Finding the Sweet Spot/ Exercise and Writing

People who know me through my fitness instruction are often surprised to learn about my other life, as a writer. And, there was a time when the folks at my college and other institutions where I taught writing could barely believe I teach fitness. I used to keep these worlds discrete but over the years I found a fluidity in my fitness world and my writing/teaching life. Although one practice seems static and the other dynamic, they share principles and practices: 

In my many years mentoring authors at every level of their development, I have had some basic messages: let your writing lead you, find your through-line and keep it strong, be diverse in your approach.

This advice mimics some of our best fitness training advice: listen to your body, strengthen your core and cross-train.

Each practice has an energetic intersection of the dynamic, meditative and the creative. Keeping the blood flowing and keeping the pen flowing allow the energy of one’s drive to reach new thresholds.  You can write the same standard story or essay and be a fine competent writer or mine the deeper levels of your consciousness, letting it inform your writing. Similarly, you can repeat the same routines and keep your body maintained or you can dare your body to reach farther, lift more, move more quickly. 

For some of us, what we can do is what we can do. That can be keeping our body in shape so we can move forward in the rest of our lives. That’s a excellent accomplishment.

Some writers aren’t looking to be the next great novelist, they want to express their stories, their poems with joy and interest.

The fire of youth tricks us sometimes. When I was teaching boot camp, my body was leaner, I was faster and was willing to spend hours making myself worthy of leading smart and strong people in their programs. I lifted heavy weights hours a week, studied voraciously trying to get every certification I could.  I ran a lot, bicycled even more.

After my adult onset of asthma and just plain aging, I had to recognize that body, that level of power and exertion, was possible but unrealistic. The amount of time I would need to dedicate to achieve those levels and overcoming my medical inhibitions would create an imbalance in my life.

One of the things we realize, as we age, is that a balanced life means a better life. Because we can’t live on 4 hours of sleep or skip stretching after a run. Everything starts to have consequences. We pull muscles, we get cramps and sometimes start to hear creaks and pops that weren’t there before.

Writers, too, find that the energy of the first book, the rocket speed of its manifestation is later bogged down by too much other work, and overt awareness of our writing weaknesses, demands of a public or others and the ever present inner critic. Overcoming those blocks are equally exhausting. The emotional toll comes as self-doubt, writer envy, and getting stuck in the head.

I talk a lot to writers about their blocks and give them some solutions. Read, meditate, do writing prompts, copy others works. modify your own into a something it’s not (a painting a poem), read aloud, exercise. Stuff like:

  1. Writing prompts—writing from a suggestion or idea
  2. Find lines in your story that make a poem or take a line from a poem and create a story (modifying)
  3. Read aloud, your own work or others
  4. Copy other’s work, preferably by hand
  5. Write a letter to your character or topic to free the mind.

As exercisers, we also hit blocks, especially now in the pandemic– what may have worked for us has changed. Group class people find it hard to stay interested alone. People, like me, who love weight rooms and heavy barbells can’t find a home substitute. Sometimes using videos to exercise produces a half effort because no one is watching and I just needed some tea.

We might find satisfaction in one of our exercise disciplines, say mind-body, but not in another, strength or cardio. The toll here is physical and emotional. And again, the inner critic makes us more miserable

How do I transform what I tell writers to apply to fitness?

  1. Try a workout you’ve never done before…promise yourself only 10 minutes
  2. Use a new piece of equipment: TRX, bands, balls, nothing expensive, something to capture your imagination
  3. Make a date on zoom with a friend where each of you alternates training. You choose the first, they choose the second…
  4. Select a challenge—a plank challenge, a squat challenge, etc., and do it first thing in the morning, even in your pj’s.
  5. Mark you wall calendar with your intentions—30 minute walk, 20 minutes yoga—gift yourself for 10 days in a row for completion (gifts: new socks, massage balls, get your car washed.)

 I know these tricks don’t always work. We actually don’t know if this time has resulted in low-grade depressions that may be messing with our motivation. But I have one more ace in my pocket for writers and exercisers. Music. The very nature of music speaks to the body and to the spirit. Blast it and stand. Stand and let the movement happen. Here’s a good starting point. I Need You by Jon-Baptiste.

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