Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, December 6, 2010

The Importance of Exercise for Writers

Now that we are approaching the end of 2010, it will soon be time for our resolutions (or now time for pre-resolutions, as the case may be).

And as you cast your eye toward self-improvement, might I suggest one of the important fundamentals to the healthy and productive writer: exercise.

Not only because writing is a solitary pursuit, that writers sometime need the occasional mood-lift while pondering the depths of the human condition, and because we want to keep writing as long as Louis Auchincloss.

No. Not just those reasons.

Do it for the creativity boost!

I can't quantify this. I don't know if it's been proven by science (Livia? UPDATE: see her comment for the science).I don't know if it's the endorphins talking. All I know is that when I'm stuck on a plot challenge or can't think of where things go next, I exercise. And it's amazing how it unlocks the brain.

And even from a macro sense, I find myself more productive and happier during weeks where I exercise. The ideas and words just tend to flow better.

Am I alone on this? Does exercise help your creativity?

Photo by Gruban via Creative Commons






141 comments:

Emma said...

Yes! Absolutely! I've been a runner for twenty-some years, and when I'm not pregnant (I am), I am out there, rain or shine. These days, I still walk. Not only does it help with creativity, but it is great for overall mental health!

February Grace said...

As someone with multiple physical disabilities, it's impossible for me to work out like real humans (I'm a toy human, or more probably, a Muppet. I'd snap in half.) but I do find that physically doing something else- painting, for example, playing a musical instrument or believe it or not, taking a shower seems to help get my mind un-stuck when I'm trying to write.

I'd love to hear what other people find helpful who also can't go for a jog when they need to clear their head! Or even a drive. Wow, I miss driving...

Happy Monday, Jedi Master!

~bru

Richard Gibson said...

Does exercise help your creativity?

Absolutely, almost always, usually in surprising ways.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Yes, absolutely! Not to mention fighting off the creativity-crazies that happen when you're deep into a plot turn.

C(h)ristine said...

'fo shizzle it does! Just read "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" by Haruki Murakami--running helped me get through the first draft of my novel. The two are linked in my brain. Writing goes better when I run.

Chuck H. said...

I'm a grumpy old man. The most exercise I get is rolling out of bed and snagging a cup of coffee. Would more exercise improve my creativity? Probably, but why take the chance?

Sarah G said...

Exercise sometimes lets my brain have the space (and blood flow) to work stuff out. I've solved more than one serious story issue while doing something invigorating but mindless.

Jacqueline Windh said...

Doubly yes.

Exercise (running or whatever) is a great stress release that keeps you in a good frame of mind for life in general (including writing).

But I also use my long runs as very productive meditative time, where I can plan things like how to structure and article, or go into my characters' heads or figure out what might happen to them.

Anna said...

Agreed! I like to run without headphones because it simultaneously clears my mind and allows for creative juices to flow. If anything, it gets my legs moving so they're less likely to fall asleep or get blood clots from sitting down all day!

J.L. Johnson said...

I do yoga after a morning of writing. Helps to stretch the muscles out after sitting for so long. Bellydancing is good too. Helps to burn off the calories of the crap I eat while I'm writing. :D

Jim Hill said...

Absolutely agree, even if I did just eat a donut. A nice three to five mile run clears my head every time.

Joseph L. Selby said...

When I left Fort Knox, I was the fittest I had ever been in my life. I also inexplicably lost half my vocabulary. Words I had known and used for years tripped me up.

Exercise actually interferes with my thought processes and creativity. The more still I am, the more creative I am.

Jay said...

Yes! I exercise almost every day, doing either biking or resistance training. It releases tension and I find that being relaxed helps with thinking/writing.

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

I better do this more often. Right now I'm in rutsville and could use a boost out.

Red Boot Pearl said...

Sticking my toddler in the stroller for a run or even a walk totally helps boost my creativity. I don't know if it's being outside with the fresh air and all...or just that my toddler is strapped down and occupied. It is seriously my best time to think. I don't listen to music or anything so I can brainstorm without distraction.

A. J. Larrieu said...

Absolutely! When I run into a plot problem, I lift weights, the heavier the better. And I find cardio is great for letting new ideas drift into my head.

Sierra McConnell said...

I can't exercise much as I used to be able to because of certain health problems, but I find that any "mindless" task helps. Just window shopping at the mall, walking slowly around, cooking, baking, or gardening, helps. Because it gets you to focus on one thing and one thing only.

Porter Anderson said...

Nathan, don't forget the reason nobody likes to admit: EXERCISE MAKES YOU LOOK BETTER.

People who like the way they look make happier, more productive writers (or construction workers or doctors or rocket scientists). People who aren't fat think better, in part because they're not battling self-esteem issues every word of the way. The fit body also channels energy to the brain for good writing, no need to waste that energy on fat-support. And people who look fabulous gain a whole lot of confidence for the ego-pummeling business of publishing, about which we're always wringing our hands. (Use those hands to do some dumbbell curls instead.)

So don't underestimate the aesthetic angle, even though it's generally not cool to talk about it. I actually believe the chief motivator toward exercise is the appearance boost for most of us. And how grand that we end up healthier, too. :-)

David said...

Yes, indeed.

I lift weights for my main exercise. I like to watch mindless TV (e.g., recorded made-for-SyFy Channel Saturday night bad movies), so I don't ponder plot problems while working out. But the wonderful effect on my mood and mental clarity for hours afterwards is great for my writing sessions.

Oh, I suppose it's great for my regular, paid work sessions, too, but, gee, who cares about that?

kellye said...

Maybe I should try this exercise thing. I usually go for caffeine and sugar for a boost.

Actually, I have seen some reports on exercise and Alzheimer's and how exercise gets blood flowing to the brain, so I think that's a good thing, too.

summeroutside said...

Exercise absolutely improves creativity!

I am a runner, and it is SUCH a great outlet. It relieves stress, refreshes the mind, and gets the endorphins flowing. After a run, I'm in a better mood and feeling motivated in all senses. Not to mention the ideas that come to me sometimes when I'm out there, just me and the road and the tunes in my ear.

Furthermore, exercise is just flat out good for you, and when you feel better about yourself, you're going to feel better about your endeavors.

skipperhammond said...

Yes, especially now that it's cold. A 30 minute brisk walk with chill air biting my face sends blood rushing to my brain.

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hillary Jacques said...

There's a reason nobody ever dreamily proclaims "I'm looking for someone with the body of a...writer."

Exercise helps me to calm my mind enough to sleep, when I'm caught up in characters and plot. That's a small blessing.

Hand-washing the dishes is my plot unraveling, character-developing time.

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kerrie T. said...

It's true. I even tried to write and recumbent bike at the same time once. It didn't work.

My best ideas/thoughts come at the most inconvenient places: while exercising, in the shower or in the car. I guess I need a recorder and some bath crayons...

Rick Daley said...

I've plugged many a plot hole while running or swimming. Swimming is better than running because I don't get distracted by my iPod.

WORD VERIFICATION: feday. Iron day, according to the periodic table.

Anonymous said...

I prefer vodka, sex, and cigarettes.

I'm from NY :)

Perle said...

Totally true. I walk 5miles almost every morning and I have to carry a notebook in my pocket to capture those wonderful but fleeting words that just start coming around mile 2.

Anonymous said...

"I've plugged many a hole while running or swimming."

So have I :)

(sorry; just couldn't resist...it was too easy)

Feel free to delete.

Robena Grant said...

Definitely.
I'm missing my daily swim, brrrr.

I walk the dog twice a day. And that is good thinking time.

Rebecca Henderson said...

This is definitely true. I can look at my own work from weeks that I'm exercsing and weeks that I'm sedentary and see a huge difference in both the quality of writing and the amount of time it takes me to write it. I don't know how many times in the last few weeks I've solved a problem in something I'm working on by setting it aside to think about during a long run--it really works!

lotusgirl said...

As much as I hate to admit it, you are so right. Maybe I should go for a walk.

Ishta Mercurio said...

I love exercise! It doesn't just make me a better writer; it makes me better.

Raj said...

Very true. And we are in good company. Haruki Murakami's memoir "What I Talk about When I Talk About Running" explores precisely this theme. He explores how his running is interlinked to his writing.

A must read.

Mark Terry said...

Don't know, but I do know that not long after I started writing from home fulltime I joined a gym. Then I started karate. Then I started running. Some of it just may be the I'm-glued-to-my-chair-for-hours-on-end-let-me-out-of-here, but it sure doesn't hurt to air out your brain (as well as your butt) from time to time.

Rachel @ MWF Seeking BFF said...

I'm sure I'm echoing what everyone else has said, but I most definitely have had a good chunk of my book/plot aha! moments while I was running. Or taking a shower. Or driving. It's in those moments where I am free to just be alone with my thoughts, where I give myself enough time to flesh out an idea.

Of course by the time I get out of the shower I've forgotten it. Grrr.

I've had many times at the gym where after a treadmill run I have to rush to my phone to jot down a virtual "note" before forgetting..

Chris Phillips said...

I've never tried jogging or any kind of vigorous exercise to jog the creativity, but often long walks help.

Carrie said...

According to all the fitness magazines I read at the gym exercise does help keep your brain in shape. I think creativity is included in that. I always feel more creative after a cardio kick session or running.

E.J. Wesley said...

Do we have to exercise bare-chested like those guys in the picture? If so, we may need our own writer's gym with no windows ... just sayin'.

Deb said...

I can't speak for whether or not exercise boosts creativity. I do hip-hop dance 2-3 times a week, religiously, and the ONLY thing I am thinking about during that time is the choreography. But it's an amazing outlet and incredibly freeing. So maybe it loosens something up in me creatively. Also, I've been writing a book about the Holocaust, so it's been great to have something on the complete opposite end of the spectrum to balance it all out.

Munk Davis said...

There is such a thing as physical morality.

Debbie said...

Yes. Yes. Yes.

I finally figured this out earlier in the year. I took a couple days off work to get a better handle on some rewrites. Whenever I got stuck, I'd jump on my--then--new Wii Fit Plus and play. I thought I was goofing off. But when I sat back down, voila! The problem unstuck.

Jessica Lei said...

I never exercise. Ideas usually stem through the inanities of life for me--taking a shower, trying to fall asleep, eating dinner. I knew I was a freak...

J. M. Strother said...

You bet it does. I find bike rides and hiking the best forms, but the rowing machine in the gym works in a pinch.
~jon

Keetha said...

No doubt! It seems to clear my mind of what may be junking it up, making way for ideas and creative fun.

Another big factor for me is how motivational it is: later in the day if I don't feel like writing, I remind myself that I didn't feel like working out but I did it anyway, and how great was that.

That gives me enough internal encouragement and you-can-do-it to make me spring back to my current writing project.

Watcher55 said...

I've been killing myself for two weeks trying to write the last chapter of my first WIP by locking myself in my room. You just reminded of the one thing that's gotten me this far - dead writer's don't write. I have 1.8 acres of leaves in the yard so I'm going to shut the 'puter down and treat my brain to a few hours of oxygen.

Watcher55 said...

I've been killing myself for two weeks trying to write the last chapter of my first WIP by locking myself in my room. You just reminded of the one thing that's gotten me this far - dead writer's don't write. I have 1.8 acres of leaves in the yard so I'm going to shut the 'puter down and treat my brain to a few hours of oxygen.

Karen Fisher-Alaniz said...

Absolutely! I'm a walker. I just listened to an interview with a neuroscientist who studies writing and the brain, so I now have teh science behind why I should get out there and walk! Fascinating. I just blogged about it. Like most writers, I've had many, many experiences where I got a great idea when I was least expecting it.

D.G. Hudson said...

Exercise/fitness is very important. Walking and weight training are my choices.

We walked every day in Paris on our last visit and probably covered 5-6 miles a day walking, sometimes more. Some walks were uphill (Montmartre) and some were straight up - the Arc de Triomphe 300 steps (+).

There's nothing like fresh air to clear the grey matter, and when it's by water of some kind (river, ocean, lake)it also calms my thinking.

Besides, as an observer, something I've posted about, you have to get out and see the world around you. Exercise just adds another layer.

Very good point, Nathan. We don't want to get sluggish.

Katherine Hyde said...

I'm with you, Nathan. At my annual writing retreat (a week on the beach in Oregon), the daily morning beach-walk is a crucial element of the great work that always gets done, and I'm pretty sure that goes for everyone there.

My normal workout routine (Curves) is less invigorating, but still essential to keeping my mind clear.

Nicole MacDonald said...

Yup!! Running and stair climbing and going bush often give me my best ideas :)

BirthRight The Arrival, on Amazon 1.1.2011
www.damselinadirtydress.com

S J Bradley said...

Yes, absolutely! A mid-day walk is absolutely part of my writing routine, and always has been.

In fact, didn't Haruki Murakami write an entire book about this...? ;-)

Elizabeth said...

I broke my back earlier this year, which meant no more running, and yes, my morale and my writing both suffered. I found myself scrubbing toilets and washing dishes by hand and doing other brainless physical chores to make up for it. There's something about turning your body on and your mind off that's great for getting the creativity going. Plus, having clean clothes to wear and clean dishes to eat off of? Is there anything better?

anvil said...

"Running! If there's any activity happier, more exhilarating, more nourishing to the imagination, I can't think of what it might be. In running the mind flees with the body, the mysterious efflorescence of language seems to pulse in the brain, in rhythm with our feet and the swinging of our arms."
— Joyce Carol Oates

If it's good enough for her, it's totes good enough for me!

Rachel Searles said...

Exercise absolutely helps. A quick run helps get my brain juices flowing, and I've had some of my best plot breakthroughs in the middle of spin class.

Gina said...

It might, if I had time to actually do it. Between working a full time job, keeping my house clean and my laundry done and all that other stuff that comes with being married and domesticated, PLUS trying to write on top of it, I don't get a whole lot of time to jump on the treadmill.

Ada said...

Yes, yes! I know I often feel like there aren't enough hours in the day to do it all (paid work, writing time, eating, etc., etc.) but exercise is *so* important! You've got to do or else you turn into a crank with sunken eyes from staring at your computer monitor all day.

Nicole said...

I used to swim competitively, and there is nothing like the endless rhythm of laps to help you sort out that latest plot tangle.

I love the creative boost that comes with exercise!

J. T. Shea said...

I'm making POST-resolutions this year. I'm going to break them all before the year's end, and then break everyone else's resolutions too. Though I am just back from a long and uncharacteristically snowy Irish walk.

No doubt the pic was taken just before those disgustingly healthy-looking joggers leaped into the Reservoir and swam a few laps to cool off after their jog? I hate them! Even though I am better-looking than all of them put together.

Remilda Graystone said...

I've never heard that exercising helps let the words flow, but I am so willing to try it. I think you may be right, because I know how much happier I feel when I exercise versus how I feel when I haven't exercised.

Interesting post.

Marigold said...

I just dictate to my personal assistant while I run on the threadmill.

Hah, I wish. I rarely have free time so all the time I can spare goes to writing. Exercise? I only think about it if a character needs to workout in a scene.

Sarah said...

For me the best thing about exercising (walking the dog) is the sense of accomplishment. "Today I don't totally suck; I fulfilled my obligation to the dog. In the eyes of at least one other living being, I am a success." It also helps to make my bed as soon as I get up. "Look, I can be a grownup today."

Carol Riggs said...

Absolutely, great reminder. Just sitting in one place hunkered over a keyboard most of the day takes its toll on a body. Mood-lifter, muscle-stretcher, creativity-booster: That's exercise!

I don't jog but I do walk for exercise. Often, I've seen images along the way that I've incorporated into my novels--rusty shovels and abandoned tricycles under a carport, or black dots of sparrows like stubble on the chin of the sky.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I totally agree, and not just for the health benefits of exercise. I really believe that you have to do other things once in a while in order to help your brain recharge. If I do nothing but sit in front of a computer all day (or stare at a notebook, or whatever you use to write), it kills my creativity because I start resenting having to be there, if nothing else.

Mira said...

I took my posts down because they weren't what I wanted to say.

What I want to say is, absolutely! Good topic - writing is not only solitary, but sedentary. In addition to BIC, there's BOOC (butt out of chair). :)

I swim regularly and swimming works out all types of things in my mind. Giving the mind time to rest and roam without my interference is wonderful for my creativity.

I really like that picture, too, it's peaceful.

TKAstle said...

You are most definitely not alone.


word verif - Wovoless - Apparently I have no wovoes. Can someone please tell me where I can get some? It's rather embarrassing to be without.

Gretchen said...

Oh I love it when you speak my mind, Nathan! (And it happens fairly often around here, I might add.)

I just posted on a similar topic on my own blog, albeit on a more personal level. A runner-poet friend of mine lent me the words for the title:

"Fatigue is the Heart of Poetry"

Well put, don't you think?

Thanks for letting me know I'm not alone on this one.

Becky Wallace said...

I stand while I write. Sometimes I mix it up by standing on one leg, great core workout. I'm pretty sure that counts as exercise.

Zan Marie said...

For me it's either exercise or a hot shower. There's nothing like a well-watered brain after a plot snarl. ; )

Anonymous said...

Yes, exercise definitely helps-and manual labor. I've stumble across a majority of my "brillent" ideas either while I'm mucking out stalls or scrubbing floors.

Nikole Hahn said...

Excercise...yes! Definitley. But another good place to lift the mood, awaken the senses, and refill the creative ink well...go to a coffee shop. Sit and pretend to work while your ears, like radar, span the conversations and your eyes peek from beneath your lashes to watch people--their twitches, their gestures, their words, and how they interact. It's a good excercise in itself because your characters won't be the same in every book if you simply spend the time watching human nature.

Dr. Aaron Lewis said...

I also recommend showering for creativity. Not enough writers shower because they get sucked into their screens. And everyone knows how many great ideas come in the shower.

So, writers, for the love of all that is holy, take showers.

Teralyn Rose Pilgrim said...

This actually has been proven by science, to a degree. Studies have shown that cardio exercise is an extremely affective treatment for depression and anxiety. Therapists and psychologists encourage their patients to exercise because it's good for emotional health, and I believe you need to be emotionally healthy to write.

Teralyn Rose Pilgrim said...

I just clicked on your link and found out that you already know all about this... oops. Now you know again.

Ted Fox said...

Does competitive cranberry eating count as exercise:
http://diningroomoffice.blogspot.com/2010/12/cranberry-wager-judgement-day_05.html

Probably not. But it did give me a week's worth of blog posts, so perhaps the effect is the same. :)

And I have to agree on the hot showers; I think that's one of the most effective ways to relieve both writer's block and stress.

Elizabeth said...

Today I read an article that said that exercising boosted your energy and made you feel better throughout the rest of the day. That's why it probably helps with creativity. I've also read that repeated manual labor gives the brain room to think and that's how some authors get their ideas.

Anonymous said...

'I believe you need to be emotionally healthy to write.'

Um. No.

Lori henry said...

A neccessary part of my everyday writing "routine" is taking a dance class. I'm pretty sure some of my best ideas get trapped in my body(!), so I do a lot of stretching and dancing. I often find myself talking into my phone recorder on the way home as thoughts pour out. Hey, whatever works. :)

The Red Angel said...

Nice post, Nathan! :D It's different from your usual posts. I don't do heavy exercise to get my creative juices flowing, but sometimes a nice long walk around the neighborhood helps!

~TRA

http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

Gracie said...

Hmm... I was looking for motivation for exersising (not to mention inspiration)... now I think I've found it. ;)

Sean said...

Exercise totally helps lift your creativity to new heights. It helps you pick up chicks too!

Stephanie Garber said...

You are so right Nathan! When people ask me what I do when I get stuck in my writing, my answer is always, "I ride my bike." Exercise is a steroid for creativity.

Seosamh o Hainle said...

Hi Nathan,

I totally agree, just wrote 500 words in half an hour after a gym session healthy body healthy mind...I like your blog good stuff..keep it up

Heather said...

Several people have mentioned studies showing that exercise promotes brain health, and it's true! I just read a book on it, Spark, by John Ratey. FYI, Ratey also says that the exercise needs to be aerobic (weight-lifting, for example, doesn't help your brain). But if you want to see the studies (discussed so that non-scientists can understand them), you can find them in Ratey's book.

And yes, I find that exercise really helps me!

Simon Haynes said...

I don't need convincing - I've cycled over 3000 km since July and lost over 10kg. I'm in the best shape I've been since my early thirties. See new profile pic ;-)

LM Preston said...

You are so on point with this post. I just started back exercising after a 6 month hiatus while writing. I hurt - literally all over, but I'm doing it again tonight (of course my kid's doing a marathon training and needs someone to be her partner - help! I see lots of pain in my future)

Trish said...

I used to run and loved it, but now my knees have had it, so I go for a bush walk instead. I fast-walk for an hour every day. and that's where I get most of my inspirations and ideas for plots. It never fails me. If I'm having a problem with a plot, I think while I walk.

Along the way, I see kangaroos, foxes, rundown old houses, old car wrecks and sometimes a person or kids climbing trees.

Try it, you may see some odd characters on your walk, maybe even me. I'm odd. I look like a hobbit.

Genevieve Graham-Sawchyn said...

Plus ... it's far too easy to just sit on my butt and only exercise my fingers. Okay, okay. I'll join the gym.

Ashley Hope Pérez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ashley Hope Pérez said...

While I was training for my second marathon (a walk-run plan, nothing extreme) and revising my first novel, I would take an MP3 recorder with me on runs and (breathily) talk out writing problems.

Anything (even funny looks from other folks on the trail) for art.

www.ashleyperez.com

Livia said...

Wow, I'm late to the party! The answer is, yes. Plenty of science behind it. A couple things off the top of my head:

1. Exercise puts you into a relaxed state that's more conducive to free associating and coming up with ideas. (I know it's true for a period afterwards, not sure about during, but could happen too) That's the spontaneous pathway mentioned in this article

2. Also, exercise improves bloodflow, and thus oxygen to the brain. Can't think of a specific study that shows that this blood flow makes you perform better, but it's well established that exercise prevents age related cognitive decline. So if you want to be writing into your later years, exercise!!!

My personal favorite booster is the after exercise shower. Two creativity boosters in one!

Nicole L Rivera said...

Totally agree. Exercise always helps. Days I don't exercise I feel sluggish and need naps to get through the day. I love to swim, really gets the blood pumping :)

Milo James Fowler said...

Heck yes; gotta get that blood flowing. This will be HUGE next year with Write1Sub1.

Tambra said...

Exercise helps my creativity. I do Zumba, the treadmill and the weight machines at the gym.

It clears my mind assisting in sharpening my focus on plot or characterization problems.

I'm pretty close to my fitness goals and I think that positive boost is showing in my writing.

lindenmcn said...

Oh yes. My buddy did her Masters Lecture on this very topic and had a bunch of us writers get hooked on the idea of tread desks. It's not a running experience, but a slow walk. I have my tread desk set up in my writing studio and use it as well as my regular sit down desk. Walking while typing is not really hard and you forget that you are moving. I find that I crave the movement now and when I am stuck I get up and walk right there, rain or shine. I highly recommend it. Not a fad. I am very happy with it.

Tambra said...

February Grace, I have fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue so I can't always work out or exercise.
I do what I can and try not to beat myself up when its physically not possible.

Some days getting out of bed and making a cup of hot tea is all I can do.

I'm grateful for each day I'm given.

Hugs to you!!!!!

Tambra

Anonymous said...

I'm a distance swimmer, and create problems solve themselves while I go back and forth, back and forth across the pool for an hour or more. The otherwise numbingly repetitions activity uncork the creative juices.

So does sleep. When I wake up, problems that stumped me the night before are often magically solved. If I don't milk myself within an hour of waking, however, they go back into the dark place and they're lost forever.

J. T. Shea said...

Marigold, I dictate to my personal assistants while THEY run on the treadmill.

Sarah, put the dog on the treadmill! I only make my bed on Tuesdays, and I be a grownup only on alternate Thursdays.

Carol Riggs, I'm still trying to incorporate images of a snowy Irish suburb into my WIP set largely in the equatorial jungles of an alien planet. Though I do already have an iceberg, a glacier and hundreds of huge Yetis in my jungle. 'LOST', eat your heart out! Polar bears are nothing.

Right on, Mira! Without exercise, I could end up with a bad case of BTBFC, butt too big for chair.

Livia, what kind of a scientist are you? If you can't think of a specific study that shows what you want to show, MAKE ONE UP!

Tambra, some days getting out of bed and making a cup of hot tea can be an act of heroism.

T. Anne said...

I just came back from a run! I totally agree. I need to get those endorphins going to keep me motivated through the tuff times. In fact I need to stop eating all the holiday food that seems to be planting itself in my path lately. I feel a lot better mentally when I don't fill my diet with cookies and candy.

RLS said...

Yes, but sometimes resting inspires as well. For me, it's making a change--going from a quiet to boisterous room, inside to out, sitting to the stairclimber.
But most of all, it is showing up to the page. Amazingly, I may think I'm unsure where to go next, but once I'm in that dance with the keyboard or page ... poof, I'm productive again.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Ah, Nathan. I do wish you were still "in the business." I recently saw another Corona for you on eBay, too...

You got me on this one.

I think exercise is as important for a writer as an open mind and sleep.

Living in your head can cause an awful lot of things to occur, including adrenaline and other build ups.

When I was a kid in college, I found I studied best for tests by doing push-ups. Years later, when learning a new language (Spanish) in my 30s, I did the same and it worked again.

I some days hate going to my Taekwando school for a work out. But every time I do, I love how I feel afterward. All sorts of frustrations released, ideas sparked, head cleared with a fresh sense of preparedness.

I'm a big fan of martial arts for exercise, as it involves discipline, like writing, and self-improvement, and occasionally testing your progress against others as well.

I hope to live as long as Auchincloss, or at least to be as productive as long as him.

At my current rate, I have to. I'm in reasonable physical shape (except for a recent altercation with a minivan, which has me on injured reserve until my torn knee ligament heals), but no longer a bright young star just below the horizon or under 40. So, to achieve my writing goals, I'll probably have to survive at least as long as Auchincloss.

Of course, to achieve my martial arts goals, I'll probably have to do the same as well--if trying for it doesn't kill me first!

Cathi Stoler said...

I love exercising. It's invigorating and calming all at once and, for me, lets my mind be open to so many possibilites. Even just walking through the city is stimulating. I look at people I pass and make up little stories about them. It's fun.Also, without exercise, I'd really look blubby!

Anonymous said...

I run two miles every morning, celtic music running into my ears via mp3 player. I usually sing loudly as I go, and am ignored by the continuous line of pine trees (I live in a tree farm). The days that I don't run, I don't usually write. So yes, I have to run or there isn't another chapter!

Other Lisa said...

Oh, lord yes. I've commented about this before, many times. I'm hardly a jock, but I absolutely have to get out and get some oxygen to my brain. It helps me problem-solve, keeps me from getting hideously depressed and at least prevents a few of those middle-aged pounds from accumulating on my butt from all the "butt in chair" (the rest of them, what can I do?)

Plus I have a bad back from an accident, and if I don't exercise regularly, I have really bad pain to deal with, and nobody likes that.

Ty Johnston said...

I totally agree with this post. Usually I walk a couple of miles a day around a track, and the whole time I just keep getting fantastic ideas while also working out plot elements and characterizations. Recently I even dug out an old tape recorder from my news reporting days and carry it with me while walking to record my ideas because I was forgetting far too many of them by the time I got home.

Amanda Sablan said...

Exercise definitely helps my writing! And even if it didn't, how could you say no?

Tess Cox said...

Absolutely! The other thing is doing something outside myself for someone else. There's something about the look in someone's eyes when they "receive" from me that makes the gears and wheels in my head turn faster. My heart is engaged, but it propels my thoughts to a deeper level of character development. It makes me feel *human* and my writing reflects that vulnerability, I hope.
Good to hear from you, Nathan. Happy Christmas!

Livia said...

J.T. Shea

Lol, my bad!

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

Works for me AFTER I write. I pretty much have to write first anyway or my day is screwed.

Silicon Valley Diva said...

Not only is exercising helpful to stimulate creativity, it is vital to a writer's health. We tend to sit for long stretches at a time. Not good, especially as we get older. It is so extremely difficult to break away when we get in a writing groove, but sometimes we must. I began to suffer some major muscle pain in the past, so I now try to force myself to take breaks and go for a walk or hit the gym. 9 times out of 10 I find doing so will also help rejuvenate my creativity and thus, help improve my work.

Janette Dolores said...

Preach it from the mountaintop, brother! Exercise boosts self-confidence, which lets you get your mind off of yourself for a minute. In my experience, if I am not happy with myself physically, it consumes too much of my thoughts. I don't mean in a vain way--but in a health-conscious and self-respect-having way.

So I exercise to be a happier me with more mental focus on all things creative. And I know a teeny amount about exercising for the sake of restoring focus--I lost 49 pounds in 2009. One year and four months later and *not a pound* is back. Thanks for the post, Nathan!

Avery June said...

There's nothing like the pain of running to remind me how pleasant solving a plot problem is.

Tracey said...

Does it help me with creativity? Not in the least. In fact, thanks to lymphedema tarda, walking around is pretty much guaranteed to exhaust me, leaving me little energy for writing or daily chores and, most likely, with swollen legs and a lot of pain for the next few days.

Going for regular walks and getting fresh air in my snoot isn't worth suffering bone-aching pain and being unable to sit, stand or walk without feeling that my feet are resting on knife blades pointing upward. It just isn't.

RobynBradley said...

Does obsessively clicking "refresh" on your email after you send a query to an agent count as exercise for your fingers? :) Seriously, I agree. Some of my best ideas come when I'm focused on something else, be it power walking or showering or cleaning the cat's hairballs off the carpet.

Hart Johnson said...

I'm a deep believer that when your body is busy and mind relaxed, those connections form that didn't seem to be gelling before, so I'm with you. If I'm REALLY stuck, I don't even take my iPod.

sinisterechoes.com said...

Definitely! I always go for a long walk when I'm stuck with something in my writing or when I simply need to clear my head. It's also a great way to keep in shape.

Tart and Soul said...

Feeling blocked? A little downward dog and the blood flows back to the right place and brings them lots of ideas!

J.C. Martin said...

Definitely! Great stress relief, and the adrenaline seems to help my creativity!

Kiara Golding - The Secret Writer said...

You are absolutely right!

I walk to and from work every day, and I've thought of so many scenes and ideas while walking. The time alone and away from distractions means I can really think about what I want to happen in a scene or plot, and it's great to have that time while still doing something purposeful.

Great post, you are definitely not alone in this.

Paul Greci said...

I'm totall with you here. Exercise helps me solve story problems and boost my mood. I even have a treadmill desk and spend part of my writing day walking.

Rachelle said...

Totally agree! I love to run while listening to my ipod and when I'm concentrating on a story arc, it seems like every other song is describing my characters. The connections I feel to my characters strengthens and it helps me to add depth to them and their situations.

Claudie A. said...

Nathan, that's the second time you post something I experience right after. Perhaps it's just because I notice it more? ^^

There's been a lot of snow up here in Quebec City, and let me tell you, I'm getting a *lot* of ideas while shoveling. Take that, plotholes! Winter is winning over you! :D

evelonies said...

i noticed this BIG TIME during NaNoWriMo. normally, i run 3-4 miles per day, plus weight lifting and stretching. i'll occasionally throw in some cycling or swimming as well. i was doing really well until my kids got sick during the 2nd week of november. they were sick, so i didn't work out. my writing slowed considerably and it was a struggle to get a few sentences down. then my husband and i got sick, so again, no exercise, which meant craptacular writing. after thanksgiving weekend (during which i didn't exercise either), i got back into it. everyone was finally healthy, so i made myself get back to the gym. i'll tell you what, i cranked out about 15,000 or my 50,000 words in those last 3 days. about half of it on 11/30.

Jen P said...

So if it is mutually and equally compatible, if I complete the London Marathon this year, maybe I will complete my novel too?

Sponsors for Whizz-Kidz welcome - and fitness/marathon advice in the forum perhaps? ;-)

Sara said...

Exercise is key! Gets the blood flowing, gets me out of the house and away from the computer, and it's a change of scenery. All very important :)

I also teach yoga. So if I don't have time to get a workout in and I'm really stuck/blocked/frustrated, I'll try an inversion in the house.

I highly recommend it! It literally flips your perspective, turns your world upside-down, and irrigates your brain with blood. If you're new to yoga/inversions, almost everyone can do downward-facing dog, or just sit/stand and fold at the waist - anything that gets your head below your heart. Give it a try! :)

Jan Markley said...

It's great for writers to remember to exercise regularly. Thanks for the post!

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Going for a run this morning! The frozen beard effect is always charming, right? Right?

Jamie said...

My internist says running helps her with puzzling cases. Often out running the diagnosis will pop into her head. For me, it is frustrating to have a great idea while on bike, on run or in pool and not have a place to jot it down.

Kristina said...

Most definitely. Gets the blood pumping, endorphins running, good feelings going. Love it.

Lauren said...

I could not agree more, Nathan! I do yoga almost every day, and I have had countless ideas come to me while on the mat.

SariBelle said...

These post came at a great time. I've just made some pre-resolutions and one of them was to excercise. I made this one knowing there was a high likelihood I would fail.

Maybe this is just the extra boost I need?

Anonymous said...

There's lots of material on exercise improving learning acquisition and recall, mainly by affecting the activity of a growth factor called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) in the hippocampus.

BDNF is signaled strongly by inflammation, stress hormones, and other such signaling events which are stimulated by exercise. This is more of a long-term effect, as -- per the name -- BDNF is involved in the growth and plasticity of neurons in the hippocampus.

The post-exercise euphoria and creativity boost is likely a function of endorphins (your body's own morphine) and increased blood flow to the brain; there's some research into this but not as much as you'd want to draw real conclusions.

A.M Hudson said...

Hmmm. Interesting. I will try this exercise you speak of. No, seriously, I never thought of using the pursuit of better heart health as a tool to help writers block/indirection. So thanks!!

Victoria Snelling said...

Actually, I think it's the switch between mental and physical activity that boosts creativity. If I'm stuck, I do the washing up or the hoovering, or clean out a cupboard. It's not technically exercise, but it is changing to a type of activity that is done by the body rather than the mind. Disengaging conscious thought (and giving yourself the fiction that you're doing something constructive and not procrastinating) allows your sub-conscious to sort out your writing problems.

Jeffrey Ricker said...

I know this is true from experience: I come up with more ideas and solve more problems when I'm running. Also, I've been known to sit on a weight bench between sets and write down ideas. The people at the gym are occasionally not amused by this....

Diva said...

I agree completely! Doing anything to get away from your work for a while can provide a new perspective, but there's something special about breaking a sweat.

Kate said...

I'm terrible when it comes to exercising, but I do find a walk in cold air always clears the cobwebs and I am usually brainstorming (without paper at hand) while I walk.

Marta said...

There's some interesting research being done related to health and sedentary lifestyles (reported for example at http://blogs.plos.org/obesitypanacea/2010/12/10/sedentary-physiology-part-4-future-direction/).

I've always found exercise to be a reasonably pretty good stress reducer. But the most dramatic effect I've felt was on both my creativity and alertness. This was years ago when I was writing a dissertation day and night. On days that I decided I had to devote all day to writing, I managed to stay up until 9 or 10 at night, but I wasn't terribly productive. On days when I convinced myself to start the day with a half hour walk, against my instinct to get to work right away, I ALWAYS was able to focus better and almost always able to continue writing a good 3 hours longer. Strangely, walks in the afternoon or evening weren't nearly as effective. After a couple weeks of noticing this effect, I started walking every morning.

M. Tate said...

I think overall, you are correct, but not quite for me. I'm a competitive marathon runner, and when I am in training, a lot of my exercise is very intense and long in duration. Basically after a 30mi run, your brain does not function normally for a couple days, or at least mine doesn't.

That makes it difficult to write as you can imagine, plus I require extra sleep and I have a day job to boot.

But now that I'm in 'vacation mode' and I do little exerciwse, I am far more productive in my writing.

Overall I agree with you, but you should mention that you can over do it, and then your writing will suffer.

Judy Holland said...

What a wonderfully helpful blog -- you are a creative super star!

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