Riding Out Your Thoughts

I’m guessing it’s a pretty safe bet that most everyone’s routines have been disturbed since the middle of March. Which is not a good thing, since we humans thrive on routine. And when our lives are disrupted and we can no longer do the things we’ve been accustomed to, it can be hard on one’s mental health.

For me, as I wrote about earlier, what I miss most is sharing meals and drinks with other people at restaurants and bars and each others’ homes. Yes, Robin and I do host small (4-6 people) gatherings in our back yard with everyone sitting a good six-plus feet apart from each other. But it’s not the same as rubbing elbows at a noisy bar, or passing the communal salad down a long dinner table.

There is one thing, however, that has not changed in my life over the past five months (has it really been that long?): I can still go on my twice-weekly bicycle rides. And thank goodness for that.

bike and boardwalk

view of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk from West Cliff Drive

Much as I sometimes dread the steep climb I know awaits me—the burning calves and the gasping for breath, not to mention the icy fingers and feet when the temperature drops low—I also know I will return home invigorated and refreshed, ready for that steaming cup of coffee that is my reward for having once more vanquished the devil on my shoulder urging me to forget the ride and instead roll over and go back to sleep.

But there’s more to my cycling routine than that. There are the cottontails, deer, squirrels, red-tail hawks, and coyotes (and even an occasional bobcat) that I see along the way. (A list of all the fun critters I’ve seen on my rides can be found here.) It’s a bit like a Disney cartoon at times, and I half expect them all to break out together in song.

UCSC bike path

the UCSC bike path

And most of all, there’s the time to be with my own thoughts. I’ve had lots of fellow cyclists ask why I prefer to ride alone, and the main reason is that it’s during my bike rides when I get my best thinking done. It’s when I ponder my life, my relationships, my plans, my hopes and desires.

But perhaps more important for this mystery author, is that it’s during those rides that I accomplish a huge chunk of the plotting for my books. And I often talk to my self out loud as I do so. Good thing I tend to whiz by folks who are out walking, or they might worry about me.

And hey, there’s nothing like working out a pesky plot point or coming up with a clever title to take your mind off the pain searing through your thighs as you pump up an 8% grade.


No, I’m not in this group. (It’s a shot I took when the
Tour of California came through Santa Cruz some years back.)

Readers: When do you get your best thinking or planning done? In the bath, lying in bed, while you walk the dog?

41 thoughts on “Riding Out Your Thoughts

  1. I tend to work out plot problems right when I’m trying to fall asleep. If I’m really tired I just hope I’ll remember them later rather than waking myself up to write them down. Of course, you know how that goes. Honestly, I’m not sure how you remember what you thought up during a long bike ride. For that matter, I’m not sure how you think clearly while pedaling up an incline!

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  2. Dash and I ride regularly, and even though our rides are less strenuous than what yours sounds like, it’s a highpoint of the day—mind-clearing and both relaxing and invigorating at the same time. It seems some small cornerstone of normality in our days. Thanks for the post.

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    1. Oooo…I LOVE that period when you’re first waking up! My problem is that I think I’ve come up with the most amazing plot twist ever, only to realize it’s ridiculously stupid when I come fully awake.

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      1. I’ve tried that thing where as you fall asleep you concentrate on the question you’re dealing with. The idea being that your subconscious works on it for you while you sleep. It never works for me, though, just makes my dreams weird. I mean, I’ve never had dinner with a giraffe in any of my novels or in real life.

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  3. I can never tell when a great idea will strike. They’re prompted by many things – writing, reading, everyday activitites, watching TV. I should distribute legal pads like Keenan Powell…

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  4. Thanks for sharing. Wish I lived there! Water seems to solve any plot difficulties for me. I’m always assured that I’ll solve something, or have a lightbulb go off over my head if I’m in the shower, or wait for it…doing dishes by hand!

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    1. Yes, C.L! The water connection for me, too. I’d already recognized the bath/shower/lap swimming connection for me, but forgot about the dishes (which I wash extra-diligently when I’m supposed to be writing). Apparently Agatha Christie was a champion dish washer also. Not much lap-swimming going on for me anymore as I don’t have a pool. Now if only dishwashing would burn as many calories…

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  5. We don’t have many bike riding venues in my area (no bike lanes or sidewalks), but motorcycles are very popular. (Those are a big NO for scaredy me—I’d rather pedal a Nantucket-style bike with a wicker basket up freaking Mt. Washington. Luckily, in addition to the water deal I just mentioned, I have additional inspiration sources on tap: Nothing like a funny, zippy rom com or Hallmark Xmas movie. Really.

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  6. I love that picture of the UCSC bike path. Gorgeous.

    I get up every day at 5am. I make coffee and feed Nala. If I’m stuck on something, instead of picking up the book I’m reading or checking facebook, I pick up a notebook and a pen and just start writing. Usually the question goes right at the top, like a title: Why Would She Go There? … What Is His Secret? … How To Get Them From Here to There? And then I just start brainstorming. Every bullet point seems to start with “Maybe…” By the time I vomit out all the obvious stuff crowding my brain, I can get to more original, more interesting plot ideas. Maybe…..

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    1. I kind of do the same thing while cycling–talking out loud to myself: “But WHY would Sally do X?” or “What is she going to actively do at this point to move the plot along?” Which is why I’m glad I’m on a bike and not walking along a sidewalk with other people…

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  7. Sometimes the best plot ideas come while I’m driving — and unable to write them down. But in the car I talk out loud to myself (or my characters!) as I work things through. Leslie, your bike rides sound peaceful and inspiring!

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  8. One of the benefits I’ve found of running is that it helps clear my head. I completely understand. And I’ve been able to keep running even though all my mud runs for the year have been cancelled. 😦

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  9. Gorgeous photos, Leslie! I’ve been known to formulate ideas in the shower. I also love taking walks (especially near nature) to get my creative juices flowing. I do ride my bike, but like Marla, it’s too tough for me to pedal on an incline/avoid cars and do any real thinking. When I’m out and about, I tend to carry scraps of paper and mini pens for jotting things down!

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  10. This is wonderful, Leslie! I love how exercise lets me work my mind as well as my muscles.

    My boss used to tell me that he came up with his best ideas while running. All I usually thought was, “There’s a rock. There’s a stick. Watch out for that ditch.”

    I think I do my best work in front of a notebook. The biggest challenge is being able to read what I’ve written!

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  11. Leslie, so sorry I’m late to this party but OMG, what a gorgeous post! I wish I was there with you. I do some of my best thinking on solo hikes in my neighborhood but I’ve lost where I used to do some great mental drifting to plots: Target! Yup, my mindless Target runs provided me with so much material that I thanked them in the BODY ON THE BAYOU acknowledgments!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. My method includes plotting while plodding, even when it’s only around my house. Now that it’s summer, I swim almost daily. My pool is surrounded by trees and I can enjoy nature while figuring out how I’m going to off my next victim!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi Leslie! Seeing your picture of Santa Cruz makes me want to be there! It has been too long since I’ve visited the sites there and in Aptos! I do my best thinking in the shower!

    Liked by 1 person

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