Your body and mind are intertwined. But, as writers, our craft demands that we spend alarmingly large portions of our life being sedentary.
I love pounding out stories but I don’t like making sacrifices in order to do it. Sciatica, psychosis, and stiffness (not the good kind) are common companions when you spend too much time hunched over in front of the screen.
Then there comes a point of diminishing returns (~3 hours for me) where more time with your butt in a chair no longer contributes to more words on the page or better quality writing. But keep your body in tip-top shape and that quickly translates to more energy, more creativity, and more happiness, which then translates to better writing and greater productivity.
So… How can writers keep fit? How we can stop our spines from curving like a medieval torture device? How can we get more blood pumping to our brains so we can keep pumping out the masterpieces? Well, here are just 10 ways writers can keep fit.
1. Use a treadmill writing desk
I noticed a funny thing. Whenever I had a walk before my writing session, the first 30 minutes of writing were awesome when they would typically be a struggle. And whenever I went for a walk every 90 minutes throughout the day, I was more productive and less inclined to procrastinate. I was also more creative and in a better mood.
So I thought… What if I could write and walk at the same time?
Introducing the treadmill writing desk.
It’s good enough for these fine people:
- A. J. Jacobs, who wrote Drop Dead Healthy while using the treadmill writing desk.
- Veronica Roth, writer of the Divergent series.
- Neal Stephenson, author of Snow Crash, who kept a record of over a year spent using the treadmill writing desk
So it’s good enough for you and me.
Once you get used to walking between 1-2 mph while writing, you’ll likely find that you have more energy, creativity, and it’s easier to get into the flow and pace of your current work-in-progress.
After a week of using the writing desk, you’ll find you’re…
- More creative
- Have less back and leg problems
- Start seeing your abs from fat loss
You’ll also actually appreciate the times when you do sit down. You’re not walking fast enough to really notice you’re walking. But you’re getting blood flow and stimulation and when you step off the treadmill and flop down on the bed, you’ll get that super awesome ‘ahhhhh’ feeling.
- I Used A Treadmill Desk For A Month & Here’s What Happened
- Can you really walk and work?
- My life with a treadmill desk
My full treadmill writing desk review is coming soon.
2. Do push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and sit-ups throughout the day
Here’s a little routine I’m following at the moment:
- 25 push-ups
- 25 pull-ups
- 25 squats
- 25 sit-ups
Do your push-ups before moving on the the pull-ups. Complete your pull-ups before moving onto the squats. And finish your squats before you proceed to the sit-ups.
Depending on your current weight and fitness levels, you might have to break your reps up. For example, I recently gained a lot of weight in a very short amount of time. I can bang out 25 push-ups in a row super easily but I can only manage around 5 pull-ups in a row where I used to be able to do 30.
No problem. Break your reps up. Come back to them later in the day. Before lunch, complete your reps. Feeling tired? Bang out some reps. Procrastinating? Reps.
Once you manage to do 25 in a row of any exercise, you will graduate to more reps (yay) the next day.
So if you did 25 push-ups in a row today, you’ll do 50 in a row tomorrow (or try). Once you can do 50, bump it up to 75. You get the picture.
I’m doing this at the moment to keep my mind alert, combat some niggling back problems, and lose some fat. I did this routine a few years back and got absolutely shredded.
This is a super easy routine even if you travel a lot like me. All you need is a pull-up bar or a set of monkey bars in a nearby park. I’ve ordered this affordable and effective pull-up bar every time I moved to a new country this year. Works like a charm.
3. Sit on a balance ball chair
This one’s on my Christmas wish list (hint, hint).
The problem with normal chairs is that we forget we’re sitting on them half them time. We forget our own posture and start slouching and contorting into weird and unhealthy positions.
But if you get a chair that’s essentially a big bouncy ball, you’re going to solve a lot of problems that writers suffer from. Namely…
- No more aching legs, back, and arms
- Stronger core from having to keep yourself stable
- No more weird posture or spines curved like question marks
- Keeping focus for longer because your in a constant state of bodily tension
Plus you’ll stop taking yourself so super seriously all the time. Attention writers: stop trying to look all pensive and cool, slouching over your desk like a knock-off Camus. Park that tush on a big, bright coloured bouncy ball and feel your soul soar.
4. Get a standing desk
Don’t feel like sitting on a bouncy ball or steadily walking while writing? Maybe you should try a standing desk!
You can buy a pricy standing desk converter or you can just do what I did back in my university days:
- Take your little clothes cabinets and stack them on a regular desk until they reach chest/shoulder height. Voila! Standing desk, man.
- Or stick your laptop on a chest-high wall shelf and type away. Standing desk again!
People used to pass my room and think I was crazy when they saw what I was doing. But I had the last laugh. I had more energy, positivity, creativity, and productivity. I also had sore legs after about 45 minutes. So don’t be a sadistic. Take sitting breaks every hour or so.
In case you need a healthy dose of peer pressure to seal the deal, here are some famous standing desk users:
- Ernest Hemingway
- Leonardo Da Vinci
- Søren Kierkegaard
- Winston Churchill
- Thomas Jefferson
- Charles Dickens
5. Join/form a writers’ sports team
This isn’t something I’ve personally done due to my extreme introversion and complete aversion to anything resembling “team sports”. But I love the idea… for other people.
Joe Dunthorne told me during an interview that he has a weekly football match with a bunch of writer and teacher pals. How great is that idea? A group of likeminded dudes coming together to do something other than the very thing that bonds them… something physical to boot too!
This is simple enough. Pick your poison (rugby, football, basketball, mud wrestling), then go to meetup.com and set up your first gathering in your area.
6. Break your day up with walks for bursts of creativity
If you work from home or write full-time, you’re bound to get cabin-fever every so often. A cabin-fever ain’t great for creativity. But frequent walks are crack for creativity. Creativity is a fiend for ambling, strolling, and sauntering of any kind.
Personally I find constant walks throughout the day work well in this fashion:
- A longish walk in the morning after waking, before coffee and before eating
- A short walk every 90 minutes throughout the day
- A stroll in the evening
Become a walker and you join the ranks of writers as great as these:
- Charles Dickens
- Vladimir Nabokov
- William Wordsworth
- Henry David Thoreau
Okay, maybe you won’t be Aristotle just because you take a couple of strolls throughout the day. But at least you’ll keep your sanity and stop your legs from withering into wilted stalks.
7. Stretch when you feel like procrastinating
One of the best things I’ve ever done for my writing creativity and productivity is to have a consistent meditation and stretching routine.
I personally use the one outlined in Wim Hof’s course, which I have talked about here:
Specifically you want to stretch in a way that amends the prolonged damage you’ve accumulated from sitting.
There’s a yoga pose that’s great for writers. It’s called the ‘cobra’:
Another great one is the ‘bridge’:
And even if you don’t have sciatica (like me), a sciatica stretching routine is great for writers because it will release a bunch of stiffness in your legs:
8. Do your reading on the go with audiobooks
Now with things like the Fitbit and the speedometer in your iPhone, you can easily measure how many steps you take a day.
For me, I’ve found that 10,000 steps a day is the sweet spot. I sleep better (deeper), I have more creativity, more productivity, and less stomach problems.
If I go under or over 10,000 steps a day, life starts to suck a little bit.
But what do you do during all that walking?
Simple. Writers need to read. So just download a book from Audible or iTunes or wherever and listen to it while you walk.
I discovered the brilliance of talking books, audio books. Just make a list of all the novels you’ve ever wanted to read . . . It could be James Bond or a romantic fantasy — it doesn’t have to be great literature. It could be an autobiography. But you stick it in your ears and you start walking and you just run up the miles, you cannot stop, you’ve to get to the end of a chapter. And instead of taking a cab . . . you will be walking, and the pounds are shed — or, what do you call them, kilos. (Interview with Jennifer Byrne)
9. Eat a diet that blunts your cravings for junk
Sedentary lifestyle + excessive calories and junk food = fat and unhealthy writer.
I’ve often caught myself reaching for a sugar fix whenever I find myself struggling to write or feeling too busy to cook a real meal.
But the simplest way to stop yourself from reaching for sugary crap is to take measures to stop craving it in the first place.
I’ve found a coffee and green tea combination is pretty powerful in blunting my appetite and making it easier to moderate what I eat.
I’ve also found that taking a BCAA supplement in the morning and during the day makes avoiding sugar and staying lean super easy. I recommend this delicious BCAA supplement.
In addition to this, eating foods rich in healthy fats and protein goes a long way to making you feel satisfied and full and will stop you suffering from sugar crashes. Eggs, nuts, and beef are all great options for staple day-to-day food. Make sure to mix in a shit-ton of veggies too.
10. Nix the cigs, booze, and drugs
I smoked for around 7 years but I’ve been a happy non-smoker for almost 5 years now. Quitting smoking was hands-down the best thing I ever did for the quality of my life.
The whole world knows how bad smoking is already. I don’t need to ram it down your throat. But writers still seem not to give a damn and continue puffing away. This is usually under the illusion that smoking helps productivity. It doesn’t. I’ve been on both sides of the tobacco track and I’m way more productive, creative, and happier as a non-smoker.
If you want to quit painlessly and never miss it, I recommend Allen Carr’s Easy Way To Stop Smoking. This is the book that killed my habit overnight.
I also used to drink a lot. Correction: I used to get hammered every night. But I’ve been drink-free for over 3 years now. Quitting booze has been the single greatest thing I’ve done for staying lean and staying happy. It’s so much easier to avoid a spare tire and sort the rest of your life out when you don’t have alcohol in the mix.
And drugs… Let’s not go there. Just realise that taking dangerous drugs in order to write is a foolish way to live.
Personally I’m pretty liberal. Nothing wrong with some weed or a glass of wine every now and then. Just making sure it don’t become a habit (translation: a problem) is important if you want to stay in shape.
11. Just hit the gym
I saved the super obvious one for last. But I credit the habit of going to the gym on a regular basis as keeping me in great shape for the last decade.
Note: I didn’t say workout. I said go to the gym.
I personally love working out. But there are plenty of days where I don’t feel like going. You know what I do? I haul my ass to the gym anyway. I don’t plan on doing anything. I just turn up. I don’t think about it.
When I get there, I always end up doing something. And I always end up leaving the gym feeling better than I walked in.
I’ve travelled a lot the past 3 years so I haven’t had the benefit of a regular gym. But whenever I arrive in a new place, I immediately seek out a gym and fork over the cash for a membership. No ifs, ands, or buts. Fork that cash over.
In Budapest, I had to get two trains and travel for 40 minutes just to get to the gym. In Vienna, I had to pay 10 bucks for a one day pass. I did that until I found an awesome old-school bodybuilder gym for 30 bucks a month. In Tokyo, my gym membership was 150 bucks for some fancy “fitness centre” but it was my only nearby option so I parted with the cash. In residential Yokohama, there wasn’t a gym for miles and I didn’t have a car so I ordered this bad boy and assembled in my room.
You just gotta do it.
If you need to know more about workout routines and diet, my personal favourite website is John Doe Bodybuilding. You don’t need any other site.
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