insights or something should be shaping up. Instead, I listened to the songs of frogs and followed the ghosts of pilgrims and babied a sore knee when I could.

The girls rode along on my shoulders, first this one, then another absorbing things she liked. One took notes on recipes. One shot endless photos of skies and trees and windows (I don’t know why she takes so many pictures of windows, but there they are, every time). One listened to conversations and practiced cadences under her breath (“Buen DI-a!”) and took notes on the culture of the Road itself.

When I returned home, with strange strips of sunburn and the knowledge of stinging nettles written across my ankles, I’d walked for nearly a month, days and days and days and days of walking. I had to sleep for a couple of days when I returned, but the well was so full that I have been working in shifts ever since—mornings on the main project, afternoons on side projects, Saturdays for research on yet a third. I have enough material for six books right this minute, all from a month of walking.

That is a GREAT story. Maybe if we are not making progress in our novel, we may have either a toxic environment or we need a new perspective. I think this is why writer’s retreats exist. We step out of our comfort zone and, ideally, the words will flow. What works for you? What comments do you have?

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