>Bark is a terrific magazine for dog lovers. In the current issue there is a lovely essay by the late William Styron (from Havanas in Camelot) about walking with his dog. And I mention it not because of the dog, although that part’s great, but because of the walk. “From the professional point of view,” he says, “there is nothing better than walking at a brisk pace to force oneself into a contemplative mood.” That is, he uses the walking to take his mind off all the other things that are going on in his life so that he can concentrate on the writing.
“My mind is cluttered by a series of the most dismally mundane preoccupations: my bank balance, a dental appointment, the electrician’s failure to come and repair a critical outlet. Invariably the first five or ten minutes [of the walk’ are filled with sour musings—a splendid time to recollect old slights and disappointments and grudges, all flitting in and out of my consciousness like evil little goblins. . . Yet almost without fail there comes a transitional moment—somewhat blurred, like that drowsy junction between wakefulness and sleep—when I begin to think of my work, when the tiny worries and injustices that have besieged me start to evaporate, replaced by a delicious, isolated contemplation of whatever is in the offing, later that day, at the table at which I write. Ideas, conceits, characters, even whole sentences and parts of paragraphs come pouring in on me in a happy flood until I am in a state close to hypnosis, quite oblivious of the woods or the fields or the beach where I am trudging . . .”
I’ve found this to be true, especially at residencies where the batteries tend to run down and need to be recharged, a walk is just the thing. But also just to clear the mind:
“This, you see, is the delight and the value of walking for a writer. The writer lounging—trying to think, to sort out his thoughts—cannot really think, being the prey of endless distractions. He gets up to fix himself a sandwich, tinkers with the phonograph, succumbs weak-mindedly to the pages of a magazine, drifts off into an erotic reverie. But a walk, besides preventing such intrusions, unlocks the subconscious in such a way as to allow the writer to feel his mind spilling over with ideas. He is able to carry on the essential dialogue with himself in an atmosphere as intimate as a confessional, though his body hurries onward at three miles an hour. Without a daily walk and the transactions it stimulates in my head, I would face that first page of cold blank paper with pitiful anxiety.”
Exactly. I recommend the entire essay if you can find a copy of the magazine.