“Step Away from the Desk”

A writer wrote saying how difficult it is for her to leave the writing when she’s in a groove, and asked if I had any ideas on how to get some kind of physical exercise while working so intently. I knew exactly what she was talking about. Sometimes I get so inside the story, I don’t even notice the time. Hours (or is it days) later, amid much creaking and moaning, I finally unfold myself from my chair.

I read somewhere that it’s a good idea to take a break from intense creative work every 45 or 50 minutes. When I first heard this I thought, “That’s crazy. It will interrupt my work and I’ll lose the creative handle that I had such a firm grip on.” But turns out it is a good idea. Rather than losing the thread of what I’m working on, I find I can go back to it refreshed and, over the long haul, I actually have more stamina to hang in for the hours any writing project requires.

One of the “Ten Daily Habits That Make a (good) Writer,” (from A Writer’s Book of Days) is to “Be Physical.” I have some daily and weekly routines that I follow, no matter what. (OK, mostly, no matter what.) I do a quick and easy 20-minute yoga practice every morning, first thing. Even before coffee, me and Rodney Yee. And once a week I attend a yoga class at the Y. I also take walks as a break in the day—sometimes just around the block. Something about being outside and the rhythm of walking airs out my brain and relieves me of the close focus that writing requires. Being away from the work, I’m open for new ideas to enter. I love the surprise when the solution to something I’ve been arm-wrestling at the computer or at my writing desk descends from somewhere in the heavens and shimmers like a vision right in front of me.

Like writing itself, it takes discipline to keep these regular practices. For me it’s especially difficult to take that mini-break every hour. So I set the alarm on my computer or iPhone to remind me to get up out of my chair and move away from my desk.

Just scrawling a general “go to the gym” on a sticky note makes it too easy to let the whole idea slide right by. Instead, write the exact time of you plan to do something physical. For one thing, you’re more likely to keep the date if you’ve written it down, and if you don’t keep your commitment you’ll have some explaining to do. Just listening to your excuses might help you see patterns you want to change. Besides you wouldn’t just flake on a friend would you? And when it comes to our writing and our bodies, we have to be our own best friends.

What about you? Are you a believer in taking a break every 45 or 50 minutes? What are the ways you get your daily physical exercise in? And if you have a secret for finding joy in doing reps at the gym, please let me in on it.

P.S. Coming soon… The Daily Appointment Calendar for Writers that will have a space each day to mark down your writing practice time and your physical exercise time. Plus a new prompt for every day. More new coming soon!

2 thoughts on ““Step Away from the Desk”

  1. Thanks for writing again Kika. It was, of course, your original question that got me started on this. I love your idea of putting on a song and dancing for 4 minutes! Beautiful. And your comment that Sitting is the new Smoking. Love meeting you here on the ether waves.

  2. Dearest Judy,

    I thank you again for the amazing insight on how to go about doing it.

    We thought our lives as writers are hard enough by discipline ourselves to writing everyday and then new studies show that Sitting is the New Smoking and embracing sedentary lifestyle will shorten our lives, defect our kidneys and kill our backs.

    I followed your advice and scheduled in my calendar with a pop-up reminder to go out for a walk, go to yoga class and push-ups reminders.

    At the first week it was forced and interrupted me but the good feeling after getting up from the chair, put a song and dance for 4 minutes or do 10 push-ups or go for a walk, started to show their results. I felt I am sitting differently after that, and my body even “asks” for it if I then sat for more than two hours straight.
    If it worked for Hemingway to leave his typewriter at the greatest groove, it can work for us too.

    Thanks so much!

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