Writing Tips

For Writers: Exercise your body, exercise your brain

For Writers: Exercise your body, exercise your brain

Exercise. The dreaded e-word. I get it. People are busy. Between working and managing a healthy diet, finding the time to go for a run is difficult, but – ::sigh:: – it is important for many reasons. Taking care of yourself is vital to maintaining a healthy brain…and (spoiler alert) that healthy brain can be the make-it-or-break-it point for a writer on the verge of insanity. I figured this out after I broke my sanity and had a sob fest in a public gym. (Cute, I know.) You can only sit in your plush rolling chair and stare at your computer screen for so long, and getting up and out might help you surpass that writer’s block you’ve been battling for three weeks straight. So here are three, helpful tips I wish I had that I think pertain to many people (but especially writers.)

1. Special stretches for people who sit at the desk all day

This is what I feel like we should all feel like when leaving the desk. (Definitely not what I look like though.) Photo from Huffington Post
This is what I feel like we should all feel like when leaving the desk. (Definitely not what I look like though.) Photo from Huffington Post

Yes. These exist. And they are lovely. (And really horrible if you accidentally attempt these immediately after sitting all day.) But I’m a writer. Other than standing by the coffee pot, I am sitting almost 24/7. Is it healthy? Of course not. So I ventured into the yoga-sphere with a mat in hand, and I found a few fantastic sites that I think really help. I’m not a professional, but I expect to fit into a shoebox by the end of the year. (Just kidding, of course.)

And if you’re feeling REALLY adventurous: stretch right at your desk by checking this article out: Stretching Exercises at Your Desk: 12 Simple Steps.

2. Cardio Exercise

I struggled with this one. I used to be a long-distance runner until my knees and ankles started falling apart. (Seriously. How am I only 23 years old?) So I stopped running for a long time. Almost one year. And I truly hesitated to get into anything else because I was already in pain, but – eventually – I had to admit that I was using my pain as an excuse, and I overcame it by researching exercises that were healthy for my body, including my back injury and legs. Now I go swimming and I use the elliptical more. I don’t run anymore, but I keep myself moving. (In fact, I’m heading to the gym right after I write this.) So here are some websites, but – remember – find what works for your mind and your body.

This does not count as exercise. I’m sorry. I really am. (Photo by Globe University)
This does not count as exercise. I’m sorry. I really am. (Photo by Globe University)

3. Eat Well and Relax (a.k.a. put the books down.)

I’m a serious workaholic. I stare at my glowing computer screen way too long, and I often give myself work nightmares. You know the classic show up to school naked nightmare? I have those with work, and I don’t even have a building I go to! I work from my house, and they’re still terrifying. In this case, I’m working too hard. I’m not allowing myself to rest. I don’t clear my brain or enjoy the sunset or just close my eyes. As a writer, this “closing your eyes” thing seems like a cruel joke. If you’re working, you’re using your eyes, and if you’re relaxing, you’re probably wanting to read for relaxation. But sometimes you have to force yourself to step away from the books. (I know! The horror.) But it’s true. Let your brain relax, let your eyes close, and drift away.

Basically, we have to remember to take care of ourselves. No matter the profession, work won’t be done well (or at all) if we continue to wear ourselves out. Let yourself forget the deadline in order to go for a little run. Pretend the deadline is chasing you on the treadmill if you want to. Just have fun. Enjoy the oxygen. Take a nap. And tackle your writing with a refreshed mind tomorrow. Who knows? Maybe we can change Twitter’s #writersblock to #writersyoga and free ourselves from those pens that are chained to the desk.


31 thoughts on “For Writers: Exercise your body, exercise your brain

  1. I started exercising about 2 months ago. I try and go for a twenty min jog/run up to three times a week. Although I would love to lose a little weight, its sole purpose was to help my writing. Great minds think alike! As I go, it helps me to concentrate on what I need to write, plot holes and arcs and what characteristics I need to add to my characters,

    1. I’m glad you mentioned the weight thing! I think it’s important to exercise in order to feel better rather than with a weight goal – but if they both happen, more power to you. Running helps me concentrate, too! It’s encourages the “zone” – a mysterious place us writers disappear to in order to meet dragons and other magical characters.

  2. I love yoga! I need to get back into it.

    I’m a teacher, however, all I do is stand all day. Still not moving nearly enough. So I had sad at the end of last year when this school year started I would begin exercising. I started this past Monday walking and yesterday I did a 20 minute abs workout. Right now my legs still feel like jello.

    I’ve noticed I’ve been falling asleep easier. The only downfall is I’m waking up around 3 every morning. I need to get my body to stop that.

    Moving does clear the mind.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story. :] I think it helps motivate others when they hear how so many people go through the same struggles, choices, and effects. I also sleep much better now that I exercise.

  3. Shannon, LOVE this article! I just recently started to train for long distances as well so its great to see that there are others that have gone through this pain!

    Can I just say, I had no idea you were 23 years old! When I read your book and when I read your reviews I was under the impression of someone much older (Its a compliment, I promise!) You write incredibly well and I am now much more eager to hear from you.

    Keep writing!


  4. I do a lot of walking. Today, I walked 13 km. This is typical for me. But last week, I started doing some more upper body strength exercises, good old push-ups and sit-ups. I find that when I do push-ups, I’m more awake during the day. Walking just makes me tired in the evening, but I do it anyway. It’s a great way to help me think, and I see new things all the time, which are great for writing ideas.

    1. Oh, yes! I love going for walks through larger parks. Just the other day, I went on a park, and I saw a fox, a crane, and a deer with a baby deer. It was a lot of fun. When I was younger, I lived next to a forest, and I explored it with my husky constantly. It became a huge influence on Take Me Tomorrow.

      1. Nice! I wish I could see animals more often. I see birds sometimes, including the egret I saw yesterday. But I’d like to see some mammals.

        By the way, I wrote a blog post that’s similar to what you had to say, just putting in my two cents. I should edit it to link back to this post.

  5. I do 30 minutes on a stationary bike most mornings, but I really have to remember to get up and stretch while writing. Even a few minutes of walking around the house will probably do me some good. It’s hard when you lose track of time on a project, so maybe a timer that goes off every hour would help.

    I should admit that I was preparing to grab a cupcake for breakfast, skip the biking, and go right into editing today. After reading this post, I think I should stick to the Special K and exercise.

    1. Little reminders definitely help! It’s funny you mentioned the cupcake. Last night, I meant to go to the gym right after posting this. I even mentioned it in the post. But then it started storming, and I didn’t want to go running in the rain, so I’m concentrating on running today. :] Now I’m thinking that I should’ve had a cupcake.

      1. The toddler took the cupcake before I could go back to it, so I didn’t get to indulge. There is another, but I have to save it for a ‘reward’ after I get all my marketing done tomorrow morning.

        Weather seems to be a big factor even when you don’t leave the house. Too hot or too cold kind of saps the urge to do anything strenuous.

    1. It’s so hard to step away sometimes! I try to make myself get up at the end of every chapter or every other chapter. That way, I have these marks that remind me to look away from the screen and stretch a little.

  6. Yoga is my saving grace! Whenever I’m feeling blocked I look up a video on youtube and just stretch it out. I hate traditional exercise, especially cardio, but yoga has been the perfect balance for me of physical activity and relaxing meditation. Like you mentioned, the writer’s mind is constantly working and collecting and creating, so it’s important that we learn how and when to turn it off, which is much harder than it sounds.

  7. Yes, this. Since I’ve started taking my writing seriously, I’ve become a very, very sedentary person, but I always find myself refreshed with new ideas and a new perspective after hiking or yoga or going out dancing!

  8. I honestly never had this problem. I can’t sit down for more than 30 mins and I tend to walk around.

    And I do 2 workouts/ martial arts sessions a week and a tai chi class once a week, apart from weight training and home practice.
    Good luck with the yoga. Tried it once and was great but I prefer tai chi since it’s a martial art.

  9. Hard to remember… especially for those of us who were never runners (or terribly athletic). I’ve always been more of the “sit at my desk, or curl up in bed with a book” kinda gal… I did dance, ballet once a week for 11 years, and would run around and play when I was a kid but… yes, exercise is very good… and hidden in this post is also the fact that, even if you aren’t going to be physically active you NEED TO GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK. I think it’s hard when the work you are doing is work you love, or when you are cramming all your writing work around an additional full-time job (my current situation), but it’s so important. This week I realized I was hitting the wall a lot (well, okay, I’ve been hitting the wall a lot for a few weeks, but this week it wasn’t just in the writing) and so have turned my hour commute to either fun-reading time or zone-out-and-listen-to-music time. No (or.. minimal) social media, no writing, no editing, just reading fluff and listening to music. And it really does help.
    Now, to incorporate that physical activity thing (more than just my daily walking)…

  10. I’ve always been an avid runner, and I have very good cardio. But I had a word with my brother a while back (he works at a gym), and after he gave me solid instructions on a good workout routine I began to see drastic changes in both mental and physical health, not to mention my writing. I currently go to the gym and work out four days a week(in addition to cardio), and it truly does wonders! Another thing I’ve begun to realise is the kind of strain physical work has on the body, which has been valuable for added realism.
    So thumbs up, encouraging post! 🙂

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