The pen is mightier but swords are better exercise

Ah, the writing life. We writers are almost always grappling with something internally. We alternate between sweet-talking characters into cooperating and beating them into submission MMA-style. Sometimes it feels like plot-wrestling could be a show on Animal Planet. It takes discipline to sit down and write every day, and occasionally it can be downright mentally exhausting.

Are we all seeing the key words here? Internally. Mentally. Not physically. As challenging as writing can be, it sure as hell isn’t challenging me physically. If I’m struggling to write something, I can be glued in a chair for hours drinking mug after mug of coffee because we all know writers only drink coffee, tea, or liquor. I happen to like my coffee with around a gallon and a half of International Delight Almond Joy creamer. I don’t mind tea, but I only like it with a significant amount of sugar. Since I’m a) poor and b) a girly girly wuss wuss, liquor isn’t really a problem but hey, there’s always time.

I’m also what you might call a sugar hound. A candy fiend. A confectionery menace. If it’s colorful and loaded with things that will probably give me cancer, I love it. If I’m writing I want a bag of Twizzlers or Skittles and no one who knows me has even suggested carrot sticks instead because, well, they know me. It won’t happen. I don’t eat fast food and I can usually pass on cake and ice cream, but take away my candy and man, I get twitchy and start snapping at people for breathing too loud.

These habits, combined with a somewhat stressful semester, have led to what Chuck Wendig calls “authorial sludgebody.” And before anyone starts in with that “Don’t conform! Love your body the way it is!” stuff, this isn’t about being skinny. I mean, yeah, I want to look good (ooooh, aren’t I a horrible, shallow person?), but more than that I want to feel good. As a creative person, I think I’m especially susceptible to denial; I find so much satisfaction in my imagination it can be tempting to just stay there and forget that, while my characters are throwing each other over balconies and successfully running for their lives, my muscles are wasting away. But why should my characters have all the fun? Some of them are interesting, attractive, physically superior people. I don’t want to be a pale little slug who occasionally emerges from her cave only to find she can no longer open a jam jar.

With these things and a few other motivators in mind, I’ve just gotten back on the old diet/exercise/healthy lifestyle horse. I say “back on” because I’ve done it before; once upon a time I was in pretty good shape and I’d like to revisit that and hopefully you know, stay there. However, what I would not like to do is become so obsessed with it that I pitch everything else out the window. I’ve done that, too.

To combat my penchant for extremes (“It’s 500 push-ups and four miles a day or none at all! Why write anything if I can’t make 6,000 words a day? I AM A COMPLETE AND UTTER FAILURE.), I’m taking things slow. Here’s my plan:

 Blogilates with Cassey Ho

My mother is absolutely mystified as to how I decided to do this. Cassey, the instructor, is an adorable, chirpy bubble of happy who wears colorful tank tops covered in motivational phrases. She uses pop music in her workouts. Her moves are pilates or yoga-based poses and the cardio workouts often involve dancing.

This is the antithesis of all things Carly Vair. I am an uptight, judgmental choleric who wears a lot of black. I hate most American pop music and, when I’m working out, I like music with lots RAGE that reminds me how SUPER HARDCORE I am. My typical workouts are high-intensity sweatfests that require minimal coordination and maximum anger-fueled bursts of energy.

So, why Blogilates? Because it’s so much the opposite of me, I’m not too invested. It doesn’t trigger my extreme-obsession response. I see it as a tool rather than something that defines me. Also, the workouts are hard. While Cassey is chatting, singing along with the music, and making me laugh, my muscles are quivering and burning and I’m discovering new and inventive combinations of swear words. Cassey may not market herself as a hardcore drill sergeant, but she won’t let you get away with any pansy, half-assed efforts.

Couch-to-5K Running Plan

As someone who’s been in good shape, I thought I was too cool for this program. “I’m a better runner than that,” I said to myself. “I don’t need to build up to a 5K. I can go run three miles right now, easy-peasy!” Well, you know what they say about pride and falls. During my first run of this summer, I did something to my knee. I don’t know what I did to it and no I won’t go to the doctor because I’m not into people like, touching me, and besides I can walk so no, I won’t find out what’s wrong with it until such time as it prevents me from living. Anyway. It feels better now, but I’ve eaten a bit of humble pie (hey, a pseudo-junk food reference in a post about health, someone think of something clever for me) and I’m starting off like I’ve never run before.


I’m not counting calories. I’m not doing anything like cutting out all carbs or all sugar. I have stopped eating candy (don’t ask me how. I don’t know. My family will probably tell you I’ve done so by sucking all the happiness out of the house like a dementor. My parentheticals are awfully long and grammatically weird today.) but I haven’t stopped drinking coffee. I have to live, don’t I? I don’t drink as much as before—usually just enough to keep a caffeine headache at bay—so I’m calling that progress. I am also doing that vague thing called “making healthier choices,” which is sometimes as simple as having more peas than mashed potatoes instead of the other way around.

I’m not going to share any height and weight stats or anything because I’m not exactly what you’d call transparent and that’s just unnecessary on a writing blog. However, I’d love to hear tips from you on the subject. How do my fellow writers keep from becoming sludgebodies? How do you find balance? Are there any methods you find particularly effective?


One comment on “The pen is mightier but swords are better exercise

  1. b.h.quinn says:

    I tend to go walkng when I’m having trouble with my writing. I use the time to listen to the backlist of podcasts I have lined up, too. It’s easy for me because the loop I live has a sidewalk that’s exactly a quarter of a mile. I also make sure to stretch at least once a day for about forty five minutes to an hour, but I try for twice a day. (It is ballet stretching, not before-exercise stretching.)

    But, I’m starting a new job this summer and my knee’s finally healed enough that I can start doing more exercise, which is good because my pants are getting tight (damn you, Coca Cola). I may have to try the Couch to 5K plan; it’s been entirely too long since I ran regularly and I’m a bit worried now. I’ve been thinking about going back to classes for ballet, but I’m not sure about that. I think I’ll see how my knee holds up to running again.

    When I was at my grandmother’s, I’d put a book or my laptop on her treadmill and walk as I read and/or wrote. I loved that, and as soon as I can save up I think I’ll buy one, and try it again. That way I don’t have to pay attention to where I’m going when I walk and I can still attempt to work. Best of both worlds. 🙂

    Good luck with your exercise plans.

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