That's it, almost certainly
Seized with desire

Becoming a walker

I was just racking my brains for something interesting to post last night, when the rain stopped. So I went out for a walk instead. It had been one of those dull days in all senses - hence the lack of bloggy inspiration - much taken up with post offices, photocopiers, supermarkets and misbehaving computers. So even though it was dark by then, and still damp, and there was only time for a quick loop of one of my usual walks where the terrain and the timing are completely familiar, it was good to get out with no more paraphernalia than a house key and a fiver in my pocket.

Sometimes, on such a duty walk, I take with me something to think about, (similarly my father used to take a couple of Times crossword clues in his head to work on) but I had no particular knot to unpick last night. So I was striding along, not deliberately thinking about anything, when I remembered something in Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer, still the classic how-to-write book and to my mind one of the few worth taking to heart. She tells a story from when she was teaching creative writing at night school in New York in the 1930s. One of Brande's students was a single parent with several children and absolutely no money. Her life was incredibly hard, it was terribly difficult for her to find the time and the energy to write, but the class was the one thing she did for herself. And then good fortune came to this woman: she married again and had plenty of time and money. 'But when will I do my thinking,' she said, 'now I've got nothing to scrub?'

Brande's book, if you haven't come across it (or even if you have) isn't about how to shape your plot or character, or pick the right word or the lucrative market, let alone get an agent or a deal. It's about, literally, becoming a writer: how you open the trap doors in yourself that are normally kept locked by years of conditioning or lack of confidence, by a misplaced puritanism or a ferocious Inner Critic. Then, through those trap doors will come... whatever comes. That's frightening stuff, but the moment when you stare at the page and realise you don't know where those words came from is the moment you become a writer.

Rhythm, Brande suggests, is one of the things which unlocks those doors, whether you find it in scrubbing a floor or swimming ten lengths. Walking is one of the most fundamental rhythms of all and one of the easiest to make happen. Trainers, jacket, and you're off. Even before the exercise endorphins kick in my mind is slipping loose from its moorings, floating off, jumping the tracks, going off-piste...

And a last thought: isn't it interesting that the metaphors that occurred to me for that sensation are all about the physical experience of travelling? To go on a journey is often used as a metaphor for inner, emotional and spiritual change, but the word also implies a destination and perhaps a route, even if it's a hazy one. I think I've used the metaphor before on here that most closely describes how writing novels feels to me: like making for a mountain top I can see, but by way of a whole landscape of sunken lanes, crossroads, fords and even villages that I can't. Now, where did I put my walking boots?

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