INTERN recently finished reading a fascinating book called The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram (a rather fuzzy title, thinks INTERN, for a very smart book). INTERN is notoriously terrible at paraphrasing books, but the basic gist (or at least, INTERN's unreliable and not-to-be-trusted version of the gist) is that since the invention of the alphabet, and in particular the vowel, humans have increasingly existed in relation to a purely human set of signs (as opposed to existing in relation to the entire living, breathing universe, as oral cultures seem to have done.) Literacy, according to Abram, sealed humans off from nature in a serious way--allowed us to live more and more inside our own heads, transfered meaning from the treetops to the page.
Oh, INTERN is so bad at this.
Anyway, it struck a chord. As writers, we spend so much time in relation to words—building imaginary worlds, forming arguments, thinking up the best possible phrasing for a thought. Everything that goes onto the page comes from the writer's brain, or is quoted from another writer's brain. It's like so many mirrors, all reflecting yourself back at you. When INTERN writes, she becomes strangely impermeable to the world. She needs to block everything out in order to enter the word-magic. INTERN knows a lot of other writers (and, come to think of it, programmers) also require this deeply blocked-off mind space in order to do their work.
When INTERN gets up and goes for a walk in the forest or city, however, she gradually feels herself becoming permeable again. Colours and shapes and sounds and smells all flood in. Where the act of writing turns INTERN into this tight little laser beam of selfness, going outside dissolves her, at least a little bit, and there's a palpable relief at becoming part of the world again.
Have you ever gotten stuck with your writing, then taken a walk and had a million brilliant insights pop into your head? There's probably a scientific explanation for this phenomenon (and if you know it, please share!). To INTERN, it almost feels like the ideas are coming out of the air, or shaken loose from her limbs by moving around. It's like there's a part of your brain that can only know certain things when it's taken away from the computer, and by going for a walk you let the genius loci take over and fill in the blanks.
Or maybe going for walks to prevent writer's block is just another writing superstition, like not shaving your beard while you're writing your novel, or, like, only changing your underwear every 100 pages (INTERN knows who you are!)
What are your writing superstitions? Are you a walker, a bath-taker, a rain-dancer? Why do these things help us so much? Is it just a whimsical habit, or is there something larger at work? INTERN wants to know!