What I find most fascinating is that there’s no one blueprint for writing a novel or short story. Everyone seems to have a different method for developing a story: hearing an idea in something said by an acquaintance, the kernel of a scene that takes shape in one’s mind and stays and develops, a vibrant dream, brainstorming with friends or thinking in silence all alone in an office.
But the larger story ideas come to my mind and develop at specific moments. And I see that those times tend to always be similar – when I have moments of solitude, far away from telephones and computers, when I have time to think in silence. It also seems to be at moments when I’m physically active. My mind seems to be more creative when I’m exercising – when I’m swimming laps, or skiing or hiking.
Somehow, these activities liberate my imagination. I always come back with new ideas and plot developments. I’m eager to return to the computer the record my ideas and the words seem to flow freely. I don’t know why these moments of revelation always come during physical exercise, but they do.
It doesn’t even have to be intense exercise, it happens when I’m walking… and I tend to walk a lot. I must have one of the most beautiful ‘commutes’ of all time. I walk to work. I live in Rome and early each morning I pass the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine, the Palatine Hill. There are few tourists – or Romans – out that early and I enjoy gazing on these monuments without the crowds while my characters’ actions play out in my mind as I’m strolling past the Eternal City’s most spectacular remnants from the past.
I swim a few times each week and the back-and-forth rhythm in the lanes manages to get my creative juices flowing. I’ve resolved numerous plot difficulties effortlessly while crawling or backstroking across the pool. When I eventually sit down in front of the computer, the story flows easily. If I tried the same approach locked in a room in front of my computer, I wonder how long – or even if – I’d reach the same solution.
So as long as it works for me, I’ll plot my stories and flesh out my characters and their motivations in the swimming lanes, on the slopes and hiking trails and strolling by the wonders of the Ancient Roman Empire. Beats the office any day!