Kate DiCamillo’s Writing Life Is Fueled by Walking

Kate DiCamillo with Ramona (photo Candlewick Press)

There likely would be fewer Kate DiCamillo books in the world if it were not for her daily walks zigzagging through Minneapolis. Movement gives her the distance to see a story with fresh eyes and the perspective to evaluate her work. “I’ll do multiple [writing] sessions, so to go out and walk in between really helps clarify things,” she says.

The acclaimed author logs six miles a day with her mini goldendoodle Ramona, and later walks two more miles solo, meandering through her neighborhood. Moving her legs moves her brain, she says, shaking out solutions for plot points and character development.

“I’m walking around muttering as I walk. Ramona will turn her head and [indicate], ‘Are you talking to me?’” says DiCamillo.

“I find it’s very helpful [to my writing]: paying attention, seeing the world, connecting yourself to the world, to the people around you, to the trees around you. There’s a great saying some monk once said: solvitur ambulando. That’s Latin for ‘It shall be solved through walking.’ The answer will come about what to do next in the story.”

2024 already has been a busy year for DiCamillo, including the release of a novel called Ferris and the first book in an early-reader trilogy, Orris and Timble, which Publishers Weekly likened to Frog and Toad.

DiCamillo lives near Lake Harriet, but prefers quieter residential routes, mixing it up each day in order to prioritize muttering over socializing. She describes Minnesota as “absolutely central” to her success as a writer. DiCamillo has written more than 30 books for young readers, and has sold more than 44 million copies. She is one of a handful of writers who has won two Newbery Medals, which she keeps in the back of a desk drawer.

All those stories have unspooled on looping squares of sidewalk. DiCamillo walks whenever she can. If it’s raining, she dons her rain jacket and rain boots. If it’s snowing, she slips into snow boots with cleat-like bottoms.

“Just yesterday, I had a wonderful insight as I was walking in the evening,” she says. “It wasn’t a problem solved as much as a door that opened in a story that I’m working on. That kind of thing happens all the time for me when I’m walking.”

It’s been 24 years since Because of Winn-Dixie catapulted her into national recognition. She continues to hunt for the details to make a story sing. For instance, her bestselling pig protagonist Mercy Watson’s love for buttered toast came from an impassioned tangent DiCamillo’s friend went on as the author drove her to the airport.

“She started to talk about the virtues of toast and how it should have a great deal of butter and how it should be spread to the edges,” says DiCamillo. “I knew something had been missing from that story, and that was it. I’ve learned to pay attention to when the details come up. I write it down. Sometimes it will be years until I actually use it, but I know enough to know, ‘That’s a thing.’”

Her passion for storytelling is a balm for troubled times. “We need stories to remind ourselves who we are,” DiCamillo says. “I think it’s more important now.”

Orris and Timble, for example, flowed from a desire DiCamillo felt during the pandemic to make readers feel safe. “It provided that comfort and love when I was making it,” she says, “and then it provides that comfort and love to the reader.” Far from a solitary and sedate life, she indicates, writing requires movement of the body, heart, and mind. DiCamillo says she’s never lost her inner child. “I remember it all so clearly: the magic, all that sense of possibility and also terror. Everything is so vivid.”

She relates to Beverly Cleary, who gave an interview when she turned 100. “She was talking about how that inner child is right here, on the surface. I thought: ‘That’s the way it is for me too.’”

DiCamillo, now 60, receives fan mail from young readers. Candlewick, her publisher, sends her 30 to 50 letters a week. Even when it’s raining, even when the writing is hard — and she says it usually is — DiCamillo keeps walking and writing, propelled by a sense of gratitude for her rich creative work. “I can’t believe how lucky I am,” she says. “I found what I’m supposed to do, I get to do it, and I get paid to do it. Unbelievable.”