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  • Writer's pictureDamian Robb

Stray Thoughts 04 | Walking With Purpose


I went walking this week.

I quite like walking. I’m not sure I always did, but around ten years ago something made me get up, put some headphones in, leave the house, and go for a walk. I know it was around ten years ago because I have quite a vivid memory of doing so. I can see the path I walked (one I’ve walked hundreds if not thousands of times now), I know how far I went and where I turned around, and can almost hear the music I was listening to as I did so.

It was when my then girlfriend/now wife, Holly, had moved to the UK for a year to work and travel while I was in Melbourne doing a masters of screenwriting. At the time, my cousin Dom and I were living together in what was undoubtedly the least bachelor of bachelor pads, and because of this it was to him that I would notify whenever I was going for a walk.

There’s every chance I’m misremembering this but the way I recall things is that he was speaking to Holly for some reason and she asked how I was going whereupon Dom paused, thought about it, and said, ‘He’s going for a lot of walks.’ He wasn’t wrong.

There is something about walking that is both productive and unproductive. Purposeful and without purpose. While you can of course walk somewhere, with the destination being the purpose for the walk, but often I like to walk with the destination ultimately being right back where I started, with me having left my house, travelled a distance on foot, only to return home, having achieved seemingly nothing. But of course, it’s the walk that is the purpose.

Once you start walking you realise a walk can have a multitude of purposes. They can serve different needs and different mindsets, and as such you can take a variety of different types of walks.

Today, I want to list some of my favourites. The types of walks I take and when and why I take them. Let’s start with my most used, the thinking walk.

In the same year that I started walking I also started writing. Or at least, writing with any kind of structure or purpose. After a couple of years of working in scientific research and deciding, yeah, that wasn’t for me, I got into the aforementioned masters course. I had already completed a bachelors in science by that point, accruing a HECs debt that I’ve still barely even begun to pay off, and I thought, hey why not throw some more on that pile, and so went back to school to study screenwriting. Because I now had a thesis project, which was a screenplay, pilot script, and series bible, I also had some deadlines. Granted, they were very loose deadlines, and now having taught screenwriting at the same level, too loose in my opinion, but nevertheless it was enough that I couldn’t sit around and wait for the nonexistent muse to strike and so began the endless journey all writers go on of trying to figure out how to motivate myself to do this thing I’ve committed myself to do and which I supposedly like.

I read blogs from other writers and creatives about their processes and methods, and tried many of them, but of all of these, the thinking walk was the one that stuck and which I found the most beneficial. I think when a writer is struggling to write, or find themselves unmotivated, it usually boils down to the fact that they don’t know what happens next in their story. I don’t love the term writer's block because that suggests there’s a physical, nearly external, element that’s gumming up wherever it is all the creative juices flow from. I don’t believe that’s the case. I think when someone thinks they’re experiencing writer's block they simply haven’t done the work needed to allow that flow, or are doing the work in the wrong order. Because before the writing, comes the thinking. While the thinking can take place at the desk, or get discovered in the moment of writing, it can also all fall apart when you come across a decision required by your story that your brain isn’t instantly able to answer.

At these moments, what you need is a thinking walk.

When I go for a thinking walk, I’m doing so with the express intent to solve a problem. I’m purposefully utilising that common idea that our best thinking can happen when we’re doing something else and we’re not even really aware we’re thinking at all. I'm trying to harness it, weaponise it, then wield it to eviscerate my problem like the freaking nerdy badass I am.

Here’s how I do it. Firstly, don’t even think about listening to a podcast or audiobook, you manic, as it’s near impossible to think when someone else is talking to you. I usually opt to leave the headphones at home or listen to something instrumental in order to have something in the background but nothing that will distract. Then, I formulate the problem that I’m attempting to solve with this thinking walk into a specific question. How am I going to get my character from plot point A to plot point C? Why does my character want X? And what will they attempt to do to get it? Things like that. Or, sometimes it’s as simple as how am I going to finish this chapter? Or how will the conversation between these two characters go? The question can be big and broad and more on the outlining side of things, or small and specific, it doesn’t matter, just as long as I have it clearly defined in my head as I head out the door. If I don’t have a specific question in my head and I just plan to think broadly about the project then I might get a smattering of thoughts about it, but nothing concrete that will move the project forward, and ultimately, that’s what I’m looking for.

During the thinking walk I also take notes. When I’m ruminating on my question and get some possible answer, or more likely part of the answer that needs more thought, I write it down. That may seem obvious but I know plenty of writers that seem averse to jotting down their thoughts and for me that’s just like letting gold trickle through your fingers. Also, I think writing it down both encourages the brain to keep coming up with answers, since writing it down is a kind of reward, and frees it up to keep exploring that thought and find more pieces to the answer, rather than simply repeat that first thought I did have in order to remember it.

Lastly, I keep coming back to that question. It’s all too easy for my mind to wander, and while I definitely want to allow it some flexibility in the thinking process, I also try to keep a loose reign on it so that if it wanders all the way over to another topic I gently bring it back. Also, if on the walk I find an answer to my question, then great! Time to come up with the next question and get to work planning that. The more I can get out of a thinking walk, the better.

Now, this next kind of walk is location specific, and that’s because it is the Holiday Walk. Nothing hits like a holiday walk. It incorporates the desire to explore with the touristic want to see all the beautiful things a place has to offer, and is usually being done at a time when I have nothing else to think or worry about other than what I am going to do that day.

These days, our holiday planning, all completed by Holly with a kind of feverish intensity where she’s seeing place names and travel routes in the air like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, have holiday walks built into them. If not specific walks themselves, then at least the choice of places that offer a bounty of walking options. It also helps that often we’re travelling to Austria to visit family, a country which has some of the most beautifully mountainous countryside this boy from one of the flattest countries in the world has ever seen.

Holiday walks are invigorating and life affirming and wholly good, and when done right, usually end at a bar or a pub somewhere, ideally in front of a fire, with a local drop of something in front of us as we scroll back through that days photos already reminiscing about the walk that was.

While Holiday Walks take me somewhere new and interesting, often, most of my walks are on the same small selection of routes branching out from my house. I’m lucky enough to live not too far from the Moonee Ponds Creek trail, which, while is more aqueduct than creek, at least at my end, it still provides a line to walk that isn’t just road or footpath. Saying that, I have walked, run, and ridden that path both ways an uncountable number of times, and it’s very likely that I’ll do so an uncountable amount times more. That’s because sometimes you just have to walk, which brings us to the next type of walk; Step Count Walks.

While the idea of doing ten thousand steps a day originated from a marketing campaign for a Japanese pedometer ahead of the 1964 Tokyo olympics it’s also just a nice idea. It is remarkably easy to be docile and immobile and finish a day without having truly moved despite having also filled that same day with work. Having a step counter in my watch is a nice way to make me feel really bad about that, or, to be less cynical, to remind me to get up once in a while and move about.

Walking has all kinds of physical and mental benefits that I won’t bother to go into here other than to say if you want your body to remain healthy and capable for its entire runtime, then there are worse ways to ensure that than walking. As such, I will often go for a walk just to get those steps in. While it can be time consuming, I rarely regret a Step Count Walk even if initially I was just doing so out of a frustrated obligation, and seeing that number ten thousand on my watch at the end of a day reminds me that today I did not sit idle. I moved. I made my way through a small part of the world. I left home and came back again. It’s a good feeling.

On the subject of step counts, I also want to give a shout out to my wife Holly who for the month of March, decided to walk half a million steps in order to raise money for charity. This is no small feat. Not only does it take hours of her day, every day, for the entire month, while still also having to work and socialise and all the rest, but her joints have also not been too happy with her. But she has done good, and, she says, a side benefit to doing this challenge is that after the month is up, ten thousand steps a day will feel like nothing at all.

One more walk to go, and it’s one I assume we can all relate to, and one which shares some commonality with the Step Count Walk. This walk is the Get Out Of My Head/Get Out Of The House Walk. Restlessness is an ironic feeling. It contains the desire to do something, anything, the need to move, to progress, to function, while also not wanting to do anything at all. When I feel this way, and like my head and my house and pressing in on me, I’ve found the best thing to do is go for a walk.

Like I said at the start of this essay, walking is both productive and unproductive, purposeful and without purpose, and so when you feel those twin wants of restlessness, walking is the antidote to both of them. It is also just a bit of time to yourself. Time when you don’t have to worry about anyone else’s wants or desires for you. When you can put the phone away, other than to listen to some music or a podcast or audiobook, and just walk. Clear your head, find some peace in the movement, enjoy the small physicality of it, take in your familiar surroundings, and just walk.

It is one of those gifts that while simple, when you click into it, is constantly rewarding.

I went walking this week. I quite liked it.

Thank you so much for reading these Stray Thoughts and until next time, go for any kind of walk you choose.


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