Listen Up, Writers: Take a Walk!



I am a writer and an athlete. I’m also prone to bouts of seasonal affective disorder(SAD) that crush my motivation to write or exercise.  And as those who suffer SAD or depression will tell you, the longer you go without doing something, the harder it is to get started again.

I’d heard about treadmill desks from Mixed-Up Files alum Hélène Boudreau and had it in my head the desk had to be attached to the treadmill. But I didn’t want an attached desk because I use my treadmill to run, and so never pursued the idea.  Flash forward to the end of October when I was curled up on the couch, berating myself for being a non-writing, gelatinous waste of humanity. The thought of the long, dark months ahead had me in tears.

I needed to do something.

I remembered the walking/writing idea and did a little research. Guess what? Treadmill desks do not have to be attached! Treadmill desks can be free-standing shelving!

I went to a restaurant supply store and bought two 14” x 48” shelves and four poles for about $60. I thought I wanted shelves that were only as wide as the treadmill but am glad I was forced to get the 48” size because it turned out that extra room is great for my water bottle, dictionary, notebook, etc. I recommend getting two shelves so you have extra space but also because the second shelf makes the “desk” more stable.  This type of shelving is fully adjustable so you can tweak the height until it feels comfortable.  (We had an extra ping-pong table net and I attached that to the poles to create a backstop so I don’t have to worry about knocking my laptop onto the treadmill).

So far I’ve walked 47 miles and logged over 2,600 minutes of walking and writing time. I use a spreadsheet to keep track of my sessions, including calories burned (7,050!)  In addition to  those stats, here’s what I’ve learned:

  • It’s important to take frequent eye breaks. Every ten minutes or so I look up and out my window where I’m fortunate enough to see things like this: 

  • Because I’m a runner and geared for “faster/farther,” I initially also had that attitude for walking and writing. Wrong!  I learned the hard way it’s best if I work in 60 minute sessions at the slowest speed: 1.0.  This means I walk exactly one mile in one hour, but it also means I don’t suffer eye strain and upset stomach. I do, however, set my incline at 3.5 because that’s most comfortable for me. (Note: my heightened vision sensitivity may be due to the progressive lenses I wear and you may find you don’t have any problem walking faster and/or longer.  The key is building slowly.)
  • It’s helpful to increase the screen magnification.
  • There are days the treadmill seems extra creaky and loud, so I keep earplugs handy.
  • When I’ve reached my walking/writing quota I stand on the unmoving treadmill to continue working because while walking beats standing, standing beats sitting.

Verdict? My mental, emotional, and physical health improved via the treadmill desk. You know what else happened? (Beside gaining a new-found evangelism for treadmill desks? Ahem.) My writing life has improved. I’m writing more consistently and the writing feels stronger. My current work-in-progress is more cohesive than the second drafts of other manuscripts I wrote while sitting down.  Granted, much of that is due to writing from an outline for the first time, (HA!) but I also believe my brain is working in different ways.  Now when I’m stuck, I walk slowly and gaze at the finches and clouds as I work out the solution. I don’t quit and go visit the refrigerator. I don’t quit and check my email.

I don’t quit.

(Speaking of email, when I first mentioned having a treadmill desk my spouse wondered if I’d want internet connection in our basement and I said, “Absolutely not!”)

The walking/writing has also reignited my exercise routine. I’m back to daily yoga and runs, and even hooped outside one warm afternoon. I’m no longer the weepy woman on the couch. I realize converts can be an annoying species, but hope you’ll look beyond my zealotry and consider incorporating a treadmill desk in your life.

Remember: when you walk and write, you’re always moving forward.


15 thoughts on “Listen Up, Writers: Take a Walk!

  1. You have inspired me – I want to try this! I’m so glad you took pictures so I can see what I might need in the way of supplies. We already have a treadmill in the garage. I wouldn’t want to write out there thought, it’s cold and dreary. But if we move things around in my office, I think it could work!


      • Hooray for you feeling inspired! And double hooray for you already having a treadmill! I wouldn’t want to write in the garage, either, but office space sounds perfect. Let me know if you have any questions because I’d love to help you get going, Lisa.
        Thank you for the kind words on my improved health.


      • I told my husband if he could get this set up for me, it would be a great Christmas gift. He is very handy, so he should be able to do it. He’s wondering what store specifically you bought your parts at? Thanks!


      • Here’s the link for the place we went to in Colorado:
        I’m not sure if this is a national chain but if you look up “restaurant supply” I’m sure you’ll find a place near you. Also, my spouse said he saw similar shelving at our Costco so that’s another possibility. I recommend not getting anything wider than 14″ because we tried 18″ at first and that took up so much room it didn’t leave much walking space on the pad.


    • Oh, this makes me very happy. Let me know if you have any questions. As for the treadmill, I bet you can get one for not a whole lot of money via craigslist or something like that; lots of people buy treadmills and don’t use them.


      • So much enthusiasm (and yes, evangelism, lol)…I’m really happy that this is working out for you in so many wonderful ways.
        I’m of a mind that exercise is a very important tool in a creative person’s life. Aside from the very real benefits you’ve outlined here (wow oh wow!), I think maybe the underlying secret is that, when we find our bodies/minds/spirits getting stale & flabby, we need to switch things up a bit. Here’s to helping each other find ways to keep things fresh, and all that implies… xoxo


      • I absolutely agree about the need for switching things up. My kids tease me about my many activities/pursuits, but I think that’s what keeps me sane. I need to play the piano or hoop or run or walk or plank or yoga or whatever. I need to keep doing different stuff.
        Thank you for putting up with my evangelism, Melodye. 🙂


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