Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Exercise and the Older Writer

Today's blog post is an excerpt from my post on Book View Cafe. We're doing a series on "Citius, Altius, Sapientius," ("Stronger, Faster, Wiser," according to our resident Latin scholars). I've been struck many times over the years with how many writers are also martial artists, dancers, runners, horse people, mountain climbers...and, as we age, students of yoga or tai chi chu'an. Is there more to this than the simple need to get up and stretch once in a while? And what can we learn from one another about staying strong, flexible, and energetic throughout our creative careers?
It seems that the older I get, the more integral exercise is to my writing practice. The way they are interwoven has changed with the passing decades, as has the type of physical activity that appeals to me. I no longer exercise to change my appearance (not that this ever was a huge motivation, but I think all young people have at least some small measure of physical vanity). I think more about staying healthy and maintaining the strength and flexibility that allow me to do other things I enjoy — like sitting comfortably while I write, exploring new places…having adventures. First and foremost, however, I like things that are fun. So I’m not going to give you a litany of all the reasons you should exercise to prevent heart disease or stave off Alzheimer’s. I’m going to talk about the ways being active have made me a better writer, in ways that I couldn’t appreciate when I was a newbie.

Once upon a time, I was an active kid. I didn’t think about exercise per se, I thought about playing. I ran through sprinklers, I rode my bike and attempted to roller-skate, I played outdoor games with my friends — tag, Red Rover, hopscotch, Simon Says, jumprope and ball-bouncing games, running around with dogs…but best of all, I acted out the stories I made up, either with my friends or by myself. I think this was my first and foundational experience of how glorious, how unexpected and consuming and enriching story-telling might be. As kids, we threw ourselves into one adventure after another. Granted, much of it was derivative, a sort of live-action fanfic. What we could do physically — climb trees, build snow forts, crawl under bushes, sneak around buildings — we did, and the rest we mimed as best we could. Stories were experienced not just with words, but with our whole bodies.

As readers, haven’t we had the experience of feeling our heart rate accelerate and our muscles tense during a particularly gripping or suspenseful scene? Our visceral reactions intensify the action, helping to link us to the characters and their plight. So many times, I’ve read a passage that skillfully depicts some action and thought, I know what that feels like. I’m in that character’s shoes, or riding boots, or skin-diving flippers, or crampons, or toe shoes.

Read the rest of it on the Book View Cafe blog.


  1. I commented over at the Book View Cafe Blog, but yes! I agree totally. I think on many levels, movement can help change perspective. Exercise does alter body / brain chemistry, so if you're stuck on something in writing, a workout or a walk or whatever can help you shift into a different frame of mind.

    (As a p.s., tai chi isn't just for old people. I've been doing it since I was 26.)

    Elizabeth Twist: Writer, Plague Enthusiast

  2. When I worked full-time, I was fortunate to have access to a beautiful rural road on which to take my lunchtime walks. It wound up the hills, through successive groves of oak, eucalyptus, and redwood. No matter what had happened that morning, no matter how discouraged I felt about maintaining a writing career as a single working mom, I would always return with renewed hope!

    (And I studied tai chi from ages 24-29, before I got seduced by kick-ass kung fu. I keep thinking I'll get back to it, but yoga has laid claim to me for the nonce.)