If you're feeling trapped indoors, suit up and take a walk outdoors. Wandering around — observing, talking to strangers, taking pictures, inhaling the rich diversity of unfamiliar life, may feel unproductive or even wasteful. But innovation needs to be informed and sometimes provoked by the unpredictable hurly-burly of messy, surprising real life. Suntae Kim, Evan Polman and Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, researchers from New York University, have found that students who were allowed to walk freely, rather than along a fixed path, were able to generate 25% more creative uses for various objects.
In a recent essay, Verlyn Klinkenborg connected Charles Dickens's extraordinary creative output to his nightly walking. "He is lost in a kind of mental ventriloquism," he wrote, "calling up his emotions and studying them. Every night he walked a dozen miles, without which, he said, 'I should just explode and perish.' Under the pseudonym Boz, Dickens wrote, 'There is nothing we enjoy more than a little amateur vagrancy, walking through London as though 'the whole were an unknown region to our wandering mind.'"
In The Writing Life, author Annie Dillard knitted together stories of other walking writers. "Wallace Stevens in his forties, living in Hartford, Connecticut, hewed to a productive routine. He rose at six, read for two hours, and walked another hour -- three miles -- to work. He dictated poems to his secretary. He ate no lunch; at noon he walked for another hour, often to an art gallery. He walked home from work -- another hour. After dinner he retired to his study; he went to bed at nine. On Sundays, he walked in the park....Like Stevens, Osip Mandelstam composed poetry on the hoof. So did Dante. Nietzsche, like Emerson, too two long walks a day. 'When my creative energy flowed most freely, my muscular activity was always greatest....I might often have been seen dancing; I used to walk through the hills for seven or eight hours on end without a hint of fatigue; I slept well, laughed a good deal -- I was perfectly vigorous and patient."
Walking, or running, as Haruki Murakami, explains in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, can be a catalyst for work. "To keep on going, you have to keep up the rhythm. This is the important thing for long-term projects. Once you set the pace, the rest will follow." He says, "long-distance running suits my personality, though, and of all the habits I've acquired over my lifetime I'd have to say this one has been the most helpful, the most meaningful. Running without a break for more than two decades has also made me stronger, both physically and emotionally."