One of my major takeaways from doing NaNoWriMo this year – aside from how many holes I’ve got in my story! – is that all that sitting is hard on the body. I spent the month scurrying from home to work and back, needing every spare minute to reach that 50,000 word count. It was a monastic and lonely existence – no wine, no dinners out! – with just my characters to keep me company.
What I realized is that it’s not just the physical act of writing that’s tough on a writer, there’s all that time spent in your head, the self-imposed isolation, all the pressure we put on ourselves to write.
Taking Care of the Body
I have a day job where I could spend the entire day seated in front of a computer – and in fact, I’m to the point I almost need to set an alarm to remind me to get up and move around. (I’d like to say it’s my laser-like focus, but it’s actually that I’m more likely to take a break by going on Facebook as opposed to just getting up and moving around.)
In November, while I was trying to get a jumpstart on my novel by signing up for NaNoWriMo, I’d come home and sit at the kitchen table, trying to churn out my daily 1,667 words. After two weeks, I went to IKEA and bought a little drop-leaf table that could be hung on the wall as a standing desk. I’m standing at it right now, typing this.
It seems counterintuitive that sitting would cause you problems, but studies show that sitting can weaken muscles and bones, cause varicose veins, strain your neck and shoulders, and increase your risk of obesity and metabolic disorders, which can bring their own problems, including higher blood pressure.
The Washington Post made this somewhat scary infographic that basically shows a writer sinking into a mush of once-healthy muscles and bones.
I have a dog, and she demands walks at least twice daily. So that helps. My other solution was to sign up for a bootcamp at the gym. Paying extra for two hours a week with a fierce trainer and a group of similarly motivated women means I actually go to the gym and, better yet, actually get a demanding workout while I’m there!
Here are a couple other links from writers who’ve figured out some exercises to get you out of the chair:
- HearWriteNow has a body part-by-body part list of exercises, including some for the eyes.
- Jennifer K. Armstrong suggests walking, running, yoga or even playing music.
- And of course there’s this excellent poster of “Yoga for Writers,” including the “plot twist” and the “form rejection pose.”
Taking Care of Yourself
Writing is a solitary pursuit. It’s lonely work – not only the writing itself, but there are lots of writers out there (myself included) who don’t particularly like even discussing a project until it’s reached a certain level of done-ness. And “being a writer” can mean you’re someone who is inclined to watch, to observe, rather than be in the spotlight. That too can be isolating.
So how do you take care of you?
I was once asked by a writing instructor what I did when I was done writing, and I could only look at her, baffled. She went on to explain that some writers find the transition tough, to go from being in the book to being in the outside world. Some feel that they need to maintain that connection with their characters, and so when they’re writing, they tend to be a bit dreamy or dazed, always one foot in their fictional world. (Those people sound like terrible dinner party guests, don’t they?)
She was a Netflix sort of person, the more mindless the better. Some people are runners – one classmate described it as a way to build routine and rewards. He’d write to a word count, then reward himself with a run. (I wish I was that type of person!) I quilt – I even belong to a quilting guild. I like to sew and I like that quilting is another creative pursuit. There is a meme out there that says you can never run out of creativity – the more you use it, the more you have. I like that idea.
I think taking care of ourselves starts with cutting ourselves some slack. Most writers I know could lead master classes in self-flagellation. When people ask me how the writing’s going, I often respond with: “I wish there were more of it.” In my head I’m thinking, “you’re right, well-meaning inquirer. I should be writing right now!” I think we have to get okay with getting away from the writing every now and again.
If we’re able to see the things we do outside writing as material for our writing, as supportive of our writing, I think we can reduce the guilt we feel about it. I’ve decided to see it as a way to fill up the creative fuel tank. That trip the museum, that night out with friends, that bike ride along the trail, that weekend away. It’s all good for clearing the cobwebs. Who knows what you’ll see or experience that actually enriches your writing.
Just be sure to go back to it.
(photos by Karen Palmer)