Exercise and Writing
Time away from the keyboard boosts writing power
If you’re a planner like me, you’re contemplating New Year’s resolutions. Fall is the perfect time to consider goals for 2018. Cool air and long walks—without the stress of the holiday season—affords time to consider next steps and plans to achieve them. A favorite writer’s group leader of mine offers the S.M.A.R.T. acronym as a guide for reaching a goal: it must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. I like it because it’s a great goal-setting process that goes beyond simply writing down one’s future objectives.
In June, July, and August, I offered writing prompts regarding seasons, time, and plot ascension. This month, I’ll discuss exercise as a means to reach writing goals, with a bit of healthful living thrown in. One of the benefits of writing is that it can be accomplished away from the devices we use to do it. What’s not to appreciate about that?
S.M.A.R.T. goals as writing and walking exercises
Study after study reveals that exercise is good for us. I think exercise is great for writers. There’s nothing better for me than a long walk in the chilly morning air to organize my thoughts. Using the S.M.A.R.T. acronym, my exercise process goes like this:
1. Specific. While walking, I’ll contemplate a specific scene and let my brain ponder how I want events to unfold. I’ll ask myself questions: Why would the character do that? What’s motivating him or her? I keep my thoughts focused on one specific scene.
2. Measurable. Did I resolve the questions in my mind regarding the scene? By limiting my thoughts to a certain scene, I’ll know after my walk if I’ve come to a satisfactory conclusion or if the scene still isn’t resolved. Either way, I’ll write down my thoughts so I can refer to them later.
3. Achievable. Contemplating one, perhaps two, scenes during a walk is doable for me. I may contemplate the same scene during several outdoor excursions. I’m not overwhelming myself with big picture questions, which can be frustrating and distracting. I know that, with time, I will resolve the scene and move on to the next one.
4. Realistic. How do we write? One word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time. How do we walk? One step at a time. A twenty-minute walk to contemplate one scene is realistic to me. I’m not defeating myself by thinking I have to run a marathon in one day, nor write a book in a week.
5. Timely. Setting a walking goal is similar to a writing goal. Ten-thousand steps a day, four pages a day. It could be more or less; what’s important is that it works for one’s life and writing schedule.
What works for you? A friend has a wrist device that not only monitors her steps, it cheerfully tings at her every hour or so as a reminder to get up and move. By using it, she avoids being frozen behind her computer, her fingers locked on the keyboard and her back slouched in a painful curve. I use something else, however. I am the faithful keeper of a delightful-but-demanding Pomeranian pup whose internal clock rivals the one at the Royal Observatory; he knows when it’s time for us to walk!
Enjoy the outdoors
Of course, I don’t always use the S.M.A.R.T. process when I’m walking. There are times when I listen to music and sweat rather than contemplate specifics such as scene writing or New Year’s resolutions. There are times when I must allow my mind to wander without restrictions; in fact, that was the point of my June and July blog posts. I can’t always be laser-focused. My creative mind must be allowed to soak in its surroundings to enjoy cool air and fall colors. And, naturally, a side benefit of using exercise to achieve writing goals is that it assists in toning muscles and keeping one in good physical condition.
Finally, when I contemplated this blog post, my reference point was the wonderful Sue Grafton. Note her response to a question about her creative process in this interview from 1999. She not only walks, she jogs, lifts weights and spends time in a pool. She’s a wonderful inspiration for writer’s. In addition to writing many, many books, she dedicates herself to disciplined exercise.
Next month, I’m discussing suspense — can’t wait!
I’m off to enjoy a long walk. Happy writing!
Website Shout Out: UW-Madison Continuing Studies Writing Classes
The UW-Madison Department of Continuing Education is offering fantastic writing classes this fall. From poetry classes to a weekend writing retreat, the site is worth checking out. The department also hosts a fantastic Writer’s Institute during spring that features speakers, seminars, and agent pitch sessions. Enjoy!