Monday, July 2, 2012

Writer on the Go

When I was in college, my fantastically athletic older brother would call me occasionally and somehow in the midst of our conversation he always ended up telling me that I should exercise more.  I ignored him.

This is my brother's idea of fun: volunteer galley slavery....I do not share his views!
That doesn’t mean he was wrong, though.  About the time I hit age thirteen, I also hit a very sedentary stage of my life.  I went to a pretty intense private school, and I was very committed to my studies, so what I did was study, read, write and generally turn myself into a geek.  I exercised very little, and my brother’s thought was that I probably didn’t get enough oxygen flow to my brain.  He obviously wasn’t paying any attention to my almost impeccable GPA when he decided this.

However, though my grades stayed steady, I got rather plump for my height, lacked muscle tone and endurance, and felt dissatisfied with my appearance.  The culmination came when I had to study for comprehensive exams at the end of my sophomore year in college.  I had no time to cook or sleep, so I consumed more fast food and coke than was really good for me.  I went home at the end of the year feeling the need for a change.  I was ready to listen to my brother at last. 

Ever since slimming down that summer, I’ve been more interested in exercise.  Also, ironically, just after that I began my first novel.  Perhaps my brother was right about the oxygen flow…

So what do I do?  I walk a lot, because I enjoy it, and I like swimming and biking as well.  However, like most things, exercise takes time, and time is a writer’s most precious commodity.  The other factor which can dissuade me from getting out when I should is that I dislike purposeless activity.  For example, I can never ever take up jogging, because I can’t understand the point of just running for running’s sake.  When I exercise I want to accomplish something or go somewhere.  The mere process isn’t what satisfies me.

That’s why I decided to make exercise work for me as a writer.  Doing so resolves both my need for a goal, and my lack of time.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who has just that need and just that lack, so I thought I would share my methods. 

Imagine writing in a cafe and seeing THIS!
First of all, a tangent.  I just want to say that I totally envy all you writers out there who live in big cities.  I have visited New York, Paris and Athens, and all three cities are a perfect artistic environment.  You can walk to a café or a park or a library or a museum, as near or far from your home as you want, park yourself there and write to your heart’s content.  Along the way you catch sight of cultural monuments which inspire your creativity.  You glimpse people and scenes and situations – new things every time you go out.  Stories practically flow into you.  Even though I wouldn’t want to live in a big city forever, I must say that I think it would be incredibly fruitful for me as a writer to reside in one for at least a little while.  There would be a perfect combination of cultural background, fruitful activity, and writing material. 

Anyway, since I do not live in a big city, but in a rather dreadful sleeper community between two small, mostly unremarkable cities, I have to find other means.  My chief one is walking.  Every day during the school year, I take a half hour walk at lunchtime to refresh my mind after a morning of clamoring students.  It’s during these outings that I often work out major plot points, because my mind is free to wrestle with characters and timelines.  Also, it’s less frustrating to think while moving than while staring at a computer screen on a desk.  Walk to prevent writer’s block!  That’s my motto.  (Not really!)

Idaho grass field
If I didn't go on walks, I wouldn't discover views like this!
Besides this, any outing can open the eyes, even if I don't live in a fascinating city.  For example, if I want to write authentically about the way grasses in farm fields wave like the sea under wind, then really I need to walk in a field while the wind is blowing.  If we are supposed to make art out of our own lives and experiences, then we have to get out of the house and fill ourselves with as much as we can.  I’ve written multiple poems about things I’ve seen while just strolling down the street in front of the school where I teach, which I’ve walked probably a thousand times.  There’s something about the out-of-doors which awakens creative vision.

Now, in the summer, when I’m not teaching, I like to up the physical activity a notch.  Last summer I house-sat for six weeks for a family who seriously lives on the side of a mountain, so I took advantage of that to go for a mini-hike almost every day.  This summer I’m living at home (besides a few days of house-sitting), so I had to think of another plan.

One of my many, many interests besides writing, cooking, fashion, etc., etc., is sustainable living.  Besides that, I also don’t get paid during the summer, so it feels good to use my car as little as possible and save gas money.  Those two factors, combined with my desire to exercise with a goal and to write in a quiet place with internet service, produced an equation.  The solution for that equation was…biking to the library!  Self-powered, pollution-less transportation, no wasted gas money, three miles to cover one way, and at the end, a perfect writing environment.  I’m loving it, I must admit.

Obviously other people who want to write (or otherwise pursue artistic endeavors) and exercise may not have a library close enough, but there is probably a café or some such pleasant spot within walking or biking range.  On the way there, powered by your own legs, you can have time to think, and then when you arrive, you can write down whatever came to you.  It’s an almost perfect scenario. 

That’s why I hope you all can spend at least a bit of the summer like me: zooming past houses and shops, ideas and inspiration merrily streaming behind you as you go! 


  1. My main exercise (with a tad help from the self propelled part) is mowing the yard sometimes twice a week - though with lack of rain that's down to once a week if that. I also try to hang most of my wash (dependent upon the weather) so it's in and out and walking around the umbrella clothes line. I also chase my grandson ...occasionally. I've also got stairs that I'm constantly going up and down. I had 'thunder thighs' in HS and vowed not to be like some family members that were 5' high and just about as wide. I also try to eat better, moderation being a key word...and just eat less. I'm not a monk living on air. But I see no need to eat food just because it is available. Protein on one's plate is supposed to be the size of a deck of playing cards or a cd disc. Half to a third less the size offered in most restaurants and the in-laws generous weekly meal invite. And of course one is supposed to eat more veggies and fruits than cookies and cakes. Good luck with both your battles to control intake and writing. I enjoyed your post today. Thanks for your visit.
    PS: Another form of exercise is standing at the kitchen counter and not using a food processor to chop veggies from the farmers market to make cucumber and onion salad, home made pasta sauce, veggies to add to the baked Dutch oven chicken dish as well as a fresh veggie salad. Trying so hard to avoid those 'arm muscle' wobbles... :)

    1. I am a big believer in the 'cooking as exercise' that you mention in your comment - besides chopping, hand-beating things and kneading are great for arm toning ;)

      Thank you for your comment. I agree that moderation in diet is the key thing: eat what you want, but no need to consume just because you can. It sounds like you have a nice active life around your house. I think that's the most sustainable exercise, when you can use the daily tasks to stay fit! The bike rides I've been taking are just the icing on the cake, really.