Writing is sedentary. To watch someone write is a study of internal action with little external cues. There is no need to be able to walk to write. There’s no need to shower or wear clothes to accomplish even the most minor of writing tasks. As far as hobbies go, writing is as close to the bottom of the list of healthy activities as competitive eating or playing video games. Gaining weight and being generally out of shape is easy when you spend your free time in front of a computer rather than at the gym.
Scriptnotes, the podcast from screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin, recently did an episode titled “How To Not Be Fat.” It was a guide for writers in ways to combat the non-movement of long term writing and the inevitable collapse of your body. It was decent in terms of a how-to for what worked for their own weight loss, but it was geared towards professional writers, that lucky bunch that can spend their working hours writing and use their free time to work out or be involved in other athletic activities.
I’m not so lucky.
My days move along something like this – wake, shower, work. Sit at a computer from 8AM until 4PM, get home at 5PM. Do some light cleaning of the house and by 5:30PM I’m changed and ready for the evening.
Now, here’s how this part of the day usually plays out. Sit at my computer for 45 minutes, get a few emails out, go over some projects I’m doing and then it’s time to get dinner ready. Cook. Eat. Spend time with my beautiful wife then clean up dinner. Go back to the computer and now it’s 7:30PM or more likely closer to 8PM. Back to my office and write some more. By 10PM I’m in bed. Got to be up 6AM, and a man needs his rest.
These are the days that I don’t have any other obligations like dinners or drinks with friends to catch up, so I can get roughly ten hours of writing done during the week. Weekend writing times fluctuate but I’m able to make up hours and stay up as long as I want, unless a breakfast or brunch has been put on my calendar, then it’s to bed because, a man needs his rest.
This isn’t to complain about my lack of free time. I have plenty of it, but there is a need to prioritize your activities. Once you throw in family and friend obligations, working out falls even further down the list of things I care about.
In order to have a sense of accomplishment I give myself deadlines for my writing. I find contests or festivals, anything with a submission deadline. This gives me something to work towards. A goal to build the anxiety and sharpen the focus that I need to get a project done. I want to get a final draft of a script or a short story completed and that trumps push-ups and crunches. I can live with a few extra pounds, I can’t live with not writing.
So, what options do I have? Here’s a few ideas.
- Diet. This is a total ‘durrr’ statement. But it is something you can do without hindering your writing time.
- Find an activity that you enjoy as much as writing. Softball, tennis, running, etc. This could work. I enjoy tennis, but I need a partner for that. Which leads us to…
- Find an activity that your friends and family enjoy doing, and do that. This is smashing two birds with one well aimed stone. Need to spend time with old college buddies or your parents? Do they play tennis? Guess what? Now you play tennis as well. There. Got your fun time in as well as your workout. Also, without joining a league you’re free to play whenever you want.
- Or you could join a softball league or a team. Some folks need a schedule, and knowing that every Tuesday and Thursday is touch football night might do the trick.
- Dictate your work as you run. This is pushing it but here’s the idea: get dictation software for your phone (iPhone has Dragon Naturally Speaking plus others) and use the built in microphone in the earbuds to speak your story out. Now, go on a run. When you get home sync the dictated story to Word or Final Draft and revise, edit, and work away!
- Work a regular job? Why not ride your bike to work and back? Do a quick jog on your lunch break. Do squats at the fax machine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Use five spoons instead of one. Lose the paper cup and get yourself a five pound pewter stein for the water cooler. Anything that burns a calorie or two.
- Don’t have dinners that take over an hour to prep, cook, and cleanup. Two or three nights a week eat leftovers that can be heated in a minute or two. When you get home go on a bike ride or a jog with your beautiful and loving spouse and once you’re done, jump in the shower, pop some food stuffs in the microwave and eat at your computer. This accomplishes a few things. You get a workout in, you’ve spent time with your adoring significant other, and now the rest of the night is free to work away as you please.
- On the weekends, all of those errands that you have to get done? Ride your bike. Or, park somewhere that you can walk to and from each errand to get a few miles of exercise.
- Get up an hour early each morning to either go for a walk, a run, to the gym, or a bike ride. My disciplined and excellent wife attempts this on occasion. I never have. Like I said, a man needs his rest. But that doesn’t stop it from being a damn good idea.
- Schedule your time better. Pick three evenings that are for writing, two for working out or any other physical activity. Put it on your calendar. Share this calendar with your significant other. This is your schedule. If you’re invited to a dinner or a party, do it on a workout night. Drinks after work? No. Drinks after the gym or after you’ve played tennis or practiced your high jump for an hour.
I haven’t committed to any of these and I should. I doubt I’m the only one who knows how difficult it can be to have a regular forty hour a week job, have a family and a home, and try to make time for a creative pursuit that potentially (and most likely) has no pay off other than some inner peace and joy (which is totally important too).
I appreciate John August and Craig Mazin discussing the difficult sedentary nature of the act of writing, but their perspective is of limited use to the amateur writer or artist who lacks the joy of being able to do their art for a living. If you’re not getting your creative fulfillment in your working hours, your artistic pursuits are left to compete for your free time with everything that fills a life. For me working on getting fit is not something that I’ll choose over time with friends and family, and definitely not with my time writing.
Remember: most creative pursuits are sedentary and solitary. You don’t need anyone other than yourself to paint, draw, sculpt, or write. But if you’re in a relationship it’s not just your own being that gets ignored, it’s also someone that you love and care deeply for. Got to make time for that too so plan accordingly.