In my last piece, I discussed how fitness became a transformative force in my life and my career as an author, and this isn’t an isolated experience. Charles Dickens was famous for his long constitutionals; they helped to clear his mind and prepare himself for the state necessary for creative thought. Haruki Murakami’s regime is as rigid as mine, if not more so— as part of his writing ritual, he swims, does a ten-kilometer run, or both. “The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. Writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.”
I agree with his reasoning in every sense of the word. Our bodies are connected to our minds, and when that conduit is clogged with negative effluvia—sickness, worry, doubt—we are not operating at our full potential. “Yes, yes,” you’re saying. “Now get to the part that tells me what to do to write the next War and Peace!” Well, I can’t do that, though I can stress that being prolific begins with being regimented, and exercise itself is regime, which is why it lays the perfect foundation for discipline.
Begin by setting up your ritual (and if you have already done so, then begin by modifying your ritual) to incorporate a physical component. Before you sit down, go for a walk, a jog, or do pushups to get your blood pumping and to clear the cobwebs from your mind. The endorphins and mental acuity we receive from even ten minutes of moderate physical activity are well documented and proven, and this is an ongoing and evolving condition, a knock-on effect: the more often you participate in physical activity (within reason and without over exhaustion), the more benefits you receive.
As writers, we can be afflicted with a myopic focus on our characters, on their stories and their lives. Do not forget yourself. Do not forget the human connection that fuels our stories, the basic beat and breath to existence, the same energy we connect with through exercise and mindfulness. (As an aside, check out the amazing Eileen Kramer and her thoughts on breath, beauty, and dancing—at 104!) Reconnecting to that energy, to the simple glory of life, is divine and inspirational. It’s the only real muse we need, and our imaginary realms are all abstractions of that wonder. Once connected, too, that poetry transcribes itself through our voices and into our creative consciousness. You want to write with depth? You want to write heroes? First know what it is to struggle and achieve (we can learn this through adversity, too, though for the purpose of this article we’ll focus on positive challenges).
You are a better person if you are a healthier person. This adage is true of everything in life, so those of us with cerebral pursuits are no different. However, even this classification is a misnomer, as there is no great “cerebral” and “physical” divide. These things aren’t stark binaries. We are creatures of conflicting, fluctuating elements that we hold in harmony. To be our best selves we should be dancing between our contrary states as often as possible. In an ideal world, would a construction worker be reading Shakespeare on his lunch break? Hell, yeah!
My challenge to you: do one hundred squats before you sit down at your desk, and let me know how that session goes. I can’t promise you the next Nobel Prize, though I can promise you greater clarity, concentration, and energy. It might just be what you need to work through that plot tangle you’ve been stuck in. If not, take a long stroll and see if that’s not the Dickensian release your soul needed. You have options and these incredible machines of meat and bone at your disposal. Use them before they’re gone, and you’ll find that healthy repetition is a key ingredient to success.