Walking and Writing

I have often extolled the value of running and writing yet of late, I’m more inclined to think that walking and writing are better partners. When I completed two half marathons, it occurred to me that training for an endurance run was rather like writing a novel. For running, it’s advisable to cross train which exercises different muscles and builds stamina. In approaching a novel, it’s worth playing with poetry and short fiction to exercise different creative muscles and gather the momentum required to finish the project.

Living in Edinburgh, I’ve found there is an extensive network of walking and cycle paths (following the routes of disused railway and tram lines). Another walkway follows the Water of Leith from Balerno near the Pentland Hills down to the sea. As I’m in the thick of writing a fourth novel, I find that walking aids thinking and development of ideas whereas I tend to empty my mind while running. The walkways of Edinburgh have allowed me to find solutions to plot holds and build jeopardy into the story. 

In coming to this point, it’s also allowed me to reflect upon the work of Bruce Chatwin. His books include In Patagonia (where he searches for strange beasts and meets fascinating people) and The Songlines (where he follows the ancient Aboriginal lines seeking to find the truth about the songs and unravel the mysteries of their stories). Chatwin loved the wild and remote locations he visited and wrote about. He travelled on foot with only a few necessities which enabled him to connect with people in a way others would miss. He believed that as homosapiens we are biologically organised to cover distances on foot. It offered Chatwin a gateway into stories and I believe it will do the same for anyone working their way into a writing project. Happy walking! Happy writing!


  1. Couldn’t agree more although walking is my main form of exercise mixing in some non-serious running and swimming. Similarly, as a writer, my genre of choice is creative non-fiction although I’ve just signed up for a Start Writing Fiction course with the National Centre for Writing.
    I also read a lot by the well-known walker writers and will follow-up on your Bruce Chatwin recommendations.
    Thank you for the inspiration and wonderful photograph!

  2. I read the first couple of paras and thought of Charles Dickens who used to walk miles through the streets of London when he was writing; thinking, observing people, getting into conversations.
    And then you brought up Bruce Chatwin! I loved reading Chatwin’s writing in the eighties. In Patagonia made a huge impression, as did The Songlines. I need to dig out one of those to re-read. His death snuffed out a great writer.
    I followed your link to Chatwin’s Wikipedia entry where I read: “Chatwin’s ashes were scattered near a Byzantine chapel above Kardamyli in the Peloponnese. This was close to the home of one of his mentors, the writer Patrick Leigh Fermor.” And there’s another great walker-writer. Paddy Fermor’s three books about walking, as a teenager, from London to Istanbul in the immediate pre-WW2 are also a great read.
    And then there’s Rebecca Solnit’s books, in particular Wanderlust, which includes a lot specifically about other writer-walkers and the relationship between walking and thinking.
    Walking and writing – you’re in great company!

  3. I’ve been to the tiny chapel where Chatwin’s ashes are scattered. It’s off the beaten track and beautiful. Also read Fermor’s book about the Mani (attended the lit fest there last year). I’ll look out for Solnit’s books – thanks for recommending.

  4. Late getting to this but thank you Gail for the Bruce Chatwin reference. One I must read…and soon.

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