Writing Tip #93: Walking and Plotting the Novel by Matt Rees

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Readers like to ask writers “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s such a common question at book readings that I’ve noticed writers (on blogs) making fun of people who ask it. Yet it’s rather silly to ridicule someone for asking a question most writers can’t answer themselves.

So here’s my answer: I get my best ideas by walking.

Just lately I’ve been plotting my next book, which is going to be a thriller set in Iraq and New York. I’ve done a good deal of thinking about it in my office, standing in front of my computer or slouched in my bean bag. But when I’m in front of the computer, I find myself thinking about what to write for this blog. And on the bean bag I get distracted by the little white polystyrene balls which seem endlessly to leak out of it onto my Iranian kilim.

The best ideas for this new novel have come to me as I walk home from the gym. It’s not because I’m walking through the prettiest part of town. I walk along a busy dual-carriageway linking two other noisy, busy roads. I sweat like a pig, too – I remind you that I live in Jerusalem, which is a mountainous desert town.

But all the way I’m chattering into my digital voice recorder, setting down my ideas. The reason is simple: relaxation and lack of distraction. I have nothing else to do but walk. Nowhere to go but where I’m going. Nothing to see but fast-moving traffic and a deserted sand lot. My mind is free to be creative, because it’s unhindered by anything else. (I’m quite capable of walking and doing something else at the same time, fortunately.)

In my meditation classes, I’ve sometimes practiced a walking meditation. If you pay attention to each step, the way your foot falls, you’ll soon find your mind entirely clear of any distraction. The same thing is happening on my way home from the gym.

There’s also the fact that by the time I walk from the gym, I’m rather relaxed and perhaps also feeling the brain benefit of exercise. The previous two hours have been spent running, swimming, lifting weights and doing yoga stretches, after all. That puts me in a good, clear frame of mind – and I reap the benefits on the walk.

I used to do this walk with headphones, listening to BBC podcasts. It was educational and informative, and I did find ideas bubbling up. But they’ve come much faster and more frequently since I turned off the cans.

Still, to get the idea for this blog post, I didn’t go walking. I resorted to my tried and true blog-brainstorming method. I asked my wife, Devorah, and she told me to write about my idea walks – because she has had to hear me babble enthusiastically about them so often. Which brings me to next week’s subject: why writers should always ramble to their spouses about whatever enters their heads. That’ll be Writing Tip #94.

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