Since writing is such a sedentary affair, I really try to get out of the house in the late afternoons and walk a few miles. It’s not exactly a hardship since I live in paradise, with the ocean to my south and the mountains to the north – a gorgeous eyeful wherever I look. The rest of the country is in a deep freeze, but it’s been in the ’70s here in Santa Barbara. (I know, I know. I’m very lucky.)
I don’t belong to a gym, don’t do Pilates or yoga, don’t even wiggle a Hula Hoop around my hips. My only concession to “organized exercise” is the Tracy Anderson DVD I pop in the machine when I’m in the mood to be sore the next morning.
My usual walk involves me and my iPod. I walk at a fast clip, music turned up loud – something up-tempo that inspires me to keep moving. (I don’t mind admitting that I am not a snob when it comes to disco. I love it, especially for walking and, of course, dancing.) Anyhow, it’s when I walk that I try to review what I wrote earlier in the day. I get fresh ideas. I think of how to revise and edit. I clear my head.
Today I deviated from my solitary routine by walking with an actual person: my friend Gale Goldberg, a freelance architect with many varied clients. As we kept pace with each other, she described her recent trip to San Francisco where she consulted on a residential project and enjoyed the interaction with the homeowners.
“I spent most of the time listening to them,” she said. “I let them do the talking and just took in what their needs were. And only after they were done did I figure out how to design their house, which is why I call myself an ‘archiatrist.'”
“A what?” I asked.
“A combination architect and psychiatrist,” she clarified. “I’ve had many mental health professionals for whom I’ve done freelance work and they pass my name along within their circles. Over the years I’ve found that good listening skills and translation into problem-solving solutions are essential for successful projects.”
We continued our walk – I think we did a good five miles – but it wasn’t until I got home that I realized how much writers and architects have in common. We both need to listen and observe. We both need to get a sense of what makes people tick. We both need to take what we’ve learned and create something that wasn’t there before.
Some of my best ideas for books have evolved from simply listening to and observing others. Today’s walk with Gale reminded me of that.