In addition to taking kids on a metaphorical walk in an imaginary forest, I also take them, within the first three days of school, on a bonafide walk with a little writing thrown in for good measure. I call these excursions writing walkabouts. Writing walkabouts have been used for centuries by writers as an individual exercise to stimulate creativity. Dickens, Twain, Hawthorne, Hemingway, Thoreau and others all walked as a means of processing, musing, ruminating, and generally, getting their blood pumping for those long nights at the writer’s table. In addition to reducing stress and decreasing depression, walking stimulates the imagination and provides students with stimulus that is unavailable in the four walls of a traditional classroom.
I’ve been on several writing walkabouts in large cities – New Orleans, New York, and San Francisco — with groups of writers who gather together for this specific purpose. The walkabout takes a writer on a journey of sights and sounds, a leisurely stroll through one’s town or in a new territory, stopping along the way to write and respond. Most formal walkabouts last all day and incorporate at least two stops for meals. The basic concept is this: you, and possibly two or three other writers, start out walking, then you decide to sit and write at a spot that appeals to you along the way. There’s no map, no schedule, no arrangements. Writers may write about the spot itself or write about something else–a memory or a story–that the spot brings to mind. After twenty minutes of sustained writing, each person reads what he or she has written in the place. No response is needed. The readings are just offered up, then the group moves on to another spot.
During the year, I take students on a field trip for a day-long walkabout at the fabulous Lexington Cemetery, but today’s walkabout was just around Lafayette’s campus. I had asked students to wear comfortable shoes, and bring along a pen or pencil and sturdy writing notebook. During a regular walkabout, students would break into small groups, but today, since it was their first walkabout, we did it as a large group. We started out on the sidewalk in front of Bluegrass SCAPA. Then we sat in the parking lot and looked across the street to a row of residential houses, then we walked down to the creek that runs behind the school, and our last stop was near the front portico of the main building. For the sake of time, we only shared once.
From the walkabout, some students had started the first tentative paragraphs of a short story. Some had jotted down a few lines of poetry. Others scribed childhood memories while others scribbled rants and manifestos. The great thing about the writing walkabout is its ability to bring physcial movement and external stimulation to the act of writing. During the walkabout, we heard birds, lawn mowers, cicadas, chain saws, sirens, train whistles, and we smelled and felt even more – the wet rocks of the creek bed, the dew on the grass, the sun beating down on our shoulders. The movement jogged the memory and the bones, the blood was pumping and the lungs were full. Good writing was bound to happen.