A Walking Idea Factory

Some days I feel about as creative as a cement block. Most of us know, however, that we can’t wait to feel creative before we write.

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.”

Then What?

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!

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6 Responses to A Walking Idea Factory

  1. Vijaya says:

    I think a dog and a cat are a must for any writer :) I have both. I love walking and all its benefits. Time spent outdoors, in nature, is such a boost.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Vijaya, that is one of the things I appreciate most about my grandkids. Thanks to them, I get outside a lot. Good for the blood pressure!

  2. marlane m says:

    walking works fantastically for me and I have finally learned to always carry a note pad. How many times, I’ve run into a coffee shop and borrowed serviettes to write on( of course I got a beverage to go). I have found new titles right out of the blue, just from what someone has commented in passing. I especially love walking in the rain. It is such a spiritual closeness for me. I mean a nice clean, soft summer rain, that you feel has been sent down with special love. I love the people I meet who love the rain & they are always happy to chat about it. They always drop little hints of new ideas, and when your spirit is open, they catch. The best part is getting home and rewarding myself with warm dry comfy clothes, a soothing drink & muffin or a treat & sit down time…at my computer!.. works all the time. It doesn’t get any better than that!!!

    • kwpadmin says:

      Marlane, you sound like such a happy writer! There IS something special about walking in the rain, isn’t there? The hot drink/muffin/writing at the end sounds lovely too! :-)

  3. marlane m says:

    Kristi, I have to share this. I have been writing an re-writing a picture book about a boy who wishes for a little sister. finally they adopt and she is a little rascal from day one who turns the house and her new brother’s life upside down. my title was :’Tyler wants his wish back’. no mater what they tell her, she has one stubborn answer. I have changed my title several times which has never happened before. anyways, I went walking today and I followed a mom and her young child about 4ish whom mom was trying to handle w/out causing a tantrum. she kept saying the same thing and mom kept asking her to stop saying that. PING! the light went on and I knew I had my title: “Stop saying I don’t Care” I have been wanting to submit it for a year at least but the title always felt a bit flat. that walk at the right time and place was meant for me!! I wasn’t even thinking about that story, I was on a break! PTL!

    • kwpadmin says:

      This is a great story, and thanks for sharing this! What a neat thing to have happen…and how good that you were listening! Best of luck with your story!

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