Why writers + dogs = good ideas

It took me years to admit I wanted another dog. As a working parent, I didn’t want more chores. But gradually I remembered how much I’d loved my childhood dog. I remembered her unbounded enthusiasm for whatever we were doing, how she made me laugh every single day. And in a chaotic house of growing girls, a little mute company and unquestioning adoration wouldn’t go amiss. As a friend said dryly to me, ‘Make sure you have a dog when your kids turn teenage – at least someone will be glad to see you in the morning.’

 The good dog Tess

The good dog Tess

So, needless to say, when our daughters were four and seven, we got a dog. The kids love her, I love her, she is generally A Good Thing.

What I hadn’t realised was how good she would be for my writing.

Before Tess, I walked. I walked to work up at Lumb Bank. I walked at weekends, as long as the kids could stand. I walked with friends, and sometimes, rarely, I walked alone. But it wasn’t every day, and it wasn’t in the middle of a writing day.

 Tess on summer walk

Tess on summer walk

Sure, I knew the theory. I’d read Julia Cameron, bestselling author of The Artist’s Way. She prescribes certain tools for creativity, including the well-known Morning Pages, the Artist’s Date and the Weekly Walk. Of the walk, she writes ‘It allows us to find both perspective and comfort. As we stretch our legs, we stretch our minds and our souls.’ (1) She quotes St Augustine’s ‘“Solvitur ambulando” – “it is solved by walking”’.

And now there was a small four-legged creature that needed several outings each day, I found myself putting this theory to the test.

 spring woods 

spring woods 

I usually do a stretch of writing at my desk, then, around late morning, when I hit a block or my concentration wavers, I take the dog for a walk.

We have a favourite route up the hill from my house. It takes half an hour. We walk up a track through established oak and beech wood. Then we turn off down a footpath through a newer, sparser silver birch grove. The grass is tall and green here, and in the spring there’s a carpet of bluebells. Next we skirt a heather field – where the dog disappears after rabbits - pausing on a steep rocky hillside overlooking Hebden Bridge, with uplifting views east and west. The return path brings us through a dense, dark holly tunnel and back to the track.

 Tess walk in snow

Tess walk in snow

There is something about the circular route and the familiar but changing terrain that always produces a result. Sometimes I mull on an idea. Sometimes I just walk. Sometimes I’m acutely aware of my surroundings, all the tiny signs of the deepening seasons, sometimes I’m oblivious, lost in my head. We’ve done that walk in all weathers: in hot summer sun; through a peaceful spring twilight; and, rather stupidly, in a vicious blizzard.

And almost without fail, the rhythm of my footsteps loosens the blockage in my thinking. Or it takes my thinking somewhere else entirely. It’s rare that the answer hasn’t emerged by the time I’m on the final strait. This probably isn’t very hard to explain. I’m guessing my doctor could give me an excellent scientific rationale involving oxygen and increased circulation.

All I know is that it works. My writing is better for being broken up with walks.

I go back to my desk with fresh answers, finding new connections and directions in my work. The dog goes back to her bed happier, waiting for my working day to end. Thanks, Tess!

(1) Cameron, Julia, Walking in This World. New York, Penguin Putnam Inc, 2002.