I’ve mentioned before that writers are more than their love of writing; like everyone else, they wear many hats. However, writers are often stereotyped as physically passive, socially-stunted intellectuals. In other words, more brain than body.
And this is just not true.
Not only do I know many writers who exercise their bodies as much as their brains, but history also provides many examples of writers for whom physical exercise was not only a interest, but a necessary part of the creative process. Charles Dickens famously walked miles and miles around London formulating his plots. William Wordsworth took advantage of his home in the Lake District, England to hike the many mountains and explore the many streams and waterfalls that are central images of his poetry.
Athletics is a topic of particular interest to Julie and me. We not only share a passion for words, but also a passion for running, swimming, biking, lifting weights, doing, in other words, all the things. I’ve always found that after a long day of sitting, nothing gets my creativity flowing again like a long walk, a hard run, or a challenging weights regimen.
At times, these workouts have saved me and my writing.
There was that time when I was writing my comprehensive exams for my Ph.D. and I couldn’t articulate an idea. The words went round in circles chased by the clock counting down the hours left until I had to turn the damn thing in. I was Captain Hook running from the ticking crocodile.
And, you know, panic started to set in. Self doubt reared its ugly head. And I told myself, If I let those things get me, I’m gone. I’m done for. Finished.
What was the fix?
A run. And if we’re being honest, a beer after that. But mainly the run.
I’ll never forget that stretch of path. On one side the calm river, on the other side a field as green as a poem that ran up to meet the bluest sky.
I’ll never forget the feeling of air pumping in and out of my lungs. Past the lips, down the throat, expanding, then back up again.
I’ll never forget the exquisite rhythm of feet slapping pavement. Each beat buoyed my spirts. Each beat unkinked a knot in my brain. Each step down the trail and back, each breath, brought me closer to solving my writing, researching, and thinking problems.
When I sat back down at the computer afterward, I could think again. I could write again. But more importantly, I believed in my words again. And, thanks to the physical exercise, the clearing of mind and working of body, I had the right words to communicate my idea. And twenty-four hours later, I crossed the finish line of my exams.
Also, interestingly, one of the most intellectually and writerly productive times in my life happened during a summer when Julie and I were training like maniacs. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my mind and body were at their top performance level at the same time.
I don’t know what athletic “genre” you prefer.
It could be yoga or rock climbing or running. Like me, you could take up aerial arts! Like Dickens, you could walk for miles around your city, formulating ideas. Whatever it is you like to do, do it!
Often, when we turn on our bodies, our minds have the space not only to rest, but to puzzle through issues without our conscious input getting in the way. Eventually, after you’ve exhausted your body, your mind just might gift you with a solution to your writing problem.
As an Athletic Writer, I’ve learned that, instead of contradicting one another, the mind and the body work well together. Physical activity re-energizes my tired-from-sitting body, my stretched-too-thin attention span, and my waning creativity. Additionally, it creates extended periods of time in which I can think about what I’ve written and what I will write.
What kinds of activities do you guys do to renew your body and brain?