Writers aren’t generally associated with physical prowess and health. In fact, we tend to be something of a willowy, weak-chested bunch who are constantly afflicted by the pallor that comes with too much time spent indoors. It is probably not inaccurate to say that most gym-goers wouldn’t be able to pick James Joyce or Margaret Atwood out of a lineup if their gains depended on it. This is a shame, because not only do I think more lifters should read these admirable authors, but that more writers should be at the gym, or should at least develop some form of fitness routine.
That’s right – a routine. Not just going out for a walk now and again, and not sporadic bursts of pushups every other week. I mean consistent, purposeful exercise performed with the intention of making actual progress, whether in muscle built, fat lost, or stamina improved.
So far my writing career has spanned around a decade, and I have been an avid fitness enthusiast for roughly the last third of that. From my experience, few things have benefited my career more than the implementation of a dedicated nutrition and workout regimen.
The connection between writing and fitness might seem obscure, but let’s take a look at three very real ways exercise and healthy eating will help make you a better wordsmith.
The development of discipline
Many people refer to themselves as writers without ever taking down a word. Real writers, however, are those who have the discipline to put their asses in the chair and do the work. But discipline is something with which most people struggle. It’s hard to learn and easy to forget.
Like writing, fitness demands discipline. You cannot make progress without it. While maintaining the discipline to work out is a challenge for people who are new to fitness, over time it becomes hard-coded into your body.
Eventually, missing that run feels weird. After a long stretch of consistency, eating something outside of your now-healthy diet becomes abnormal. Once you’ve built the habit, your body will learn to recognize when it’s time for your daily workout, and it will toll your internal-alarm clock.
Discipline, once acquired, infects every aspect of your life – but it’s a healthy infection. You know that you will eat X thing at Y time. Your trip to the gym becomes a regularly scheduled event. All of this impacts everything from where and how you spend your money, to how your organize your day, to – you saw this coming – your writing.
My routine involves spending ten minutes jumping rope in the morning to wake up and knock loose all the cobwebs, followed by writing for several hours, then hitting the gym when my brain starts to lag. More often than not, the ensuing workout revitalizes me, giving me energy for another burst of writing or editing.
In other words, one discipline feeds into the other.
Healthy body, healthy mind, healthy career
Virtually nothing stimulates your immune system and promotes health like a nutritious diet coupled with regular exercise. It’s hard to overstate how beneficial this is to your writing career.
Nodding back to the discipline point, getting sick is a sure way to break your routine, whether we’re talking about your writing routine or otherwise. And once that routine is broken, it’s a struggle to piece it back together.
Success at writing (at least freelance writing) is driven largely by your ability to seize upon opportunity and deliver top-quality work on a consistent basis. If you get an offer to write an article or produce a piece of copy on a short-notice deadline, a head muddled by fever might be the determining factor as to whether or not you can perform, and writing is a career that is built largely on one-off projects snowballing into ongoing gigs. To put that another way, you need your body and mind working in peak condition so that you can deliver on a dime.
The foundation of my career is established on the fact that I will provide words when they are requested. Not in a few days when I’m feeling better – now. Writers who delay and make excuses don’t last. Writers who produce continue to be offered the opportunity to do so.
Build up your immune system, and don’t let a random cold or flu stand in your way.
Physical stimulation drives mental emulation
Artists and entrepreneurs have long posited that regular exercise is essential to their creativity, and science is supporting their claims. Research has shown that people who work out consistently perform better on cognitive tests than those who don’t.
My best ideas tend to come to me either when I’m just about to fall asleep (which is annoying and sleep depriving), or else when I’m in the middle of a run or intense workout (which is exhilarating). Exercise inspires a particular kind of clarity. Some combination of the oft-discussed “runner’s high” brought on by the release of hormones and other brain-boosting chemicals, the escape from the shackles of one’s desk, the thrill of motion, or perhaps it’s due to the simple fact that you’re so busy focusing on your body that your mind is freed to wander of its own accord – whatever the cause, the result is a stir of ideas.
Building a writing career is an ongoing process with no discernable finish. Your writing can always improve, you can always publish something or someplace new and exciting, and you can innovate endlessly. Fitness is similar in regard to its enduring nature. It is a race without a finish. An ongoing venture in which the journey is the goal. You can always build more muscle; can continue to gain more speed and stamina. Like writing, fitness is its own reward.
So build your routine. Designate your hours for writing, and your hours for exercise. Feed yourself a diet of good books to fuel your mind, and nutritious food to fuel your body.
At the risk of sounding glib, stimulate and enrich your body, and your mind will follow.