Slaying Writer Dragons: Epic Skill #3, Physical Prowess

iStock_barbellcloseThis is the final installment in our series on how to fight the dragons of writing.

We explained why being a writer is like getting commissions to go out on an epic quest in exchange for monetary reward, and why that makes you pretty awesome. We also explained why you need to train your awesomeness mentally, emotionally, and finally – today, in fact – physically.

Now, writers are not necessarily a physical bunch. We wind up with tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome and back problems from being hunched over a keyboard all day – and it’s not as though there’s a rumor running around that all writers are secretly epic ninjas by night. What writers mostly are by night is, apparently, alcoholics.

None of this bodes well for our physical prowess.

But do we really need physical prowess? After all, the talents of a writer are in the mind and in the proper understanding of the human psyche. Being able to bench-press 220 isn’t going to make us better at our jobs.

Except for the part where it will.

Now, don’t panic if you can’t bench 220. I can’t either. But if you’re not getting out and doing something physical on a regular basis – running, jumping, climbing trees, taking yoga classes, having sex – you’re selling yourself short as a writer.

You see, the other common understanding about writers is that we all suffer from writer’s block. This is by and large true. Every writer has had a day in which he sat down at his computer and absolutely nothing flowed forth from his otherwise brilliant mind.

The mistake most writers make is thinking that writer’s block goes away if you continue to sit there in front of the computer and try really hard. This sometimes works, but it is very painful and difficult. It often means you’ll be sitting there for many more hours than you should be.

The other option is to go take a hike.

No, seriously. Go take a hike. Go ride your bicycle for a while. Go for a walk. Go call your significant other up for a bit of afternoon delight (I can’t help but mention it, okay? It’s the best exercise activity ever, and no one was more pleased than I was when health magazines started telling me how many calories you could burn while doing it. My favorite was the magazine that clarified you would burn x number of calories – and I quote – “if you do it right”).

Exercise is good for your writer’s brain for several reasons:

  • Exercise shakes up your routine. Sometimes, pushing forward through writer’s block only makes you more frustrated. This is not a path that leads you to inspiration. If you take a little break to not think for a while and just focus on raising a sweat, your brain will be rested and ready to take on the assignment when you return. Apparently your brain has a hell of a time stressing out about the writing AND putting one foot in front of the other. This is to your benefit.
  • Exercise makes you happier. There are some days when you just don’t feel like working. There are days when you’re sick, or depressed or stressed out about the fact that the refrigerator is broken again and you really can’t afford a new refrigerator. Exercise is the endorphins releaser. It actually changes your brain chemistry and makes you happier. That’s good for writers. We are a generally a solemn folk. That’s why I talk about happy animals so much. (PENGUINS!)
  • Exercise makes your brain work better. This is awesome and true. There are many studies showing a direct correlation between cardiovascular exercise and brain function. Short story: Go for a run, and you’ll have an easier time thinking of the perfect adjective. Other kinds of exercise, like weight lifting, also help, but not nearly as much as the cardio. So get your heart rate up and you’ll turn into Shakespeare. Not that Shakespeare was a jogger, but he was apparently quite the philanderer, so yet another vote for sex as the activity of choice.

There you are, my friends. Mind, body, and spirit, the ways to rock out
your writing world and turn into the champion of clients everywhere.

You may send me a small tithe of your earned fees for the next dragon you slay, as well as any appropriate treasure you may have collected, for memento purposes of course. Please be sure to include a photograph for the gallery of Epic Writers, which I will be constructing in Jamie’s living room.

Why Jamie’s living room? Because then it won’t get screw up my living room’s feng shui, that’s why. Must I think of everything, people?

Post by Taylor

Taylor Lindstrom (fondly known as Tei) is a twenty-something copywriter and journalist from Boulder, CO. She’s the team’s rogue woman who wowed us until our desire for her talents exceeded our desire for a good ol’ boys club. She loves the color green, micro-point Uniball pens, and medieval weaponry.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Good thoughts, Taylor. I find just taking a walk is the one of the best ways to recharge and get past a mental block. The exercise combined with what you see/hear/smell outside seems to really help.
    .-= Suzannah´s last blog ..NaNoWriMo: How To Write A Novel In 30 Days =-.

  2. Nice article. I write a lot and also design a lot. I’ve found that when working out on a regular basis, these things become much easier. When I stopped working out for a month and a half, my work level dropped drastically. So now, I work out a lot.

    oh, and I couldn’t help but chuckle at the vast amount of “go have sex” references you made. It’s very true though.

  3. Definitely agree with getting out there and exercising. I’m addicted to running becasue I like how it smoothes me out in a morning and gets everything moving. It’s also perfect for daydreaming and mulling over ideas which is always good for a creative boost.

    It also means I don’t have to give up my other addiction, which, aside from writing and singing, is food 🙂
    .-= Amy Harrison´s last blog ..Why Copyblogger’s marketing is like finding “Good Vibrations” on a compilation of jingles… =-.

  4. When ever I get stucked with ideas for my blog, I try to do something different for that they. I forget about blogging and forget about my blog. As you said, I usually go out and take a walk. Also, i seem to get a lot of ideas, when I hang around with my little son and watch children programs.
    .-= InternetHow Blog´s last blog ..7 Ways to figuring out blogging success =-.

  5. Totally agree with you Tei, my productivity and quality of work – not just writing, it’s everything I do – drops significantly when I’m not getting exercise. Usually that’s running, however a few others that you mentioned get practiced as well. 😉

    I had a bad back for months earlier this year, muscle pain, knotting, sciatica, my left hip joint giving way…. all because of a lack of exercise. Since getting back into running and pilates the pain is nearly gone.

    And did you mention that the fitter you are the better the sex????? LOL
    .-= Melinda | WAHM Biz Builder´s last blog ..Systemising Your Emails =-.

  6. I agree. I’m in the army so I’m required to exercise at least 5 days per week, but I’ve noticed massive increases in my energy level and motivation levels since I started 2 1/2 years ago. I get so much more done when I’m physically active.
    .-= Nicholas Cardot´s last blog ..Spend Money Wisely to Build Your Blog =-.

  7. Great post! I get most of my blog writing topics when I am exercising (usually for my diet & fitness blog), but where I fail is that I don’t always start typing them up as soon as the exercise ends. Waiting sometimes loses the plot for me.
    .-= moonduster (Becky)´s last blog ..Finding Time To Write =-.

  8. Brilliant and so very very true! I try to get up from the computer and walk around every hour or some – it definitely helps. Plus, the karate my kids and I take every day or so is a great way to enjoy family exercise as well.
    .-= Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog ..Kitten Pounces on WolfDog – Today’s Humor! =-.

  9. My best ideas come when I work out. It’s the same way with problem solving. If I have a particularly nasty problem to work on, usually stepping away and doing something physical helps me sort it out. I find that if I don’t work out regularly, my energy and creativity level sinks like a rock. Great advice.
    .-= Jarie Bolander´s last blog ..I Hate People: The End of Phony Optimism =-.

  10. I like this.

  11. Wendi Kelly- Life's Little Inspirations says:

    Ok, ok, so..I’m leaving now and heading for the health club where I SHOULD have been rather than stalling and reading blogs. was worth it.

    But I am going soon as I refresh ER one more time…THEN I am…for sure..really.

    I am!!!!!! I mean it this time!!!
    .-= Wendi Kelly- Life’s Little Inspirations´s last blog ..Life Choices =-.

  12. It’s one of those things I’ve always had a hard time reconciling. On the one hand, I know the science behind why exercising is good for writing and creativity in general. On the other hand, I rarely hear about how fit my favorite writers are/were. I do, however, read frequently about their numerous vices.

    So, when I’m about to head out the door for a run, I always take a last look at the bottle of gin sitting on the shelf and wonder, “Am I doing the right thing here? What would Hemingway have done?”

    Then I remember the science. I also remember that there’s other aspects of my life beside writing, and those will certainly suffer if I go the alcoholic route as opposed to the exercise route. Thoreau wrote, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” That’s a quote I try to live by.

    On a side note, I’m still trying to figure out how you can do it so wrong that you don’t lose calories…
    .-= Adam Di Stefano´s last blog ..17 Tips for Crafting Copy that Sells =-.

  13. Brilliant article, Tei. You must have gone on a wee jog before you wrote it, eh? 😉

    I like to exercise when sitting in front of my computer doesn’t yield any fruit. A half-hour break for a run and a shower? Coming back to the comp is practically a gift.

    Now I feel guilty. Next you’re going to tell me that I need to stop eating after 9 o’clock, pick up a 6 am yoga class, and that I need regular visits to my gynecologist.

    *sigh* Thanks, mom.

  14. Suzannah – It can be, yes. Walking is the quick ‘n easy version. It’s the exercise equivalent of an energy bar when you’re hungry. It’s not a full meal, but it takes the edge off and lets you get back to work.

    Mike – Same here. I work much better when I exercise more. And other things.

    InternetHow – Children are weirdly inspiring. They must never learn of their power.

    Melinda – This is an excellent point, and I cannot imagine how I neglected it. Pay attention to Melinda, people. She’s got my back.

    Nicholas – I had a boyfriend in college who was in the Marines. He couldn’t fathom how I would stop working out in order to study. He was like, go work out, then you’ll have to study less. I didn’t follow the logic then, but now I do.

    Becky – That’s true of any inspiration. I’ve found it’s handy to carry a little Moleskine notebook around. Then you can jot down the salient points while they’re fresh and flesh it out later.

    Barbara – Hai-YA!

    Jarie – True. When people say they get great ideas in the shower, I always wonder if there is some rigorous shower routine they’re going through that I am unaware of.

    Ryan – That is good.

    Wendi – Shoo!

    Adam – Doesn’t hurt to come home and have a drink, either. The exercise makes your body less tolerant to alcohol, which means you need less booze to get a buzz. Mostly all alcohol does is lower your inhibitions. It doesn’t make you more creative, it just makes you less likely to censor yourself.

    Rose – After, actually. And it wasn’t exactly “wee”. It was Pilates and a 5-mile run. I find I’m a little too buzzed after a serious workout to write, but being fit overall helps keep me focused the next morning. And then of course little breaks like a walk are very good for re-focusing creative energy.
    .-= Tei – Men with Pens´s last blog ..Slaying Writer Dragons: Epic Skill #3, Physical Prowess =-.

  15. Hi Taylor,
    I love this post! Yes, it’s a common problem with writers who have so much to read and write and so less time to do anything else. I felt my writing had declined ever since I neglected my walking routine in the mornings!
    Thanks for reminding me… and that “doing it right” too depends on this crucial aspect…:) I mean everything in life depends on our fitness.
    .-= Solomon´s last blog ..HEADLINE or HEARTLINE? =-.

  16. Yes! I have an obvious bias here, but this is one of the few absolute truths I know. If your body is happy, your mind is going to be happy as well. There is something cleansing about forcing yourself to do some physical work. I am rarely as clear-headed as I am after a workout.

    Physical activity is a way to drive some distractions away for a while. Then, when you’re ready to focus again, it might be easier.

    Good good good, Taylor. I nominate this for greatest and most useful post in the universe.
    .-= Josh Hanagarne´s last blog ..Self-Image: How to Get an Undentable One =-.

  17. @Tei – Just to be clear, the internal struggle between the bottle and the exercise was tongue-in-cheek. I’ve never been accused of being a teetotaler, but I also don’t have a drinking problem. Just so we’re clear. 🙂
    .-= Adam Di Stefano´s last blog ..17 Tips for Crafting Copy that Sells =-.

  18. Would’ve been here earlier, but I was busy having s-…

    *squints* Some exercise, people.. Sheesh. Dirty minds, much?

    Point is, it’s absolutely true. Exercise can really get the mood up, the creativity flowing and the back feeling a lot damned better.

    I go skate laps at the arena twice a week for an hour for specifically this reason. If I skip a week, I don’t feel quite right.

  19. Very true, I often jog just to let my mind wander and escape the box. I find that the longer I sit in front of my computer while I have writer’s block, the more I get frustrated.
    .-= Tom Wanek´s last blog ..Bucking Conventional Wisdom =-.

  20. Exercise is really important. We need to be physically fit to be a well-rounded person. Thank you for sharing something like this. This will awaken the minds of people who refuse to exercise. Nice!

  21. It’s so true! The more I run and exercise, the more I write.

    I especially find that on days I feel like quitting mid-run and I push myself to continue until I’m done, I also push myself to keep on writing until I reach my daily goal.

    And then my excitement about my writing gives me energy to go out running again!
    .-= Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome´s last blog ..Measuring Success: The Lab Rats Review Their Progress =-.

  22. Hey Taylor,

    There are some cross roads come to every work. And every person deals with it differently.

    I deal with it in a positive manner. I think out of the box, I do some wild thinking, which is really cannot be applied, but eventually it makes my feel like relived from the tense thinking that prevents me from moving on.

    This is a really thought provoking post.

  23. Tony Ramirez says:

    WOW, this is actually really true! I went to the gym last night for my first time in about 4 weeks, and the first thing I did was get on the treadmill. Once I was warmed up, I started hitting the weight and well, long story short, as soon as I got home, I was on the move! I had a lot of ideas on my mind, so I wrote several drafts and I just wanted to get up and do something!

  24. Solomon – Yeah, I know, it’s especially hard to make time for it when you feel like you should be working on so many other things. You just have to convince yourself all those other things will go more quickly and make up the time you took to exercise. Because they will.

    Josh – Did you hear that, James? GREATEST AND MOST USEFUL POST IN THE UNIVERSE! I so win the office pool.

    Adam – It’s okay, dude. The collective forces of MwP is not scheduling an intervention of any kind. Right, guys? ::WINK::

    James – Dirty, nothin’. Sex can burn up to 200 calories an hour if – and I quote my favorite article here – you’re doin’ it right.

    Tom – Yeah, frustration is bad. See my comment to Jamie above.

    Print – Welcome, anytime.

    Alex – It’s the most vicious of cycles.

    Rick – Wild thinking, huh? Your house must be crazy on a Friday night. Thanks for the compliment!

    Tony – Good for you. Do it again! And AGAIN!
    .-= Tei – Men with Pens´s last blog ..How to Freelance the Specific, Smart Way =-.

  25. Great post and so true! I started working with a trainer last November and the difference in how I feel and look is amazing. Old problems, bad shoulder, sore back, are now things of the past. Now I’m sore because I’m USING the muscles. I convinced my writer boyfriend to join me and he’s lost weight, feels better and looks great. While getting up the positive attitude to go to the gym to get my butt kicked still haunts me some days, I find I’m more productive, happier and sore, for a good reason. Of course, we also employ your other exercise ideas, except for climbing trees. I’ll leave that to the squirrels.

  26. I say take it all the way! Start running marathons or even better…try a triathlon on for size. Great stuff!
    .-= Nathan Hangen´s last blog ..Blogworld Expo – The Recap =-.


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