Thinking on my feet

Personally, I blame the dogs.

No, I don’t actually have dogs. I’m a cat man (Barry and Mac, since you ask: black and tabby respectively, disruptive and disrespectful boys). But in the long and long ago, when I was a teen still living at home, my sisters had dogs (Max and Tanner, since you ask: black and tan respectively, boy and girl, douce and obedient). And it was made very clear to me that these were my sisters’ dogs, but that it was my task to walk them. Family dynamics: what can I say?

At the time, I was just starting to sell stories to magazines. So two or three times a day I’d take the dogs out, trudge around the local park, think about plot ideas or the next scene or run a conversation through my head till it was working.

Process is sticky. Habits are … habit-forming. When I left home, I left the dogs behind but took the walking with me. It was utterly ingrained, that when I needed to think through an idea I had to go for a walk. I used to have set routes – one lap went through the cemetery, one around the hospital – so that I didn’t need to think at all about where I was going. Sometimes I’d come home no further forward, sometimes it paid lavish dividends; my first novel, The Samaritan, was conceived entire from an advertising hoarding I saw outside the hospital, and if I’d gone to the cemetery instead that day, who knows…?

Then I spent a year being crimewriter-in-residence on a sculpture project. No, I did, honest. Every sculpture project should have a crimewriter-in-residence. That should probably be a whole other post: but my point is, a part of my brief was to work with the boys to find ways of incorporating text into their sculptures. Which meant long sessions just talking through ideas in the portakabin that was our office. And after a while, I realised that the boys were laughing at me. That they kept laughing at me, every time. Which I figured out, eventually: as soon as we stopped gossiping and started talking ideas, I was up on my feet and pacing back and forth. Every time, and I hadn’t even noticed.

I can no longer think, sitting still. Apparently. It’s been thirty-some years since there were dogs to walk, and right now I’m trying to sort out a new book proposal, and at any moment I’ll be up on my feet and out of here, walking across the moor, looking for ideas. In the rain, as it happens. Man in motion.

Check out Chaz Brenchley’s bookshelf at BVC, and buy Dead of Light as an e-book.

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Thinking on my feet — 7 Comments

  1. Glad to know I’m not the only one! My most successful houses have had the “flow pattern” people who entertain a lot really want. I prefer tile because otherwise I wear a pattern in the rug. (In summer — it was 107 F. here yesterday….)

  2. I have almost always worked within walking distance, or a short commute, of my day jobs. I used to plot, walking to work. People around me doubtless thought I was another Crazy, because hand gestures and conversations were had by me with me, for the purpose of rehearsal. It’s a fifteen minute walk to the dog-park these days, and an hour there shagging balls for the Moldavian Leaping Hound, so I still have on-my-feet thinking time. Showers are good for thinking too (although not with the dog. She hates water).

  3. Off for my walk right now. I always work things out when I walk. Also when I drive, but only if it’s long distance without much traffic. Driving around town doesn’t work.

    I usually try to fix something in my mind when I get a particularly good idea while moving, so I can write it down later. I get good ideas when training in Aikido, too.

    I’ve just been reading Doris Lessing’s autobiography, and she needs to move to write, too.

  4. When I get stuck I go for a walk, fix dinner, take a shower… whatever is the chore of the hour.

    Without fail the moment I shut off the computer the ideas start flowing. I work through them as I complete my chore then dive back in with entire scenes and sequences laid out in my brain.

    lather, rinse, repeat.

  5. Our dog is always ecstatic when I hit plot meltdown. otoh, his prey drive is so ferocious and there are so many things to chase after,and if he catches me by surprise, he can easily pull me off my feet, he’s fairly high-maintenance for walking, so it’s not a good idea to get too distracted.