Writers who wait for inspiration before they decide to write are generally known as hobbyists. Working writers–those actively writing and growing in their craft–must write whether the muse is “in” or not.
“Which means, essentially,” James Scott Bell says, “you have to become a walking idea factory.” And he really does mean walking. He said he gets a lot of his ideas for his current work-in-progress when walking. I know other writers who’ve said the same thing.
Dragging My Heels
I love to walk, but I have usually balked at this kind of “work while you walk” advice. After working at my desk, I want a break. And mulling over my novel while taking a walk doesn’t do a darned thing to refresh me. My brain is too tired. When I walk, I want to listen to a book on tape, something Jane Austen-y that I know will feed my soul. Thinking about my own novel just feels like more work to me.
But…I’m happy to say that’s not what Bell recommends! In his The Art of War for Writers, he says that after a writing session, “I try to take an hour walk every day and listen to an audio book.” Inevitably his muse or imagination (what he calls “the boys in the basement”) sends up ideas for his work-in-progress while he’s listening to his audio book for relaxation. When that happens, he stops, makes a note in the pocket notebook he carries, then goes back to his audio book and walks some more.
He calls this his system for “being creative without thinking about it. That way you can be ‘working’ on your idea even when you’re not working on it.”
For several days I tried Bell’s system. I hadn’t expected it to work–but it did! While walking and listening to Pride and Prejudice on my MP3 player, my brain released a good number of ideas–things that I could later develop (a secondary character’s flaw, a plot twist that would also show the book’s theme, a better setting for the climax scene). I have to admit that I was very surprised how well this worked.
If you want to try it, here are Bell’s steps for becoming a walking idea factory.
- Focus fully on your book or story idea during your writing time.
- Take a walk and relax, then capture the ideas that pop up during your walk.
- Back home, immediately put your recorded bits in a computer file. Expand on them, brainstorm the ideas, follow rabbit trails. Do that with each idea that popped up on your walk.
- Let the ideas cool for a day and then come back to them for assessment.
- Decide which ideas to keep and use in your current work. Set the others aside for another project.
Bell says if you get used to thinking this way, your creativity will explode!