The gestation of my latest Work-in-Progress has been almost as long as an elephant's. (22 months if you're interested). Last night I finally completed its first draft and birthing the damn thing has been a painfully frustrating experience. But I'm a bloke, what would I know about real pain! But I've got there and I now have a beautiful, bouncing first draft to grow into something fully formed and publishable.
Writer's Block has plagued me all the way through this process. A severe lack of ideas has been the cause. Creativity deserted me. I lost faith in my existing work, concluded that my creativity drought was down to me being a rubbish writer and everything I wrote was never good enough. Any of this resonate with you?
One significant cause happened last December. We lost Maddie, our gorgeous Labrador and a big part of our family. If you're not an animal lover you may not appreciate how grief manifests in this context. But her loss affected me badly, I had lost my muse.
Regardless of the weather, my energy levels or if I was 'in the writing zone' she would demand I took her out for long walks. During that time I'd mull over issues of plot, character and all the other things we agonise over as writers.
When she died I couldn't go walking in all the places we frequented. It was too painful. So I stopped going for long walks.
And the creativity dried up.
A week ago I suddenly remembered a couple of places where I hadn't taken her for our walks, places that were 'safe', emotionally speaking. I resumed walking. One particularly long walk on Saturday (over two hours) resulted in two things; aching leg muscles and the climax to my story worked out in detail, even to the extent of dialogue.
So I thought - does walking affect your creativity?
Here is what I found.
Friedrich Nietzsche said, "Sit as little as possible. Do not believe any idea that was not born in the open air and of free movement—in which the muscles do not also revel."
Scientific research backs up this opinion. A 2014 study by scientists at Stanford University found walking significantly improves certain types of cognitive efforts involved in creativity. It enhances convergent thinking, (the ability to come up with solutions to a problem) and divergent thinking (conceiving open-ended, original ideas). Other studies have found that exercise tends to improve convergent thinking in those who exercise three or more times per week.
But creativity is more than divergent or convergent thinking. Emotional states, such as feeling good—and thus having low anxiety and fear—have been found to induce the flow states that are the foundation to creative work.
I've found walking alone (so you can talk to yourself with others thinking you're crazy) is vital.
That's the scientific angle. What I've come to realise is this.
Writing is a creative process which needs focus, to follow through thought sequences to their final conclusion without disruption.
It involves problem solving, where different options need to be identified, considered and evaluated against each other.
It needs self-awareness, where you can celebrate the success of the thought processes, the new ideas and such. Plus, a chance for you to keep evaluating yourself as a writer, reviewing your work in short steps that can be amended - rather than looking at yourself (and your writing) in a Big Picture where modification can't take place.
You need time to be curious about your story - to ask questions of the plot, the characters, its themes.
Walking allows you to do these things because not only are you giving yourself time but you're allowing your brain to operate with the correct mindset. Reflection is a big part of this process and yet I'd overlooked it - or couldn't find the right approach to doing it.
So I now visit my walking locations regularly. I like to think I've got the spirit of a certain black Labrador alongside me when I'm doing it too!
If you're suffering from Writer's Block, take my advice, walk out on it!