Six Ways Hiking Can Improve Your Fiction Writing

View of Hillsborough, NC from Occoneechee Mountain

Most people don’t think of hiking and fiction writing as being related. After all, there are definite differences between them. One is an outdoor activity; the other an indoor activity. One is ambulatory; the other sedentary. One is physical; the other intellectual. There are other differences, but these are some of the most obvious.

Despite that, there are also many similarities between hiking and fiction writing. Both are frequently solitary activities. Both encourage awareness of your surroundings, whether internal or external. Both explore the impacts of human activity in the short and long run. In these ways and many others, hiking and fiction writing are similar.

Beyond this, there are ways that the two can improve each other. Today I would like to explore how hiking in particular can improve your fiction writing. This is a short list and by no means exhaustive, but it will give you an idea of how you can get the most out of your hiking experience, especially if you do any fiction writing.

The Overlook at Occoneechee Mountain

Setting the Scene

When you’re hiking, you’re not doing it in your bedroom in your birthday suit at midnight when the mood strikes you. (At least I hope you’re not.) You’re doing it at a definite place and time with a definite set of expectations and hopefully some amount of clothing.

This means that you are by default aware of the importance of establishing place and time, defining objectives, and describing the physical attributes of your characters — whatever clothing they may or may not be wearing. And this is the very essence of setting the scene.

Coon Rock at Occoneechee Mountain

Sense of Trajectory

When you’re hiking, you are by default hiking somewhere. You have a definite direction, a definite destination, a definite place in the world.

In fiction writing, however, you don’t. Whatever trajectory you have is entirely dependent on you, the writer, and your ability to imagine a fictional world with fictional characters and fictional conflicts of interest. And this can be daunting.

But by applying the sense of direction, destination, and place which you cultivate in your hiking, you can very easily improve the trajectory of your story and the plot that defines it.

Bright yellow flower

Attention to Detail

When you’re hiking, whether you realize it or not, you’re paying attention to the details of your surroundings. Whether you’re hiking a forest, meadow, valley, tundra, mountain, hill, or wetland, you’re paying attention to what’s around you if only for one reason: to avoid an early death.

In fiction writing as well, paying attention is crucial. If you forget your main character’s hometown or change it every other scene, you as a writer will be assumed to be either lazy, drunk, or amnesiac. If you forget the reason why one of your secondary characters has a scar at the base of his abdomen in the shape of a crescent moon, you as a writer will be assumed to be either lazy, drunk, or amnesiac.

And those aren’t very good reasons for a reader to finish your book.

Wooden suspension footbridge over Eno River

Sense of Accomplishment

When you’re hiking, you have a destination in mind, even if it’s only the parking lot where your car is parked. This means you have a goal, and when you achieve it, you will feel a sense of accomplishment, no matter how small.

In fiction writing, however, that sense of accomplishment is often nothing more than a word count on the screen in front of you. As a result, it’s often easy to overlook or undervalue what you’ve done at any given point in time.

Hiking can ameliorate this by reminding you how each small step leads to an ultimate goal, whether it’s as straightforward as a parking lot or as inscrutable as War and Peace.

Eastern whitetail deer at Gold Park

Awareness of the Body

When you’re hiking, you’re doing something physically strenuous that requires energy and activity. This means you have to be at least somewhat aware of your body.

In fiction writing, however, it’s very easy to lose sight of that. Characters become little more than intellectual abstractions or imaginative shadow puppets when you don’t have a keen awareness of your own body to start with. You can very easily lose credibility in the eyes of your audience if you don’t realistically portray the effects of a gunshot wound or concussion for instance. The same is also true of the effects of a rollercoaster ride or a slice of cosmically divine cheesecake. (Which I have had, by the way.)

And this is important because readers are ultimately looking for a story that they not only can imagine in their heads but feel in their bones.

Winding staircase at Occoneechee Mountain

Increased Health and Fitness

When you’re hiking, you’re engaging in physical exercise that has benefits for health and fitness. Granted, it may not be as beneficial as a marathon, but it is certainly something.

In fiction writing, however, the only exercise you’re getting is the typing of a keyboard. And that’s not much. So if you plan to live long enough to finish your reboot of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (hopefully without zombies), it would be a good idea to take care of your health and fitness, thereby ensuring that body and mind do not become estranged.

So there you have it: six ways in which hiking can improve your fiction writing. Hopefully these insights will help you to integrate these activities more closely in life and derive as much as benefit as possible from both of them. For myself personally, I wouldn’t know what to do without them.

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8 thoughts on “Six Ways Hiking Can Improve Your Fiction Writing

  1. Mark – Well done and well thought out. Your linkages are spot on, particularly your comments on a sense of trajectory. People tend to underestimate or forget that through brisk exertion while hiking a steep stretch of trail, our body chemistry changes. My writing would be lost without hiking as an inspiration.

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  2. All great points. Hiking is great for firing the imagination. Picturing images in the clouds or thinking about ancient people living in the lanscape, what animals you might meet and where a fugitive might hide can all be good story prompts.

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