Writing & Publishing Articles

What Writing Taught Me About Exercise

writing-and-exerciseBelieve it or not, I used to be a “sporty” kid. Now, I’m not saying that I had great athletic talent (far from it), but I played basketball for seven years, tried cheerleading and volleyball for two, and rode horses competitively (and for leisure) until I went to university. However, somewhere along the way I lost touch with physical activity.

“Somewhere” means age 14 to 15. It started in freshman volleyball, when my coach played favorites (I was not one) and made the rest of the team miserable. Couple that with breaking my arm while horseback riding the following summer, and I was ready to give up sports. I went from a casual athlete to a proud, non-exercising emo kid (but that’s another story).

Since graduating university, I’ve tried to get back into exercise. It’s been a difficult journey, but I think I’m finally making worthy progress again. While I doubt I’ll ever be able to do the splits or run a mile again, I hope to be reasonably fit for my age and keep my body healthy.

exerciseSo, what does all of this have to do with writing? A lot, actually.

In my efforts to rejoin the world of exercise, I’ve noticed numerous parallels between my “health” journey and my “writing” journey. For more on how exercise can help your writing (aka the reverse of this post), click here. Maybe some of them will help you with your own goals, or encourage you to break out that old notebook or yoga mat (whichever you need most).

Step 1: Labeling myself

I don’t believe that you can have success as a writer until you identify as a writer or as “someone who writes.” Making this simple shift enabled me to write my first novel. This same logic applies to my exercise goals. For the longest time, I saw myself as a gym outsider because I don’t identify as an athlete anymore. When I started thinking of myself as “someone who goes to the gym,” I suddenly felt the permission to go. Silly, but important.

Step 2: Choosing my “why”

While I love writing for fun, it was never reason enough for me to finish a novel. It was only when I set a specific, short-term goal (winning National Novel Writing Month) and a long-term goal (becoming a full-time author) that I finished a book. Similarly, when I tried to exercise just because I “should,” I rarely did. Now that I have specific, health-related goals, I’m much more motivated to exercise.

Step 3: Playing the long game

Like writing, exercise is a long-term goal. In order to see any benefit, you must commit to doing it every day (or several times a week). At first, this sucks. But, after I made exercise a regular part of my weekly schedule, both going to the gym and working out while there became easier.

teamStep 4: Finding a partner

My friend Jonas and I hold each other accountable to our writing goals. While we work separately, we’re walking the path to full-time authorship together. Similarly, my husband and I attend the gym together. Once there, we work out in separate spaces, but we both leave feeling encouraged and confident.

Step 5: Making good use of the time

A productive writing session consists of scheduling the time, planning the scene, then writing with 100% focus and 0% self-criticism. I’ve learned to apply this same system to my gym sessions. The only exception? If I focus on working out, I feel like passing out. Instead, I listen to podcasts or people watch.

Step 6: Forgiving lapses

If you fail to write, don’t guilt yourself. Promise to do better tomorrow. Same goes for exercise.

Step 7: Tracking my progress

I keep track of my daily word counts in a spreadsheet. This helps motivate me to grow my totals and avoid a “blacked-out” day on the calendar. I’m going to apply a similar, weekly system for exercise to keep myself on track.

Step 8: Learning from others

We’ve all seen those “writers” who constantly complain about writer’s block or their misbehaving muse and never write. On the other hand, we’ve all seen those non-stop superstars who we want to emulate. You’ll find those same people at the gym. Every session, I see people come in, do five minutes on the treadmill, and leave. But then there’s Stair Master Guy. He’s a middle-aged man who has been at the gym literally EVERY time I’ve gone – always on the Stair Master, always drenched in sweat. Now that is commitment I want to emulate.

While I have a good start on my writing journey, I still have a long way to go on the road to physical fitness. However, looking at the parallels between the two gives me hope. If I can go from a grumbling, suffering, wannabe writer to a published entrepreneur with two novels, surely I can go from couch potato to routine exerciser. Neither path is easy – but then again, I heard somewhere that nothing worth doing ever is.

So, take it from me. Whether you want to write a book, run a mile, or achieve some other dream, you can do it. The going is slow and difficult and not always fun, but you will get there with patience, commitment, and a positive attitude.

What writing lessons have proved useful in other areas of your life? What non-writing activities have taught you to be a better writer? Share in the comments.

Guest Posts, Writing & Publishing Articles

Guest Post: Long Distance Writer by Kate Evans

walkers2015In September I will be doing St Cuthbert’s Way with my sister (http://stcuthbertsway.info/) This 100Km walk moves from Melrose in the borders of Scotland across the Cheviots into Northumberland and finishes on the magical island of Lindisfarne. I am fifty-one years old. I am in relatively good health, though have recurrent menopause-induced migraines and over-heats (not good if they happen in the middle of the Cheviots). I do swim, walk and cycle regularly (though not long distances). St Cuthbert’s Way will be a challenge for me both physically and psychologically.

I am a writer. It’s what I do. Writing is as evident to me as breathing. So, of course, I am writing about this experience. I do not know where this writing will lead me, perhaps to something coherent which I will want to share with others. For the moment, I have disparate notions which tenuously link together. I present them here as a kind of mind-map and invite your comments and responses.

For most of my life, I thought of writing as a mind/hand activity. Ironically, it was a breakdown in my mind, a period of severe depression, which brought me to an understanding that I am both body and mind and both work in concert for me to be creative and write. I became interested in embodied writing.

What do I mean by embodied writing? Using all my physical senses to enrich my descriptions is an obvious place to start. However, there is more. How do emotions and thoughts manifest themselves physically? What does focusing on a part of my body, especially a part which is troubling me, bring forth? How do I physically feel as I am writing? What does this tell me about the words I am setting down?

In addition, there is being more aware of how I am sitting and holding myself when I write, in order to avoid shoulder, back or wrist aches. Then there is the rhythm of writing: the need to take breaks, to move, to return into my body after spending time in the worlds I am creating in my narratives. This I find especially invigorating for my writing. I grind to a halt, I get up, I move – usually walk or swim – paying particular attention to being very present to what is around me, and suddenly all sorts of ideas and ways forwards begin to occur to me. The movement of my body has shaken free the words I need (see blog post: http://goo.gl/88bMMY).

So there are many aspects to embodied writing. Now, with St Cuthbert’s Way firmly in my thoughts (a reality now, not just a vague possibility), I am becoming more intrigued by writing and the act of walking. There are many examples of writers who were walkers. Poets, for example John Clare, and prose writers such as Charles Dickens and Laurie Lee.


There are walks which appear in literature. In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility the devastated Marianne took walks to the most distant parts of the cultivated park, ‘where there was something more of wildness than in the rest’. Or we could go to the Brontës, who put on their walking boots both in their real lives and fictional works. In thinking about this, I have wondered about more contemporary works which include a significant walk. Are there any?

Of course, humans walked much more in centuries gone by than they do now (especially, I should add, in Europe and the US). They walked out of necessity, they walked for survival. And many still do, from Africa, from Asia, from South America, from war-torn countries, I think of those who walk and walk towards what they hope will be a more peaceful, more secure life.

In comparison, my 100km walk will be stroll in the park. The path is well-marked, my sister and I will have a good meal and a comfortable bed to end each day and our luggage is being transported for us. Luxury. Even so, I know there will be times when I will doubt my capacity to keep going, when my body will protest, when I will rue the day I agreed to this crazy scheme. It will be a case of one step in front of the other. Just as, with my writing, there are some days when I force myself to put one word after another, trusting that, though I may no know where I am going with this, I will get there (or somewhere) in the end.

Thank you Kate C for letting me range freely across your blog. Please visit my blog at http://www.writingourselveswell.co.uk and check out my novel, The Art of the Imperfect, at: http://goo.gl/z7HFgz

Kate C. here – I just wanted to let everyone know that I will reblog Kate Evans’s recap of her trip so we can all marvel her amazing feat and share in any tips she has for us!

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

8 Ways to Make Exercise Benefit Your Writing

We all know that exercise is good for us. It improves our physical health, eases our mental well-being, and (especially important for we writers and readers) boosts our creativity. However, for we intellectual types with sedentary careers and hobbies, it can be really difficult to gather the time and energy to exercise. After all, wouldn’t we rather curl up with a good book? I know I would.

exercise shoesAs part of my New Year’s resolutions, I am trying to make exercise a more frequent part of my life. There are several reasons that I do not commit to exercise like I should. However, the biggest is that my time is very limited. I don’t like to squander my sparse free time on activities that don’t involve writing, reading, growing my author business, or spending time with my family. Because exercise doesn’t fall into these categories, it frequently falls to the wayside.

Therefore, I’ve done some brainstorming, and I’ve come up with eight ways to combine exercise with my writing career so that exercise will benefit my writing. I’m not sure if I will use them all, but I’m sharing them all, in hopes that they will be useful to you.

1. Listen to Audiobooks

I’m not a huge audiobook fan, but my husband is. Whenever Daniel goes on long jogs, he almost always listens to a book as he runs. He says that they help pass the time and kill two hobby birds with one stone.

2. Old-Fashioned Reading

If you are on a treadmill or stationary bike, bring your physical book along. As long as you have basic coordination and aren’t overly prone to motion sickness, you should be able to read while you walk or pedal! (This idea courtesy of Brittany.)

3. Listen to Podcasts

As you all should know by now, I love podcasts for learning about writing and publishing. Like audiobooks, podcasts can help the time go quickly and keep you entertained. They are the perfect way to exercise your body and your brain in harmony.

4. Brainstorm

When you are at the gym or out in nature, there really isn’t much else to do but think. (This is especially true if you do yoga.) So take advantage of this sacred thought time and brainstorm your novel. Take notes on the people and objects you see. There is inspiration all around you if you just stop and look!

5. Dictate Your Novel

Take brainstorming to the next level and dictate your novel into your phone’s voice recorder (or a tape recorder for you hipsters out there) as you exercise. Sure, it might be hard to gasp out those words as your body works, but, for you seasoned exercisers, this might be a good way to write while you work out.

6. Bring Exercise to Your Desk

If you don’t have time to go to the gym, bring the gym to you! Ditch your old chair for an exercise ball and work your core while you write. Splurge on a treadmill desk and take a nice walk while you make your character outlines. For more ideas like these, check out my article, 10 Tips for Creating a Healthy and Productive Writing Space.

7. Watch YouTube Videos or Webinars

Most gyms feature televisions for a reason: they are a great way to get your mind off your screaming muscles and into a happy place. If you are a writer, do the same for yourself. Except, instead of watching the news or bad reality TV, enjoy an instructional YouTube video or webinar about growing your author business.

8. Use Exercise as a Break

When you sit at your desk for hours on end, your body gets stiff. When you write for hours, your brain gets stiff, too. Give both your body and brain a break. Stand up and do a few stretches or squats or bicep curls to get your blood pumping and loosen you up. It only takes a minute or two to do one exercise, and an exercise break is much better for you (and probably gives you more real energy and focus) than a coffee break.

These eight ideas are simple ways to make exercise benefit your writing. Of course, exercise on its own has creativity-boosting powers that will help your writing. However, if you are like me and have difficulty “justifying” exercise time when you could be writing or reading, adding in a few of these writerly activities may help improve your writing even more. Worst case scenario, at least your heart will be happy!

What helps motivate you to exercise? How else do you make your exercise time benefit your writing or creative activities?