November 12, 2007
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It’s funny. As I get older, I have noticed that I’m more willing to take time to get places. I’ve started walking from our house to downtown Mountain View, and am more willing to take long weekend road trips rather than flying to nearby destinations like L.A. or Vegas (though I do like to fly–I like airports, don’t mind the TSA, and love the enforced downtime of air travel, which allows me to catch up on reading and writing, unlike road travel, where I’m either driving or feeling I have to keep the driver engaged). I was thinking about that the other day, and I think it’s linked to a conscious effort to slow down and look around. And that relates to writing in that it’s important to see not only the places you choose to be, but the places you have to go through to get there. Interesting things happen at junctions and intersections where different areas meet: the train station on the way to the downtown, where commuters mingle with residents and shoppers/diners; the town that straddles the commercial highway CA 101 and the agricultural areas all around it; the exit from the busy I-5 artery to the sleepy farms outside it.
Perhaps it’s just from writing Aya’s Journal and trying to imagine a Bronze Age civilization that had to walk everywhere, or ride horses long distances. It’s certainly interesting to stop and think about how unimaginable a 16-mile commute would have been just a hundred years ago, and what changed in our society as a result. It can also help you look forward to the future: look at all the spaces in between the interesting destinations, ready to be filled with people if only there were an easy way to get there. If we developed safe teleportation, do you think people would still live in cities, when you could wake up in a mountain home in Idaho, walk out your front door, and be at your job in Manhattan? We’re already seeing how the Internet has changed and enabled communities by breaking down geological barriers. But you have to understand those barriers before you can really appreciate what it would mean to remove them.
Walking also gives me the chance to think about stories I’m working on (though I don’t always). I have said for a while that the most important part of writing takes place when you’re not at your computer, when the ideas and characters can run around loose in your head and spin the story. When you know the story, the words come much more easily. I’ve had some of my best story breakthroughs while just walking or sitting, thinking about the story or about something else altogether (I must credit my partner for another recent story breakthrough–he was reading a WIP and made a comment about what the story was about that crystallized the ending I’d been having trouble with).
Try it this week. Walk to the store, the restaurant, around the block. Take your time.