Tuesday, August 12

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, August 12, 2014 3 comments
I don't know about the rest of you, but August can be a very chaotic month for me, with vacations and back-to-school preparations and a total lack of routine in far too many areas. My daughter's dance lessons are "drop ins" and her guitar teacher shifts days around, some church activities don't meet, while others are more frequent.

But even when I feel this scattered, I have a couple of routines that help me not lose all track of my writing.


Image by jorgeyu, morguefile.com
A fifteen to thirty minute walk first thing in the morning makes me more alert and helps me gather my thoughts. I bring no gadgets, no music, no companions. This is distraction-free time when I can just think.

An April 2014 study from Stanford University found "Creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter." They also noted "Across the board, creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to those sitting."

The good news? It's the act of walking and not the environment that matters. So when the weather's horrid, stepping onto a treadmill can give you similar benefits.

Of course, there are also health benefits to a daily walk, including reduced cancer, diabetes and heart disease risk. And if you're struggling with low energy, short walks are the ticket to breaking the vicious cycle of lethargy (lethargy tends to breed more lethargy). A bit of sun exposure during an outdoor walk will increase your levels of vitamin D, an important nutrient that improves not only bone health but also mood (why that is hasn't yet been studied in depth, but depression can be a symptom of vitamin D deficiency).

A walk can also be a great afternoon pick-me-up, especially when you've hit a crossroads in a story and can't decide how to proceed. Let your mind roam as your feet do, and your creative mind will offer ideas and solutions.

Write longhand

While I have no desire to return to the days of all longhand composition, I do find it extremely helpful to do some longhand writing every day, whether note jotting, brainstorming, or free-writing. I've tried all kinds of warm ups over the years and longhand is the one that never fails to "prime the pump" for me.

Apparently educators and cognitive scientists have been looking into why longhand writing is so beneficial to our brains. Virginia Berninger, professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, used brain scans in her research on the benefits of longhand. She found that "as your hand executes each stroke of each letter, it activates a much larger portion of the brain’s thinking, language, and 'working memory' regions than typing." Keyword there? The language portion of the brain is more actively engaged.

Another study of elementary aged children found "writing by hand improves students’ creative writing skills, and elementary students actually write more quickly by hand than when typing. Compositions are also longer when written by hand...."  My experience bears that out--when writing longhand I'm more apt to write more ideas and edit less. There's something about the flow of the physical act of moving a pen across paper that keeps ideas flowing. (For more on this line of research, see "How Handwriting Trains the Brain.")

If you want to get out of the vicious cycle of having nothing to say, try journaling about it with a pen and paper. Chances are pretty good that you'll have more to say about having nothing to say than you might believe. Then voila, you've taken the first baby steps away from wordlessness and toward expression.

What routines do you try to maintain in chaotic times? What benefits have you found from walking and/or writing longhand?


  1. I won't be returning to longhand with my manuscripts, but I do often write out blog and guest posts in longhand first.
    I go to the gym four to five days a week and that time on the treadmill really clears my head.
    Thanks for signing up for my blogfest!

    1. I prefer longhand as a warm up--and for very portable note taking. It's great for getting ideas flowing. Keep on walking, inside and out. Your creative brain will thank you! Looking forward to the fest!

  2. Excellent ideas! I love to walk - it clears my head and helps me sort things out. Well, and it burns calories too. :) Although I use my laptop for much of my writing, I still like to write in longhand too. It makes you think differently somehow, doesn't it? When noting scriptures in my devotional time, I prefer to write them out. Somehow it helps me better grasp and retain the truths. Good post!