Use Your Commute for Effective Writing


When I describe the distance between my apartment and WordRake’s office as “walkable,” people usually envision a fifteen- or twenty-minute walk. My next line is that my commute is an hour and just under four miles.

Upon learning how I define “walkable,” people usually ask me what I do on my walks. Explaining that I silence my phone and don’t listen to music confuses them even more. If I’m not sure I’ve completely convinced them I’m strange, I tell them I like walking to work because it’s a great time to write, and that’s sure to throw them.

But renowned writers support my walking habit. Annie Dillard won a Pulitzer for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, in which she considers life’s nuances while walking near her home in suburban Virginia. According to The Atlantic, she began Pilgrim at Tinker Creek on a neighborhood walk with her husband’s former student:

“On the walk I thought, God there’s a lot of neat stuff out here, and after that, I started taking those walks all the time,” [Annie] told [The Atlantic]. “I was fascinated because it was just a stupid little suburban neighborhood, but animals don’t care. They don’t care a bit.”

Everyone’s commute time and method vary, but we can source inspiration from any commute. The people, plants, animals, even structures we pass afford many opportunities to observe the world and consider our places in it. Cities and remote areas both teem with life interacting. While traveling home today, write down five of your observations. The small details—and why you noticed them—might surprise you. Those details lead to more effective writing, because clear imagery carefully selected allows readers to participate in what we hope to convey. In Seattle, people and nature give me a lot to process and describe. In the past month, I saw a man hoist a bicycle into a tree decorated with caution tape in what I can only assume was a commentary on Seattle’s bicyclists,  and watched a harbor seal bob close to the shore: two events memorable for very different reasons, and both have found their way into stories I tell.

To write well, we need distance. Just as we physically remove ourselves from our workspace when we commute home, so too do we remove ourselves from our work. All commutes are conducive to processing ideas and distancing us from our work; and that is crucial to writing effectively.

Writing isn’t just putting words on a page. Everyone plans and plots differently, but we all need to generate ideas. Although I enjoy writing, I rarely feel inspired to sit and type for hours. This is especially true when I am writing early drafts. After my editor and I chose this topic, I tried to prompt ideas by going on a walk. The same was true the next day, when I delayed sending this piece to him so I could walk another 3.7 miles before facing my laptop. That walk led me to restructure this piece, as long walks have for several other pieces on WordRake’s blog. Being physically away from my work allows me to process and return more objective, which is critical to ensuring my writing flows well and interests readers. And after my thoughts begin to flow, I bring in WordRake to help me see the dull and unnecessary words I can remove to express my thoughts more clearly. If I didn’t use WordRake every day myself, I wouldn’t suggest you do. Because writing’s hard, it’s nice to have a collaborator. Try it free for seven days here.

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About Gary Kinder

Gary Kinder
Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for the American Bar Association, the Social Security Administration, PG&E, Kraft, Microsoft, and law firms like Jones Day, Sidley, and WilmerHale. His critically-acclaimed Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea hit #7 on the New York Times Bestsellers List.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to provide writers a full-time, reliable editor; to save them time and money; and to give them the confidence their writing is as clear and concise as they can make it. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has awarded nine patents to WordRake's unique technology, and Harvard Law School has recognized WordRake as "Disruptive Innovation."