Super Reader Marjorie, an incredibly generous and thoughtful woman, suggested yesterday that I talk about my physical travails vis a vis writing. I have had some bum times, to quote Sondheim, but I’m still here. And relative to a lot of people, I’ve drawn to a genetic inside straight, if you will. You should see my mom.
So, instead, I want to talk about how writers need hobbies that remind us that certain things are futile, frustrating, surprising, unexpectedly rewarding. Gardening, cooking, carpentry, knitting, housework, even Farmville all fit the bill.
For me, it’s working out.
I began exercising in earnest more than twenty-five years ago. Yes, we’re talking Jane Fonda, then aerobics, then step aerobics, then weight-lifting, then yoga, then Pilates. I don’t think I’ve missed an exercise trend, although kettle bells have been slow to catch on in Baltimore. About four years ago, I began working with a personal trainer twice a week. I had learned the hard way that my body is very wily and it will always – ALWAYS – find a way to perform certain movements more efficiently. I needed someone else to figure out how to change my strength routine. Yesterday, he made me jump like a frog back and forth across the gym floor. I believe there was some profanity involved (mine) and, at one point, I had to stop because I needed to evaluate whether I was experiencing bad pain or good pain. (It was good. Barely.)
What’s the point, other than to showcase my obsessiveness and abundance of free time? Well, here’s the thing: I go to the gym 5-6 days a week. I take pretty good care of myself. And, sometimes? It hurts like hell. I have zero energy. I hate every second of my time in the gym. My breathing is ragged. I don’t believe in working through pain, but I will work through lethargy. The only payoff is surviving it.
I write the same way. I suit up (well, I put on clothes), I go to the designated spot (Spoons or CC’s ), I put in the requisite minimum effort (1,000 words). If I feel great, I keep going. But, sometimes, I struggle to hit that mark and I know in my heart of hearts that I have produced 1,000 bum words, which won’t make the final cut.
But I never feel the day is wasted. And I don’t worry when it goes badly or when I feel like crap. I accept that as part of the natural order of things. I’m more surprised when things go great — when I leave the gym bounding with energy, when I don’t watch the clock during spinning, when I decide to add an extra 10 or 15 minutes because I’m having so much fun.
Is writing physical? Yes. The writer Lee Goldberg, who recently had surgery, reports on his blog that he found that the physical act — hands on keyboard — is key for him, that voice-recognition software doesn’t work for his fiction. I feel the same way. However you write really does matter. It’s part of your process, part of the creative act, whether it’s a pen on paper, fingers on keys, or speaking into a tape recorder. That’s why I never mind another frequent question, about HOW writers write. It does matter. There’s a right way for everyone. The trick is finding the routine that’s right for you.