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How I Write and Learn

Writing and Walking

By Rory

Since I’ve been forced to live in a quarantined world, it’s been real easy to spend all day sitting. It was a sudden adjustment for me; I used to try and either walk to or from campus every weekday, which made sure I got time outside. I realized I missed walking like this, so after about two weeks of being locked in the house, I started to make movement a part of my working routine. Since I spend a lot of time working on writing projects, this push to start walking has ended up becoming a pivotal step in how I approach my writing.

I’ll walk you through what a day of writing looks like for me. Lately, the main writing project I’ve been dealing with is the prospectus for my dissertation, particularly the literature review portion of it. If I know it’s going to be a heavy writing day, I’ll first set up at the kitchen table and dive right into it. I try to keep my focus on getting things down on the page so it’s there instead of in my head. At this point, I’m not concerned about organization, structure, or how the different parts I am working on fit together.

An open laptop, notebook, book, and mug sit on top of an empty table by the front door.
The kitchen table which has become my desk, complete with laptop and notebook.

After writing for an hour or so, I mentally step back, and begin to think about how what I’ve written fits into the larger structure of my draft. Maybe I’ll jot some thoughts down on a piece of paper, or I might just do everything in my head, but I need this step to signal to myself that it’s time for a break.

It’s then time to go outside. I put my leash on my dog, who is usually waiting not-so-patiently by the door, and start to go for a walk. It can sometimes be difficult, but I always try and make sure I’m not actively thinking about my writing as I start walking to make sure I am getting a break from working. Luckily, being outside after having been working inside all day usually makes this easy. I try and let myself turn my brain off, and just exist for the first 20 minutes or so of my daily walk.

The author's beagle is jumps onto his legs.
My dog Woody ready to get outside for a walk.

Usually though, about halfway through my walk, my mind starts to go back to my writing that I was working on earlier. I then let myself start to think about the “big picture” concerns from when I was wrapping up writing. Sometimes I realize there are new connections that I missed before, or I start to think about a concept or text in a new way. I don’t ever take notes or record memos while walking. I could see that working well for someone else but for me personally, I need my time on my walk to feel low-stakes, and notetaking would interfere with that.

The Bolin creek is surrounded by trees.
The Bolin creek, where I’ve had a lot of great ideas pop in my head.

The coolest part of making walks a part of my writing process is I’ve realized that certain things I see outside become cues for me. On one of my walking paths, there’s this small creek I have to cross. I’ve found that usually I start to think about the “Why” section of my prospectus after I cross it. Since this is a long-running writing project, having the creek as a prompt to go back over my ideas again and again has let me think about my project a bunch of different ways. Sometimes the ideas turn out to not be helpful, but even still I think it’s beneficial for me to continue to return to my writing someplace beyond my computer.

The author's dog Woody is on a leash, crossing the Bolin creek using stones as footholds.
Woody and me crossing the creek.

I’ve realized what I enjoy about walking is that it gives me a chance to approach my writing in a new way. Sometimes when I’m sitting at my screen and typing, I feel real pressure or anxiety about putting things on the page. It can be really frustrating to feel like I’m not making progress, or not making sense. The blinking cursor and blank documents exert a pressure on me that can make writing a struggle.

But when I allow myself to think about my writing while walking, that pressure melts away. Bouncing ideas around in my head feels less serious – it’s almost like I’m playing with my writing rather than seriously working on it. And yet, I still usually come away from my walks with new ideas and approaches for my writing, and I feel energized and refreshed for getting back to work on it. Going outside isn’t just a chance for my dog and my legs to get some exercise – I get to take my writing for a walk as well.

This blog showcases the perspectives of UNC Chapel Hill community members learning and writing online. If you want to talk to a Writing and Learning Center coach about implementing strategies described in the blog, make an appointment with a writing coach or an academic coach today. Have an idea for a blog post about how you are learning and writing remotely? Contact us here.

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