Observational walking is one of my favourite ways to de-stress and free my mind so I can focus in on my creative writing without distracting thoughts. I also find it helps me if I am feeling a bit stuck, or just not sure how best to proceed with a story.
I am lucky that I live in the west of Ireland in the countryside and near the sea, so there are plenty of peaceful walks. However, I have done this on city walks and in parks, so don’t let your surroundings stop you using this powerful tool.
Observational walking is a form of meditation and is not complicated. You simply walking at a pace where you can be aware of sounds and can carefully observe your surroundings.
A SLOWER PACE
The pace might be considerably slower than your usual walking pace, so if you do a daily exercise walk you can do some observational walking as a warm up or slow down stage. The key is being aware; listening and observing. Listen for the sounds as you walk, whether that be birds singing, dogs barking, children playing, traffic, chatter – it doesn’t matter, just listen and be aware without judging the sounds and without thinking about them.
THAT WANDERING MIND
If you find your mind begins to wonder about the source of the sounds, or other distracting thoughts then simply focus on your breath for a moment. Each time you are distracted return to focusing on your own breath.
It doesn’t matter if you are distracted, or if your thoughts run away – you can return to focusing on observing your breath at any time – this will provide the empty spaces in your thoughts and allow your inner creativity to emerge.
As you walk along let the sounds and sights you see come to you – rather than look around for them. Again without judging or thinking – just quietly observing.
Observing your surroundings clears a space in your mind for creative writing ideas – it also means you remember a great deal more. The most trivial observation can grow into something much, much bigger.
This morning, for example, I noticed a woman stepping on a crack in the pavement. If I wanted to develop this further it might go as follows:
Mary walked quickly. She mustn’t have been superstitious or else she didn’t notice a crack in the pavement. She didn’t slow down, and she didn’t step around it.
Jack noticed it. Jack also noticed the small metal square embedded in the dirt. He snatched it up and dropped it into his briefcase before Mary had even walked the short distance to the edge of the footpath.
Creative writing activities such as observational walking clear the mind so you can notice and create something even from a simple crack in the pavements, or a strangely shaped cloud, or even a name carved in a tree.
In this newly created space ideas are allowed to form and emerge. When you have a new idea always ask yourself what if? Here are some examples:
One morning while I was out walking my dog paused to stare at a trampled trail leading to a hole in a field. I knew it was a fox hole having seen plenty of foxes in the area on previous occasions. But…what if it wasn’t a fox hole…
The hole had been made by someone desperately trying to escape from something.
If it was a portal to another realm.
A shortcut to a children’s hiding place
Once you slow down and pay attention to your surroundings you will start to see a lot more than grass or footpaths. There is a whole world out there ready to hand you ideas on a plate all you need to do is stop for a moment and take a look.
‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.’
Best of luck with trying out these writing activities.
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