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Solvitur Ambulando

Amanda Swift

‘It is solved by walking’ is the literal meaning of this Latin phrase, attributed both to Saint Augustine and Diogenes of Sinope. Many writers have sung the praises of walking, including the French author and political theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau: ‘I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind works only with my legs.’ The image of the writer pacing up and down the room, wrestling with a writing problem, is a common one.

Writing problems are better solved if you keep pacing, but do it outside. It is common knowledge that walking is beneficial to both physical and mental health. I find it is also useful for problem-solving, be it creative or academic. As you walk, the changes in your surroundings that you notice, even subliminally, can trigger changes in your thinking. New connections between ideas can be made, and it is this process that is key to academic and creative thinking.

If you’re a student, walking to a workplace outside the home, such as a library or café, can be so much better than going straight from your bed to your desk. As you walk, you usually notice other people who may be struggling with different and greater pressures; this experience offers a sobering sense of perspective that can be harder to find at home.

Going for a walk also makes an excellent break during writing. In my workshops, students sometimes tell me that they spend hours at their desk because they are stressed about meeting a deadline, but they get little done. I suggest they take a break and go for a short walk to clear their mind, focusing on the sights, sounds and smells around them. When they return to their desk, they will hopefully have relaxed and be able to work more effectively.

Walking doesn’t cost anything but time, which you will regain afterwards when you progress through your work faster. You can even write while walking. Apparently, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes had an inkhorn built into his walking stick so that he could note down any interesting thoughts on his daily walk. I prefer to make notes on my phone, but that’s not essential. The only things that you really need for this writing technique are a pair of shoes and an open door.

28 November 2018

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