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The Writer’s Work Out


What’s a great way to gain weight? Sit at a desk for four hours every day writing away at a novel that may or may not turn out as you’ve outlined it and sold it to your editor based on that outline, and then read for a few more hours in bed, and eat a lot of ice cream from the stress of writing on a deadline. Yeah, that’s what happened to me while I was working on The Whole Way Home. Thankfully, all turned out well in the end. I finished the novel and am very proud of it. Writing this book was so different from my first novel because I had no deadline with the first book. I was writing it, as I had with a couple other failed books before it, not knowing whether anyone would end up reading it. I could take my time. But with the second one, I sold the book before I finished the entire manuscript and the pressure was on me to deliver. I survived! (But I almost failed.) I ate a lot of bad food and forgot to go outside and move my body.

When you’re so deeply involved in a novel, it’s easy to forget you have a physical presence in the world. It’s like having an avatar in a virtual reality: I move into my character’s bodies and minds. It’s so much fun to body jump! (I can’t help but to think of Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost.) Still, I forgo a bit of my own reality when I’m inside the novel writing process. Now that the book is done and I’m in a waiting period for the next book to strike my curiosity, I’m working out. And it’s SO hard. Miserable. I grow bored of exercise, especially cardio. I like taking long walks, but I need hours of free time to feel like it’s doing more than stress relief (walking IS great exercise, I’m just neurotic.) So I run the steps in my house at a sprinting speed for four minutes straight—the kids and the cats stare at me with a bewildered look whenever I do this. I tread water in the deep end during the ten minute adult swim breaks at our swim club. I’m the only mom who does this. The other moms have fit bodies and chat with each other on lounge chairs and drink beer together. They must have a personal trainer, at least that’s what I tell myself.

I go for runs with my husband. I find running miserable—hurts my knees. But I love bike riding. Not on a stationary bike though. Put me on a real bike on the greenway and I smile the entire time I’m moving. Makes me feel like a kid. That’s become my barometer for exercise worth doing—do I smile while I’m doing it? Yes, when I dance, bike, or swim in the ocean. Do I smile immediately afterwards? With running, sometimes. After yoga, always! So I’m going with the smile test to motivate my work outs. The Japanese novelist Maruki Hurakami figured this out as well. He wrote a book about running titled What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir (and a nice nod to Raymond Carver.) Here’s the premise: all writers need some form of exercise to balance the amount of time we spend in our heads with our body’s need to move. Charles Dickens was extremely methodical about how many hours in the day he wrote and physically exerted himself. If he wrote for four hours, he would then spend an equal amount of time exercising and socializing. I might not be as methodical as these two guys, but all I do know is that I can’t stop taking care of my body just because I’m writing a novel. No excuses.