Want to Write a Lot? Go for a Walk, Just Like Bilbo

People Places

Writer's block? Take a walk, as Tolkien did. And Bilbo. (photo: Ethan Gilsdorf)

People sometimes ask if I have advice about writing. What works? What tips and tricks can you teach me? “Do you know what you’re going to say before you sit down to say it?” they ask. “Do you know where you are going?”

I rarely know. Mostly, writing feels like a blind journey each time I sit down. I can see just faint shapes in the distance, but I know if I keep writing and moving towards them, that those shapes will come into view and I’ll see if they are friendly creatures, if I want to talk to them and get to know them better, and decide if I want to include them in my writing. Or keep moving forward to discover other shapes.

But the idea of motion to describe my writing process isn’t just a metaphor. I also recommend actual moving around to get writing. Moving through the real world.

People ask, “What is your writing schedule? How much time do you spend writing each day?” And I tell them, “It varies.” But what never varies is my need to actually get up and get away from my desk and take a walk.

Of course, writing only happens when you are sitting at your desk — what I call the AIC Principle (Ass-in-Chair: the more time sitting on your ass at your desk or wherever you prefer to write, the more likely writing will happen). But what I also tell my students is: After a writing session, get up. Move around. Walk down to your favorite coffee shop. Go for a walk.

Just as Bilbo Baggins did — and you know how successful a writer he was. What was it he said? “I want to see mountains again, mountains, Gandalf! And then find somewhere quiet where I can finish my book.” So he hit the road for the elves in Rivendell, and did just that.

I’m not a physician or a kinesiologist. But I strongly believe that ideas and solutions come to the body as much as they come to the brain. So if you’re stuck, get up. Walk outside, feel the air on your skin — even the cold February air. Ideas will come to you. (Though you should probably not emulate Bilbo in one significant way: Wear shoes.)

Good things will come to your writing brain (or heart, wherever the impulse lives) simply from the act of getting your eyes to adjust to a focal point not 18 inches from your head — your computer screen — but feet and yards from your head. By finding your body again, in a world of sense, smells, colors, depth, corners, turns, ins and outs.

So, when you finish a draft of a poem, story, essay, chapter — put it aside. Get up. Stretch. Touch your toes. Twist your neck. Then, walk out your door. And bring a pen and notepad or other hand-held device with you. (Don’t be like me and write everything down in black ink on the palm of your hand, although that can work in a pinch.) Ideas will come, so be ready to write them down.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door,” Bilbo once said. “You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Good luck with your writing. And may it sweep you off to lands, shapes, ideas, creatures, you never knew existed.

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