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!