One of the times I am most creative is when I have spent an hour or so working on a creative project, and then I go for a walk.
On the walk, ideas tend to start pouring in.
I think this is because I have already engaged deeply with the project. I have connected with it, maybe wrestled with it, maybe made some progress.
And then I let it go. I put my body in motion and relax my mind.
I walk with no agenda. I’m not aiming to think about my creative project. I am not trying for revelations. I just walk and enjoy the scenery and the motion of my body. I let my mind roam.
Often, things begin to click. Stuck places in the work start to open. New ideas come. Sometimes it has nothing to do with the piece I was working on. I hear lines for a new poem. Or have a wild inspiration for a dance piece. Or for a new class I’d like to offer.
There’s a rhythm to walking that is soothing and regulating. It brings body and mind into a union. I am in motion, moving forward in my life. I am going somewhere, doing something, but with nowhere to get to and nothing I have to do.
I am breathing and feeling the wind on my face and witnessing the world around me. A bird singing in a tree. A squirrel running across my path. Flowers blooming perhaps or leaves falling or snow on the ground. Or maybe a city street or neighborhood.
Sometimes our most creative times are not when we are in the studio, grappling with making art. Sometimes they happen when we let go and set our body in a gentle motion, when we step outside of the house, office, or studio, and outside of our to-do lists and plans. When we look around, feel the air, smell and see things, and let our minds wander. When the rhythm of our footfalls tunes us to our heart, soul, and spirit, and to the spirit of the world.
If you are stuck creatively or in your life, this can be especially helpful. Or when you’re seeking new inspiration. But it’s wonderful after any time spent working on, or playing with, a creative project. Even after a very fruitful time.
Beethoven was famous for going for long walks every day after composing—and for shorter ones during the day—and he would bring pen and music paper with him to jot down ideas.
For poet William Wordsworth walking was indispensable to writing poetry. Both employed meter and rhythm, and his walks gave him imagery as well as ideas to use in his poems.
Much more recently, in 2016, Clare Qualmann and Amy Sharrocks curated a series of walks, talks, and events called Walking Women, which brought together over fifty women artists to share their artistic walking practices.
A Stanford study has shown that walking increases creative inspiration and truly original ideas. The researchers discovered that “A person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when walking.”
Here’s my invitation and encouragement to you. Spend some time actively engaging with your project, idea, or problem. Then, let it go and go for a walk.
Don’t go looking for ideas. But, in case they come, you might wish to bring a small notepad and pen or your phone to take pictures with or record on. (Just make sure it’s in airplane mode.)
Sometimes you’ll just have a nice walk. Sometimes you may be led to turn down a new path, enter a shop, or you’ll synchronistically run into someone (or something) you need to meet.
Sometimes new ideas will show up in your dreams that night or as you move through your day the next day. Or a few days later. Be patient. Things are percolating.
You might wish to make walking a regular part of your creative practice as so many artists have done throughout the centuries. The imagination thrives on idleness and rhythm, permission and openness, curiosity and wonder. These are all qualities that are abundant when we go for a stroll.