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Terri talked yesterday about doing things that were good for us as writers, things we should not feel guilty for doing: going to conferences, networking, making the connections to take us to the next step of being a professional writer. I’m going to talk about taking care of your writer self in a completely different way. Not the mental game, but the physical one.
Writing is grueling work. I know you wouldn’t suspect it with all that sitting and typing we do. We’re not exactly ditchdigging here, but all in all, I think on the whole ditchdiggers might be healthier than we are. They’re outside, working hard in a cardio sort of way, sweating, working the muscles, breathing fresh air (mostly). Yeah, I’d never want that job either—much too hard and in sunlight—but I admit, they’re probably in much better shape than I am.
Granted that’s not going to take a lot. I’m not exactly little Miss Cardio. And if my lack of stamina wasn’t bad enough, there’s my posture. I’m a sloucher. I’m constantly holding up walls, doorjambs, and curling up in my office chair in inappropriate manners because it’s too exhausting to sit upright with my feet on the floor for the whole eight hours. I curl over my keyboard, my shoulders rounding skyward, my ears lowering, and I’m literally petrifying into this tight little knot of tension. If my bad posture and bad work habits were not enough, I like to make it worse by going to the gym, exercising with weights, and then not stretching after. (Oh, yeah, right, I’m the only one guilty of this. Whatever.)
I could blame my horrible posture on my job, but I also have that unassuming personality. You know the one I’m talking about. The low self-esteem turtle hunch. The one that says if I round my shoulders and curl up into a ball, I’ll be invisible and maybe no one will notice I’m still that geek from high school.
Yeah, whatever. Everyone still knows I’m a geek. I should do my shoulders a favor and stop trying to be invisible in the middle of a room. It’s not going to work. Invisibility cloaks only exist in Harry Potter’s world, not the Muggles’.
Here is what I’m learning: You can’t be an effective writer if your neck is out of joint. How can you expect to get into your character’s head if you’re plagued by pain? (“A plague on both your houses!”) Be a good writer and take some preventive measures already.
Now there are some writers who ascribe to the House of Pain method of writing, where they’re drinking, smoking, cramped over a computer keyboard, drinking coffee like it’s a nutritional equivalent of fruits and vegetables. I call these people Sadists. Don’t be that writer. It doesn’t make you a nice writer. It saps away your concentration; and I assure you, if you’re using your pain to tap into so you can inflict it on your characters, there are easier ways to do it than to give yourself a backache.
First, do some “good posture” exercises. Petrified into a hunched curl over a keyboard is not Survival of the Fittest here, guys. Don’t undo all the good our ancestors did us by evolving into an upright position, by hunching back down again. I think this guy offers some very good exercises to stretch out those key areas and improve our posture. Plus I think one of them is what my massage therapist was showing me to do, and that I always forget to practice. Surprise, surprise. I’m sure my massage therapist has a support group with my dental hygienist. “I tell her over and over and she doesn’t listen!”
Secondly, get some exercise. Take a walk, go for a run, go to the gym and take a class. Try to work in some yoga: it’s good for the muscles and the mind. And as a writer, we know you’re pretty screwed up anyway. You could use yoga.
Thirdly, consume things other than cigarettes, coffee, and chocolate. You get bonus points if you fix something other than a sodium-laden popsicle meal. Some fruits and veggies, guys. You’ll thank me later when you don’t get scurvy and colon cancer.
Lastly, if you can afford to get a massage once a month, do so. You’ll thank me later. You’ll thank everyone later, it feels that good.
Taking care of yourself in these simple ways really improves all areas of your life, including your writing. As women, I believe we tend to take care of ourselves last and feel guilty if we move ourselves ahead of anything on our mental lists. We should really stop. As Erma Bombeck said, the world isn't going to stop turning if we stay in bed when we're sick. Well, I think we should take it a step further and throw some preventive measures in as well. As my yoga instructor always says at the end of each class: Know that this one hour you've taken for yourself makes you a better person for you and those around you for the other 23.
What do you do to take care of yourself and nurture the "physical" writer? And do you also find taking care of your physical self pays off in big dividends on your mental game as well? (I do. Taking care of myself physically gives me a big mental boost that "I'm worth it." I feel like a Clairol ad.)