categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour
Part of the writing day for me is a circuit. This has been true no matter where I’ve lived, and I’ve lived a lot of places since I started writing seriously. The country circuit is the one I’m on now–every morning out on skis at this time of year, or walking in the summer, or maybe riding a bike, sometimes swimming. The idea is a similar or the same route each day, preferably a loop (no backtracking), one that takes me through my thoughts as surely as through the woods or through the streets of whatever given city. The first twenty minutes are often a tumult of spare thoughts–stuff that a desk only encourages–and then, well, wow, I look up and see the trees, or the buildings, or the surf. The twenty, I know, corresponds to how long it takes for endorphins to get to the mind during exercise. But never mind the science: suddenly, ineluctably, I am there. Or rather, here. Here where I am, and not there where I’m not. And once I arrive, I begin to write. Not with a pencil, and not with a pen, and not with an old Selectric, certainly not with this laptop, but up there in the leaves, and over in that plaza, and down in that very clear water.
When I lived in Soho, in New York City, my loop was straight up LaGuardia and into the village, then all the way up Bleecker Street to West 4th and to 11th (yes, weirdly, West 4th crosses West 11th), then out to the river along 14th Street, then by many routes homeward. When I lived in the Meat District (Meat-Ho, we called it), I reversed the course, heading down Bleecker and all the way to Lafayette, then downtown into China, and around. In Columbus it was German Village, or on a bike clear to campus along the rivers. In Worcester, it was through the woods around the Holy Cross campus, on foot, on skis, through construction zones, didn’t matter. Here in Maine it’s through the woods along the stream on this loop or that, the busy world of birds and bugs and fish and frogs.
(Can’t sleep? Need to relax? Take your circuit in your mind even as you lie in the dark. Picture every step, every sight, all the sounds. This works. Zzzzzzz.)
The point is to walk an hour or two in privacy, nothing but your thoughts, and end at the desk. Full of those endorphins and having thought the circles away and found the straight lines, I’m able to leap right to it. Often, I’ve held whole paragraphs in my head, wanting only the computer to take dictation from my fingers. Equally, I take notes in one of my little books. These I either transcribe or ignore: it’s all equal in the end.
The walk is where I solve the problems. The walk is where I leave the demons. The walk leads me to my studio, and that it took an hour to get there makes it all the more imperative I write.
On trips I find a circuit wherever I am. In Billings, Montana, I walked the Yellowstone River across from an LPG plant. I did it every day I was there. In Rome I found the Pantheon by a thousand routes–but the Pantheon was the goal going out, my desk (at a flyblown former palazzo of a hotel) the goal coming back.
So, invent a circuit. Make it kind of long. End at your desk. Write what you’ve walked up. Or sing it. Or dance it. Anyway, do what you do after the circuit prepares the way.
And let the walks get longer.
(For Kate Neptune Baum)