Write Strong Guest Post: The Walking-Writing Feedback Loop

by Jamie Todd Rubin

Text Only LogoThe only time I ever attended Boskone, back in the winter of 2008, I remember my good friend, and mentor, Michael Burstein telling me that I should do a panel on physical fitness for writers. I was in pretty good shape at the time, but I’d yet to participate in a convention panel, and I was a slightly terrified at the suggestion.

Later that year got get married, and the following year, our first child was born. The “good shape” which I’d manage to obtain through hard work and a good personal trainer, went by the wayside. I still tried to keep in shape, but when the baby arrived, priorities changed. Exhaustion tends to dictate action, as anyone who has ever dealt with a newborn well knows.

My oldest is now 5 years old, and my youngest will be 3 in August. I am not in the best shape of my life, but I do try to squeeze in exercise every day. This isn’t easy with two young children, a full-time job, and a freelance writing, as you might imagine. But I’ve worked out a pretty good system, at least in terms of exercise, that helps me keep relatively fit, and allows me to multitask while doing so.

There are countless articles touting the benefits of a daily walk. Over the last two years, I have tried to build daily walks into my routine, and I’ve found that walking every day not only helps me stay fit, it helps improve my writing.

I work full time as an application developer for a think tank, which means that I spend the better part of an 8 hour workday in front of a computer. I write my fiction, and nonfiction in the evenings, and I do my blogging when my fiction writing is done. I have two young children to take care as well, and this means my time for exercise is limited. Over the last few years, I’ve learned to try to make the most of it.

I have been an owner of a FitBit device for more than two years. For those who aren’t familiar with the devices, a FitBit is a device that captures how many steps you take, how far you walk, how many steps you climb, and how much you sleep each day. At first, I used a FitBit Ultra, which I clipped to my belt. I used this device for almost a year before losing it. For well over a year now, I’ve switched to a FitBit Flex, which is a waterproof wristband, which I wear constantly. It captures how much I walk each day, and how well I sleep each night.

As an application developer, I am susceptible to what I call “code comas.” If I don’t come up for air, I’ll spend my day head down writing code, and at the end of the day, I’m a bit of a grouch.

What I’ve done for the last few years, therefore, is to deliberately break up my day. I do focused work, trying to get my most important tasks of the day done between 7:30 am – 10 am. At 10 am, I leave the office and walk around the block. It is roughly a mile. On some days, I walk twice around the block. This helps clear my head. While walking, I multitask. I listen to audio books, which allows me to to do far more reading than I’d manage without the walk.

During my lunch hour, usually from noon to 1 pm, I also walk. I can walk around the block 3-4 times, a total of about 3-4 miles during the hour. Once again, I listen to audio books. This helps disconnect my mind from the day job, and prevent those annoying code comas that I used to experience.

Finally, at 3 pm, I do another walk around the block. On this walk, however, I don’t listen to my audio book. I dedicate this walk to allowing my mind to wander, and usually, it wanders to the story that I am currently working on. During this final walk of the day, I think about what I am going to write that evening, how I am going to approach the sticky part of the story that I’ve backed myself into. Sometimes, out of the blue, I come up with new story ideas during this walk.

All told, I manage to walk, on average, between 15,000 – 20,000 steps per day, which amounts to roughly 5 – 7.5 miles per day. I do this every day, weekends included.

The walking is the only real exercise I get each day, but it turns out that it is enough to keep me in relatively decent shape. It has two additional side-effects:

First, it allows me to multitask, by listening to audiobooks while I walk. Stephen King has said that to be a writer, you need to read a lot and write a lot. The daily walking ensures that I meet the former requirement.

Second, that final walk of the day allows me the freedom to let my mind wander, and consider the story (or nonfiction article) that I am currently working on. It prepares me for the evening when I need to sit down and write. As of this writing, I have written for 330 consecutive days, and 473 out of the last 475 days. I credit my ability to sit down and write every day to the time I take on that final walk of the day to mentally plan what I will write. It has become some of the most valuable time I spend each day.

I live in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area and I walk every day, regardless of the weather. I walk when it is bitterly cold in the winter, and I walk when it is unbearably humid in the summer. I do this because I know that it is helping to keep me in shape, and allowing me to multitask, but I also do it because I’ve found that these walks actually make me more productive, both in my day job, and in my writing. Also, after years of commuting just about everywhere, back in the days when I lived in Los Angeles, walking is a pleasant change of pace.

Walking is relatively low impact. My knees aren’t what they used to be in my banner days, but walking doesn’t seem to bother them the way running does. And my mood and spirits are better on the days that I walk than on the rare days that circumstances prevent my walking.

I’m not in the same shape I was when Michael Burstein suggested I do a panel on fitness for writers, but for someone who is 42 years old with 2 small children, a fulltime job, and freelance writing on top of that, I’ve manage to stay in decent shape through my daily walks. And, strange though it may seem, there is a small positive correlation between how much I walk in a day and how many words I write that evening. I take this as a win, all around.

JTR Author New - SmallJamie Todd Rubin is a science fiction writer, blogger, and Evernote Ambassador for paperless lifestyle. His stories and articles have appeared in Analog,ClarkesworldDaily Science FictionLightspeedIntergalactic Medicine ShowApex Magazine, and 40K Books.  Jamie lives in Falls Church, Virginia with his wife and two children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.