Louisa May Alcott’s running shoes

Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott

The January 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest has an article by Joy Lanzendorfer called “If Walls Could Talk” about her visits to literary sites. (The article isn’t available online, but you can buy a copy of the issue here. The section “Write That Novel” had a lot of good articles, too.)

I was particularly intrigued by Lanzendorfer’s comments about Louisa May Alcott:

[She] liked to run (a rare pastime for a woman in the late 1800s) near her home in Concord, Mass., which helped her find the energy to write Little Women. A cousin said she was ‘the most beautiful girl runner I ever saw’ and that Alcott liked to climb trees and jump fences; people even say she once walked from Concord to Boston for a party.

A woman after my own heart! I’m an avid walker/hiker/runner and I get antsy when I’ve been sitting too long, which makes writing a tough occupation (“Learn to sit” was among the first writing advice I ever received and I still struggle to follow it). I love the image of Alcott running down the street in the full skirts and leather boots of the 1800s—long before the invention of Lycra in neon colors and reflective running shoes—and then going home to write.

Lanzendorfer’s point is that physical activity “can invigorate writing in unexpected ways.” Sometimes just a walk around the block can help me puzzle out a writing problem that would take me a lot longer to resolve sitting still.

The other point I want to make is that when you’re writing historical fiction, it’s easy to get hung up on what was the norm for a particular time period. It’s good to be reminded that there are people who buck convention in every era.

And by the way, the distance from Concord to Boston is about 19 miles.

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