I’m perpetually surprised with how creatively productive physical activity can be. I’m not an athlete by any means, but I regularly take my dog out for about 2.5-3 mile walks in the mornings and then my wife and I tend to go out (with the dog) on weekends for a big hike. As if built out of predictable and reliable clockwork, I found that if I start the hike thinking about a scene or a story I’ve been having trouble with, by the end of the hike I’ve figured it out. It’s magic.

I’m sure there are scientific explanations for it––endorphins and oxygen and whatnot––but I think focus makes up another big part of it.

As said above, I am not an athlete and hikes pretty quickly turn away from the Romantic ideal of walking beneath the ever-shifting shadows of leaves and discussing philosophy and life. Instead, we descend into a machine-like trance, literally feeling and hearing how everything in the body connects to itself as we push our husks up a hill one step at a time. It is in that mode that you can find a balance and––in that balance––a quiet rhythm. Hitting that, I can kind of put the body into autopilot, knowing that everything else will keep chugging forward at the general pace I set for myself.

That rhythm, though, is also a great place to throw an idea into the pot and let the engine churn it over and over. Thinking about story helps distract from how exhausted I am and allows for a hyper-focused analysis and problem-posing of a story I’m working out.

This scene––where Long John gets the tar beaten out of him for the events in Chapter 3––bubbled out of this percolator, shocking me so much with its clairty that I remember laughing upon its discovery and yearning for the next place we get to rest so I can discuss it and write it down.

I shouldn’t be perpetually surprised by how effective this is. Again, there may be a science to it but to see how often it has worked for me––driving out to the middle of nowhere for an extended hike through the natural wild––without any planned agenda or goal should be a sign that I should really lean into it. Perhaps that would take the magic away. On the other hand, I would get really fit as a side effect.

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