Writing exercises of the literal kind – walking

If you’re anything like me, you love making your characters run for their lives, climb mountains or go six rounds with a werewolf, but know you’d be screwed if it was you. Yes, I have trouble motivating myself to do exercise, and I’m sure I’m not alone. The cosmic irony in this is that I often write my best stuff when I’ve been exercising. Getting my blood pumping round my body gets the ideas pumping round my head it seems.

I’m trying to clamp onto this fact to encourage myself and I’ve decided to write a few blog posts on the subject, starting with something relatively un-strenuous; walking.

If you’ve ever passed someone in the street and heard them talking to themselves, that may have been me. I have been known to hold entire conversations with my characters and plot out complete scenes while on the move. And, sometimes, having to hold that idea in my head and go over it several times before I can get to a notepad or a laptop means that, when I do finally put words down on the page, they are better for it.

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Let’s go on a Description Walk

The benefits of thinking about your writing projects on the move are not always enough of an incentive to get up and go out for a walk, though, so I came up with the idea of a description walk. Not a new idea, I’m sure, but new to me.

I think this is best done with pen and paper, but if you prefer, or you don’t have those things on you, you can use a note taking program on a phone or laptop.

Start walking and look at what’s around you. Explore. Find some interesting things, take a moment to let them inspire you and describe them.

Use all of your senses. The important thing is that you write down your observations while you are there with the thing you are describing. Concentrate on what you get from the experience that you wouldn’t get from looking at a picture. If you have a camera you can take a picture to go with your description as a record for later, which is great it you want to blog about it later.

Here’s some more ideas:

  • Describe something you see every day. Look at it in a new way as if you are seeing it for the first time.
  • Describe a moment in time. Pause and watch something for a moment then describe the way it moves or changes in that moment.
  • Describe a feeling. Stop and think about the way something made you feel. Try to capture your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations for a complete picture.
  • Have an opinion. Let something you encounter inspire an opinion on some matter and describe it, including the link between what you encountered and the opinion.
  • Watch people. Take a moment to observe some people and describe their appearance, their actions and the thoughts they trigger in you.
  • Describe a sensation. Close your eyes and listen. Smell a flower. Try to find words to capture sounds, smells and the way things feel when you touch them.
  • Describe someone’s message or intention. The world is full of symbols and messages; pick one and describe what you perceive to be its message.
  • Describe the weather, and don’t just write “it’s sunny.” Observe and write down the unique aspects of the weather on that day, in that moment.
  • Be creative and/or write a poem. Although it’s called a description walk, you don’t need to restrict yourself to describing things. Write whatever you feel inspired to write, but let your surroundings be the source.

I hope next time you go for a walk you’ll take a pen and paper with you and see what sparks of creativity the world outside can ignite. Drop back with a comment or a link to your own post and share what you found.

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Here’s a few little bits from a walk I took

A large pond surrounded by green banks and reeds. The sky is overcast.POND

A gust of wind ripples the surface and turns it from dark green to a mottled, moving sea of dots, reflecting the pale grey of the sky. Close to the bank, close to me, the ripples advance like marching soldiers. The lines split and divide; a moving version of the pattern on a sandy beach left by the waves. They remind me of the ridges on a fingerprint.

A bright mural on the walls of a concrete underpassCAN DO

The sound of the traffic crossing the road behind me almost melds into a constant hum, like the roar of water along a passage, or blood along an artery, perhaps.

I lean on cold concrete and galvanized steel, but my eyes see a fairy tale; bright, primary colours; green hills, blue sky, yellow and red flowers. Everything  has a black outline, to keep it contained. The clouds are fluffy, the butterflies are bright and the sign says “can do.”

A castle, a lighthouse, a mine, a church. A school, a road, a park.

The people smile.

Can do.

An dark underpass tunnel. The exit appears as a square patch of light. DARK TUNNEL

I turn into the underpass, into a dark tunnel. The bright mural here is the sea; ducks above and fish below.

Dry leaves blow through from outside. The roaring traffic recedes.

Splashes of neon graffiti offend the innocent eyes of the cartoon ducks and fish with obscenities.

My footsteps echo behind me. That is an echo, right? The leaves rustle. My heart rate quickens. I have to look over my shoulder, but there is no one. Still, my blood pumps faster and I hurry on towards the light.

A view from beneath an elecricity pylon or towerPYLON

Triangles in triangles support each other towards the heavens. This is a monument to out drug, out life line. We are dependent on electricity.

I lay beneath the spidery metal tower, listening to the buzz of its current; billions of electrons passing, in every minute stretch of time, along wires no thicker than my finger, held aloft by this web of steel, insulated from the flowing juice by ceramic disks.

People say pylons are a blight on the landscape, but the crossing steel beams form a beautiful, intricate pattern against the pale grey sky, and the tower hums its music to me. Is it the tower or what it represents which makes us so uncomfortable? For if we will not admit to the addiction, why not embrace the monument to it?

Small green pods on a plant with pink flowers and light green leavesSNAPPING PODS

A smell triggers a memory. When I think about it, I cannot even pick out the smell, but the memory is there. I hunt for what I know will be there, even though I could not tell you how I know; snapping pods; little green seed pods with ridges along their length. They swell out then contract like a manhandled balloon.

I pick out a large one, a ripe one.

The smell, I realise as I bring my nose down, comes not from the flowers, but from the pods themselves; a musky, woody smell. Resinous.

I stroke one finger along the pod and “pop,” it splits. Little black seeds ping away. I jump and then laugh at myself for being silly.  The split pod now scrolls back like octopus arms.

No matter how many times I do it, I’m never ready for the pop and I always laugh.

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Creative Commons Licence The images in this post are original photographs by Chrissey Harrison and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

6 Replies to “Writing exercises of the literal kind – walking”

  1. A nice idea Chrissey… great for shifting writer’s block too I would imagine. I enjoyed your descriptions, and as learning exercise I reckon it would work well.

    The only suggestion I could add may be impractical, but if you are writing a particular scene, characters etc try and visit somewhere that will evoke the appropriate sensations, associations and feelings. Go out in a storm. Take an understanding friend as an escort into a darker corner of a city. Visit a castle or monument to give your writing that authenticity. Going to a local pub/hangout of the type of characters you are writing about (using a little common sense of course).

    Art can work best when it reflects life…

    Alternatively use Google maps. Works for me ;).

    1. That’s some great ideas you have there. Plus now, when you turn up with a black eye, I’ll know you were only in the seedy bar doing “research”.

      I’ve used Google maps and street view before, it’s certainly helpful when the place you want to research is a bit to far away for a day trip.

      And, next time you go for a jog, imagine you’re being chased… there might be more to come on that 😉

  2. Fantastic ideas Chrissey, and some really great ways to get the creativity flowing. I loved how you included pictures and a whole lot of great ideas to stretch the imagination. This was a well put together blog and it took some time to get this all together. I enjoyed reading it and will try some of these exercises. Your descriptions are vivid and creative. Good blog this week! 🙂

    1. Thanks Pat, I’ve had this one in the works for just over a week. I would have posted it last week but with the award I decided to keep it back and do a bit more work on it. I don’t want to slip into a habit of writing posts that are too long though.

  3. Cleverly thought out and you can find some inspiration for some scenes from your own walk. I also like the way that you’ve taken some unusual photo’s such as the shot looking up at a pylon. Try that with other things like bridges, some of these can set a wonderful scene within a story. For me the pylon shot is almost like a spiders web, which then begs the question of what type of spider would weave that and what would its purpose be?

    Thanks for this Chrissey. I’ve got a lot to think about. Perhaps put up a shot and ask people to submit something to a certain word count. You’ll be amazed at the different stories you get back from it.

    1. Thanks for dropping by. I’d like to do a give away at some point, so maybe I’ll do some kind of photo prompt. Great idea.

      Photography is something I love but am still exploring. Those pictures were taken with my phone camera, I’ll see about posting some from my DSLR in a future post.

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