In this blog series, I’m posting articles, essays, and blogs that were forgotten about in some way. These are oldies, but I hope they’re still helpful or otherwise good in some way. Enjoy!
There are two things I must do every morning or my entire days feels off-balance: go for a walk and write.
In early 2017, I emerged from a six month writing and research period with my dissertation complete, but my body lacking in overall health. I woke up with the urge to work off the 15+ pounds I’d gained from my constant sitting and reading for a 250 page dissertation. At first I’d walk around the block, then around my neighbourhood, and then I was going for 10,000 steps at a time. Meanwhile, I was still in the habit of waking up with ideas at the top of my head. I moved from writing about film theory to book reviews, then to creative nonfiction, and soon enough, longer projects. By the time the summer ended, I’d lost the weight I’d gained from academia and completed a memoir.
I figured I was doing pretty fantastic until one of my fitness crazy friends on Facebook posted an article disparaging cardio. If you really wanted to get in shape, the article claimed, you’re wasting your time going for runs or long walks. What you need to do is strength training.
I immediately disagreed. I was living proof that I could get into shape–from couch to walking 5km at a time–on cardio alone. My clothing fit better and I felt better. Not to mention that my morning walk gave me enough momentum to bounce from the sidewalk right into my writing chair and crank out story after story, essay after essay, sometimes writing well into the afternoon. I was convinced that the lifestyle changes I’d made were for the best–to the point where I had to message my friend (a different, less fitness crazed one) for validation in my perspective.
“All cardio is about endurance,” he said. “You have to struggle to complete it sometimes because you’re not sure if you can. The distance seems too far and you’re too tired. But most cardio wears on your joints and body after a while. It can only be as good as the time period you do it in. Strength training, on the other hand, builds muscle that lasts, and that muscle is what makes your body fit.”
I’d known this intuitively from my limited reading in fitness magazines from my youth. Muscle always burned more calories at rest. But it was my friend’s framing of cardio-as-endurance that struck me and made me instantly remember the first time I’d completed the draft of a novel. It was pure endurance, slogging away for hours at a time, completely unsure if I was going to complete it and if I did, if it would be any good. I had to endure the typing and the words as much as I had to endure the feelings of doubt. Just like my first walk longer than around the block. Just like my first run.
Ultimately, my friend’s words made me completely rethink my writing program, along with my fitness one.
Even years after that first novel, I had still been treating my writing like an endurance sport. Most of this urge came from my training in academia, where self-flagellation was often rewarded. To close yourself off from the world and study-study-study was what got you grants and respect. Academia was pure endurance and I thought that had been wonderful. But it was that relentless focus on endurance and nothing but that made me miserable as I put on almost 20 pounds.
And it was a pattern that I was incidentally mirroring in my current writing and walking schedule. I was still enduring the word count and the step count. Still slogging through without a consideration for strength whatsoever.
For a week and a half, I stopped writing in the morning. I still went for my walks, but they were significantly shorter and they often ended with me stretching and doing limited yoga poses. The free weights I owned still seemed too scary, but if I could hold my downward facing dog, or child’s pose, or some other yoga post for two beats of my breath, I felt myself becoming sturdier. I started to become more flexible. Over time, I even became stronger.
As I revamped my yoga habits, I also changed my writing habits. I could write in the morning, full of momentum and words, but I had to stop by lunch. No more afterwards. Instead, I had to focus on editing. Rewriting. Publishing. Making what I’d produced into something good and much stronger than it had been hours earlier–and definitely not something wholly dictated by a bloated word count.
In three months, the pile of words on my computer turned into a novel that has been making the rounds at publishing houses. I still have yet to receive an acceptance, but I’ve since added another novel to the rounds. Both acts of strength, but ones I could not have done without enduring first.