Writing While Walking

Yesterday, I needed to write. And I needed to walk.

Thinking I could write in the late afternoon, after the sun slid behind the mountain, I put on my boots and filled a small pack with water, dried mango, an extra layer and my phone. Heading up the mountain, I couldn’t shake my longing to write. Words were coming to me: one by one or in phrases and lines. Often, I carry a small notebook just in case. Today, I’d forgotten it.

Desperate to record even a few lines and phrases, I pulled out my phone, tapped the icon of a microphone and stared at the small red dot that would start recording.

An editor friend of mine writes this way all the time—essentially dictating—but she’s a remarkable public speaker who loves to improvise a presentation and seems totally relaxed when interviewed. I’m more of a sculptor-writer who’s usually working a lump of thoughts into something recognizable as an essay or poem.

No one will hear it but you, I told myself. I tapped the red dot and started “spilling” the lines and phrases floating precariously in my head, just as I encourage women to do in my workshops.

Terrified, I let myself speak slowly. Let myself speak in single words or strings of words making verbal lists much as I’m used to jotting down in a notebook. I let myself walk in silence. There’s plenty of bird call in the recording.

I was—and still am—working on a blog post about litter from the perspective of a walker/hiker/kayaker. While I didn’t start this walking/writing/recording with any particular goal, the piece I’m working on naturally wanted to get written and so it arrived! Just as in the photo above, I couldn’t anymore avoid the topic I needed to write than I could avoid seeing a single bright blue plastic cup under a tree relatively far away. Because I’m no longer trying to avoid seeing it, I notice the litter that’s embedded everywhere I go.

At this point, I’m collecting several short “chunks” of writing from two notebooks and one Word doc into a single place. Now, to add to the list, I’m transcribing the two recordings from my hike. One is five minutes long, the other twelve. So far, I’m noticing that because I spoke rather slowly and allowed myself to breathe (quite heavily—it’s delightfully steep, that hill we call a mountain!) and pause between thoughts, typing up the recording is going rather smoothly and doesn’t require too much review of the same sections.

Try it: set a timer for five minutes and record your words instead of writing them. Allow yourself to edit as you go, if you like, perhaps repeating a phrase with different word choice or syntax (word order) if it comes to you as you’re speaking. Let your recording be a messy spill, giving yourself the same freedom you’d give yourself if scratching quick notes into your journal or on the back of a grocery list.

This can be especially helpful if you’re hungry to write, but even if you’re not, allow yourself to notice how it actually feels to try this, rather than trying to predict. And try it at different times and varying situations. Moms preparing dinner or strolling with small children to the local park might enjoy this alternative to pen and paper. I have at least one workshop participant who chronically jots down notes as she drives (at red lights, she claims), and I imagine she and other commuters might find this helpful. Perhaps you’ll end up recording a book?

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