Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Loneliness of the Long Distance...Writer

A long walk concentrates the mind wonderfully...
I’m not sure whether I like walking or not. I think I must do, or I would’t have challenged myself to walk a certain (ridiculously high) number of steps, every day, culminating in a spectacularly silly number over the whole year. And being someone who is very much target-driven (which is why schemes like NaNoWriMo are so productive for me) I’m still plugging away.

That said, when it’s cold and wet and miserable (this being Scotland in May we have a word for it — dreich) the challenge isn’t that pleasant. On mornings when I can combine it with a trip into town (walk there, bus back) or something else which needs to be done and can be done the long way round it’s a positive pleasure to stroll along the cycle paths communing with nature. But when it’s wet and the water is dripping down the back of my neck or running into my shoes, I do wonder why I bother.

Never mind. I do it. It’s coming along nicely, too — and I’ve discovered a real benefit from, of all things, a writing point of view. Two benefits, in fact.

The first is that it’s a rich source of ideas. The things you see. The people you see. The dog walkers, the mothers struggling with small children or, in one case, wandering along in a cloud of serenity with a toddler screaming and stamping alongside. The strangers who smile and the ones who don't. The dogs that dart off into the bushes after rabbits. The man in a business suit, running. They all have stories and I don’t know what they are. So I make them up.

The second is probably far more useful (because really, right at the moment I don’t need any more ideas). When I have a plot problem, which is most of the time and almost always related to how to make the expected happy ending sound like a surprise, or at the very least not the happy ending the reader thinks I’m leading up to, I find a good walk helps.

If I can take my mind off the joggers and the sparrows and the rabbits then as I pound the streets I often find that my characters (don’t laugh) begin talking to me. More realistically, they talk to each other, in my head. They explain their motives. As I’m pounding the streets of Edinburgh or wherever else I might happen to find myself, they argue. They moan. They explain their motives to one another. This morning, rather astonishingly, my villain revealed his sensitive side and, by so doing, exposed his motivations and made it quite clear that the ending I have planned for him just won’t do. He wouldn’t behave like that and now I know why.

I still don’t know how I’ll resolve his dilemmas -- and, indeed, those of my hero and heroine. I’ll need a few more walks before i can do that. But I do know that I have to treat him more sensitively that I had thought.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep walking.

8 comments:

  1. We are cut from the same cloth! I, too, walk daily although I don't count steps. Many a sticky patch has come unstuck while I pound the hills (of which their are legion where I live!) and the bonus is I have a flattish tum... :) Worryingly, though, I find I've cro9ssed roads while doing my mental un-ravelling and don't know remember crossing them....o9h dear.

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  2. Oh, Linda -- me too! I did just that this morning when I suddenly realised I was several streets away from the place I last remembered being! But it does work!
    You have a particularly lovely place to walk, mind you...

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  3. I'm a walker, too! Someone referred to it as a "sort your thoughts" activity which I think sums it up neatly. My thoughts tend to stay unsorted when the weather is really foul, though have contemplated getting a dog so I will HAVE to walk regardless of the weather.

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    1. When it’s raining I walk round the house (to the irritation of my family) but that doesn’t work nearly so well. You have to be out!

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  4. Great post Jennifer. This is roughly what I do too, except a don't have a target of steps covered (but SUCH a good idea) and I have to keep stopping every now and then to take out my trusty notepad and write down those crucial things my characters are saying and that I just might forget.

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    1. Interestingly, I've never yet forgotten something that came to me on a walk!

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  5. Yes, walking is great for ideas and sorting out problems. I don't find my characters talk in quite the same way, but they do assert themselves, and those tricky little plot points seem to unknot. I should have a target for steps. Instead, I do a power walk most mornings with friends (2 miles, 30 minutes, three big hills). Sometimes this involves walking with a friend to her work. She tells me I should look on it as walking to my work too - a great idea, as my actual commute from bed to desk is about six steps...

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  6. I love the idea of walking to work...though I do find I'm more productive on my own. :)

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