If I could offer one word of advice to new writers…I wouldn’t be able to pick. But this would probably be in the top ten: stay fit. No, really. Get fit and stay there.
And not just your typing fingers, fellow monkeys.
I am not suggesting you go to the gym, unless you love the gym. There are lots of ways an artist can stay in shape. Wander the nearest moor. Devote yourself to a very active love life. Skulk the streets at midnight with your giant hound, muttering verses to yourself. Live on the top floor of an eight story walkup with a view of the Seine. Live five miles by canoe from the nearest bar. You’re an artist, get creative here, and choose something that suits you, not anybody else.
Pick something you love doing that keeps your whole body in shape, gets blood moving in your veins, causes you to draw extra air into your lungs. Why? Because you’ll write better and live longer.
Oh, and you will be much less likely to do anything spectacularly stupid, like kill yourself. Fitness and depression just don’t walk hand in hand all that often, according to lots of studies and also according to me, and believe me, I’ve been paying attention to this one for a while. For some unlucky folks thirty minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week does not keep the dreaded melancholia at bay, but for most of us, that’s plenty to keep our mood up and our stress levels, well, lower, at least.
If you are taking care of your body, your brain will work better; this is one of those things you already know that has actually been proven by other people in lab coats, over and over. Getting in shape will make you a stronger writer for the long haul. You will require the long haul, unless you’re Jane Austen or something. Most writers need a good few decades to write that book the world actually needs. Most need a good few decades to build a decent career, too. That’s fine. Why think small?
I recommend having more than one motivation for moving, for the days when you are much more interested in messing about on the Internet, or even writing. Me, I am a 44-year-old mother of a 2-year-old, and not only would I like to be playing soccer with her in three years, I’d like to have a fighting chance of seeing my grandchildren. I also live with fibromyalgia, and exercise keeps my pain and inflammation levels down. Should I mention that I also like looking adorable when possible? Yeah, why not.
To stay in shape I train in aikido, bike to get places a lot, and do some physical therapy for my fibro. I also do other stuff, like chasing my child, dancing with her or at the local club, and—if I get really carried away by the spirit of the thing—the occasional yoga pose. I’m moving anywhere from five to twenty hours a week, depending on the weather. A lot of that happens outside, which is a good way to deal with the winter blues in Wisconsin.
Further motivations to consider: increased libido and stamina (underage readers, you can pretend you didn’t see that); more stable and efficient metabolism; greater physical strength; increased self-esteem; better skin quality; and decreased risk of just about everything under the sun except looking good. All of these things are handy for writers and other kinds of artists. Heck, they’re even useful scientists and mathematicians.
You don’t have to do this all in one go. It’s like writing novels—it’s going to happen one bit at a time. I snuck up on myself, by committing to a tiny amount of activity at first. Another clever thing to do is to set a start time sometime next week rather than today, and think about it, build up to it, and then start when, where, and how you say you will. Start small, too; five minutes every day, the first week, is better than nothing, and way better than quitting when you don’t do the whole two hours you set yourself the first day. If you’re like me and live with a very fickle pain condition, you’ll need to learn your body better than an ordinary body-owner anyway, and that will only happen with time and consistency. Living with fibro I know the difference between “probably shouldn’t” and “don’t deny you’re being lazy” to within a shade of feeling.
Do this not only for your own sake, but for the sake of other artists, and future generations. Just don’t contract syphilis* or fall in a bog or anything, OK? Thanks.
What do you do to keep in shape? How many cocktails** do you allow yourself afterwards?
*Again, underage readers. No need to Google that just now, though you should definitely pay attention in sex ed when the time comes.
**And one last one not to mention to your parents, underage readers. Hey. Don’t look at me that way. I’m trying to be responsible and adult here.