Jul 232013
trail magic leconte

All sorts of amazing things happen when you’re out walking. Like “trail magic” and thin mints. Photo taken ascending Mt. LeConte in the Smokies.

So my brain is fried, my words pass gas instead of sing, and the thought of getting a lousy 100 words down feels like do-it-yourself surgery sans anesthesia. What to do, what to do?

I won’t call it writer’s block because in my mind there’s no such animal. Let’s be honest, though. I was writing. I’m blocked. What else do you call it?

Time to do something else. Get some blood flowing because my butt or feet have lost their circulation.

That’s when I jump on the bike and pound out a few miles. The more blocked I am, the harder I’ll pedal.

Even if it’s a cold day or there’s a light rain, I’m out there getting a good sweat rolling. If it’s raining hard, it’s going to be a messed-up day.

If not biking, I’ll just take a walk.


Anecdotal evidence: How moving around works

I recently read an account of Mark Twain visiting his friend Nikola Tesla’s lab one night. Twain got on this vibrating platform, and before throwing the switch Tesla warned him the vibration was only good in small doses.

But Twain was having the time of his life, really enjoying the ride, saying he never felt better and wild horses couldn’t drag him off.

Until he started looking really uncomfortable, signaled Tesla to stop that thing.

Then dashed off to the bathroom.

Sounds crude, but getting up and moving around does shake everything loose like that.

In his classic list of activities to keep you young, baseball player and ageless wonder Satchel Paige once explained this idea:

“Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move,” he advised.

Of course, in that same list he said, “avoid running at all times.” I’m totally with him there. Biking is great. Walking is great. But running? Forget it. Too violent on the ankles, knees and back. If God meant for us to run, we’d have been born with a pair of Nikes.

But that walking or biking, with or without the jangling, does knock the crud out of my brain. Seriously.


Advantages of taking that walk

All kinds of cool things happen when you take a walk or ride:

  • You get to disconect from your project for at least a few minutes.
  • You give your eyeballs a chance to adjust after staring at a computer screen, legal pad, sketchbook or music charts for several hours.
  • You’ll get back to work refreshed.
  • If the walk is long enough — for me about seven miles — the endorphins kick in and I feel just plain wonderful. Some people spend good money for that feeling, but you can get it for free.
  • Think of all that vitamin D you’re sucking up.
  • It’ll help get rid of that seceratory’s spread if that’s an issue with you.
  • While disconnecting and walking (or riding), great ideas come to you. When you’re not thinking about your task, the creatures in your attic are busy cranking off those ideas and feeding them to you. That’s why I always carry some index cards while I’m out on my ride. If I have to pull over and jot something down, it’s been a good ride.
  • You’ll get unstuck. Stephen King said he found the key to continuing The Stand while out on a walk. Of course, he discovered a disadvantage to walking when some guy in a van mowed him down. Took him a long time to heal from all the broken bones. So there’s that.
  • If you walk with a friend or you meet cool people on the road, you’ll get to engage in some real conversation. That’s always great fodder for your next great idea, and it beats the isolation that often comes when you’re creating something.
  • People-watching is great fun too, and it sure beats daytime TV for afternoon entertainment.
  • It’s great for burning off stress.

Listen, that last part is important. I finally figured I don’t do stress well. I can easily handle it when it’s just a couple of days’ worth, but when I hold onto it for too long my brain goes haywire. Neurons fire at random. The inside of my head starts looking like some lunatic’s electrical experiment. I turn the whole doing-stupid-stuff routine into an art form.

Telsa's experiments

This is my brain on stress …

The best advice I’ve received over the past year is to burn off that stress, that excess energy every day. I’ll do this after my writing is done for the day, and sometimes in midstream if everything gets too heavy for me. Even a walk to the corner grocery store helps.

(For the record, the second best piece of advice I’ve received over the past 12 months was to never fry bacon in the nude. But I digress.)

So get out there.

Strap on that backpack.

Clip that water bottle to your belt.

Get out there.

Get rid of the gunk.

Sniff the air outside (this is better when this air is something you can’t see, but do the best you can).

Notice what’s around you.

Get some sun on you.

Flood your body with those feelgood endorphins.

Then get back to work.

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You tell me: How do you get rid of the brain fuzz and/or junk in the trunk every day? Share with a comment.