Every writer has good days and bad days: times when the words just flow onto the page, as if by magic; and times when you seem to spend much of the day gazing out of the window, tidying your desk, looking up words in the dictionary – anything but write. As William Goldman put it, sometimes ‘The easiest thing to do on earth is not write’.
Walking is, I suppose, a kind of meditation. I free my mind from thinking about what I’m writing, and just let it wander as I wander and associate freely from thought to thought. Often ideas begin to form, and I just leave them floating about without pouncing on them hungrily. A half hour or an hour later I return home, and usually I’ll find I have a new direction or a new idea I’m keen to try. Hot drink in hand, I’ll return to the study and write and write.
In my previous blog entry I introduced you to the works of the French writer Anatole France. One of his aphorisms strikes a chord with my experience of the relationship between walking and writing: ‘Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.’ I think the word ‘wandering’ is key here – these aren’t quick marches for fitness, or to get somewhere; my ‘writing walks’ are ambles, meanders, wanders that reconnect me with the world around, which of course is from where I source my inspiration.
Walking in this way isn’t only a means to access the muse; there’s also a certain comfort and connection to be felt – a sense that while I walk I follow in the footsteps of the many writers through the ages who have found inspiration while walking.
Have you ever read the poetry of William Wordsworth? Whenever I’m out on a writing walk, I find myself reciting his most famous poem: ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’. It reads thus:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
in such a jocund company:
I gazed – and gazed – but little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
Beautiful, isn’t it? The poem was inspired by a walk William took with his sister Dorothy in the Lake District – Dorothy wrote about the walk in her journal, and when William read her account he was inspired to write the poem. What I love is the first line, which is just as I walk when thinking, and the ending – the fact that the setting so affects him afterwards, when he is back at home. This is the very essence of wandering and writing: taking home the inspiration provided by nature.