Observe More Closely

Amy Ritchie Johnson
Amy Ritchie Johnson [Source: Twitter]
I am currently enrolled in a four-week class on “Nature Writing” at the VMFA Studio School, taught by Amy Ritchie Johnson. Frankly, I took this class because I like taking writing classes with Amy and this was what was on offer. To my surprise, I’m loving it!

 

observe more closely
If you do an online search for books on nature writing, you will come up with approximately a gazillion choices—not that I am urging you to do so!

 

I just want to share with you an insight that was surprising, at least to me: nature writing can happen in any genre. If the work explores, draws on, or uses nature in a significant way, it’s nature writing. Think about it. Here are several examples (merely examples) mentioned in class.
  • science writing (Lab Girl)
  • memoir (also exemplified by Lab Girl)
  • environmental advocacy
  • mystery (e.g., Where the Crawdads Sing)
  • poetry (e.g., Mary Oliver)
  • fiction (The Secret Garden)
  • creative non-fiction (H is for Hawk)
  • description (think field guides to anything, from snakes to edible plants)
Two weeks in and I am already wishing it were twice as long! Indeed, because of class discussion, I bought The Naturalist’s Notebook, a five-year diary for recording daily observations about nature. So, in my own way, the class will continue.

 

The Naturalist’s Notebook
[Source: Barnes & Noble]
Assignments in this class, including keeping a nature diary for four weeks, are honing our skills in observing and describing. The short version of the advice is observe in minute detail and be specific in your descriptions. This last is an oft-repeated injunction: avoid vague words such as beautiful, stuff, blue, comfortable—words that can mean many things to many people. In nature writing, that means the name of the flower, the kind of tree, the shade of green, the breed of the dog, the type of clouds, etc.

 

BOTTOM LINE: lessons from nature writing are lessons for good writing. Go for it!

Why Procrastinate?

why procrastinate
Procrastination has been my long-term companion, and I’ve got to tell you, it isn’t all bad. Procrastination is voluntarily putting off an unpleasant task, often against one’s better judgment.

 

Procrastination is typically perceived to be a bad thing, so I will start there. Research indicates that procrastination generally leads to lower-quality work performance reduced feelings of well-being. As a group, students who procrastinate get lower grades. Procrastinators put off a lot of unpleasant tasks, for example, getting medical treatments and diagnostic tests.
procrastinate
[Source: Wonderopolis]

Here are 5 reason for procrastination, according to Psychology Today.

  1. absence of structure
  2. unpleasant, boring tasks
  3. timing: when present activities are rewarding and longer-term outcomes are in the future
  4. lack of confidence about one’s ability to do the task
  5. anxiety: postponing getting started because of fear of failure
 
My personal favorite isn’t on this list: the ego-defensive function of feeling better about oneself. This related to #5 above. Whatever the outcome, the procrastinator can always say to him/her self, “Not bad for the amount of time I spent on it. Of course, I could do better.”
procrastination
Exceptionally bright, capable people are highly rewarded for procrastination. Examples include students who get A’s without studying. Teachers who get good reviews when they lecture spontaneously. Etc.

 

According to Stephanie Vozza, procrastination has gotten a bad rap. She listed 6 reasons why procrastination can lead to greater success and happiness.
 
  1. Structured procrastinators get more done. While putting off one thing, they do something else.
  2. Procrastinators make better decisions. I’m doubtful about this one, but if while delaying making a decision a person is gathering relevant information, it could be.
  3. Procrastination leads to creativity. When a task seems too hard to do, you might invent a better way.
  4. Unnecessary tasks disappear when you procrastinate.
  5. Procrastination leads to better apologies.
  6. Procrastination reveals what you find important.
procrastination today
BOTTOM LINE: Like so much in life, there’s both an upside and a downside to procrastination.

The Upside of Addiction for Writers

upside addiction writers
When we think addiction, our first thoughts are likely to be drugs and/or alcohol, possibly nicotine—i.e., substance abuse. These addictions are defined by the psychological and physical inability to stop consuming a chemical, drug, or substance, even though it is causing psychological and physical harm. These addictions provide almost limitless possibilities for tension, conflict, and drama—and they are well documented.

 

upside addiction writers

But wait! There’s more! Some addictions also involve an inability to stop partaking in activities, such as gambling, eating, or working. In these circumstances, a person has a behavioral addiction.

Addicts cannot control how they use a substance or partake in an activity, and they become dependent on it to cope with daily life. As writers, think of addictions as a path to comfort for your characters. As such, any comforting activity or substance could become an addiction.
 
shopping therapy
[Source: Pinterest]
Usually, people start using a drug or engaging in an activity voluntarily. But addiction reduces self-control. There have been many cartoons and jokes about shopping therapy. Consider the implications of a shopping addiction.

Symptoms

  • Uncontrollably seeking drugs or uncontrollably engaging in harmful levels of the addictive behavior, e.g., the shopper spends so much money that it endangers the family finances.
  • Neglecting or losing interest in activities that do not involve the harmful substance or behavior, e.g., dropping out of exercise classes, bridge, etc., in favor of eBay.
  • Relationship difficulties, which often involve lashing out at people who point out the dependency. In the shopping example, arguments with one’s significant other are obvious!
  • An inability to stop using a drug, though it may be causing health problems or personal problems, such as issues with employment or relationships. So, maybe the shopping addict is shopping online during work hours.
  • Hiding substances or behaviors and otherwise exercising secrecy, for example, by refusing to explain injuries that occurred while under the influence. In the case of the shopping addict, maybe shredding credit card statements so family members won’t see the dozens of PayPal charges.
  • Profound changes in appearance, including a noticeable abandonment of hygiene. For the shopping addict, noticeable changes might include a sudden increase in fashionable accessories, new golf clubs, etc.
  • Increased risk-taking, both to access the substance or activity and while using it or engaging in it. You fill in the examples! Maybe the money runs out and theft results.

 

Withdrawal

depression addiction symptom

Stopping the use of a drug can lead to anxiety.

These symptoms include:

  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • tremors and shaking
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fatigue
  • a loss of appetite

Some of these symptoms are more typical of substance abuse than of behavioral addiction, but all could work for a character. On the other hand, if a person has regularly used alcohol or benzodiazepines, and stop suddenly or without medical supervision, withdrawal can be fatal

In Summary

Addiction is a serious, chronic dependence on a substance or activity.

A person with an addiction is unable to stop taking a substance or engaging in a behavior, though it has harmful effects on daily living.

Misuse is different from addiction. Substance misuse does not always lead to addiction, while addiction involves regular misuse of substances or engagement in harmful behavior.

BOTTOM LINE: Nearly any comforting activity—be it eating in general or chocolate, drugs or gambling—can become an addictionSymptoms of addiction often include declining physical health, irritation, fatigue, and an inability to cease using a substance or engaging in a behavior. Addiction can lead to behavior that strains relationships and inhibits daily activities. Ceasing to use the substance or engage in the behavior often leads to withdrawal symptoms, as listed above.

bookaholic
The last word: A book addiction is relatively benign, although it seriously endangers your ignorance!

Risk Taking for Fun and Profit

My mantra has long been that whether I end up in heaven or in hell, I want it to be for things I did rather than things I didn’t do. Until I started developing today’s blog, I didn’t actually consider whether I am a risk taker or not.

 

Yes, I’ve long recognized that I am willing to give all sorts of fun things a try: water skiing for the first time on a Florida river with alligators sunning on the banks, parasailing in the Bahamas, white-water rafting on the Colorado River, zip-lining in Costa Rica, downhill skiing for the first time at night on a lighted intermediate slope, handling an anaconda and fishing for piranha along the Amazon River, riding out a storm on the Chesapeake Bay in a small sailboat, and other fun things I’m not going into.

 

What about money? I’m invested in the stock market, which some consider to be risky for women. But I’ve never invested in some hot new option, gambled for more than quarters, or bought more than one lottery ticket.

 

Health risks? I stopped smoking more than twenty years ago. I drive fast. I drink alcohol. But I never drink and drive. I get all the recommended vaccines and health checks. I exercise 5-6 times a week. And I eat vegan almost exclusively.

 

Professionally? Within limits. Yes, I resigned a tenured full professorship to pursue association management, eventually returned to college administration, and in the process embarked on an eleven-year commuter marriage. But I never totally changed fields, or launched into entrepreneurship or any other career in which my Ph.D. was irrelevant.

 

So why all this self-disclosure? Because I’m a “real people” and the best characters feel to the reader like real people. Protagonists often take risks and they should take them realistically. By that I mean, someone’s risk-taking is often complicated.

 

I’m here to help, so HERE ARE THE HIGHLIGHTS OF WHAT RESEARCH HAS TO SAY ABOUT RISK-TAKING!

Apparently there is a risk gap between the risky behavior we engage in personally and what we recommend to others. For example, virtually no one would recommend texting while driving, impaired driving, not wearing a seatbelt, smoking, etc., and yet many people actually do those things. In the case of texting while driving, 80% of people say they do so at least occasionally. Does your character say one thing and do another?

 

When it comes to personal risk involving health and safety, we are greatly influenced by knowing that others are engaging in that same risky behavior. For example, this is particularly true of smoking, drug use, alcohol abuse, juvenile delinquency, premarital or extramarital sex, or similar behavior. This might explain dangerous health fads and copycat suicides. Knowing “everyone’s doing it” doesn’t much affect our advice to others. Often our protagonists resist such social influences, but what about other characters?
Recreational risk or financial risk is less likely to lead to a copycat effect. I’m surprised by this, actually. However we advise those we love, what we do has a stronger effect than what we say.
 
In risk taking, there are gender gaps. Men take more recreational and financial risks. Women take more social risks than men—more likely to change careers later in life or express unpopular opinions in meeting. There’s lots of advice out there to the effect that taking professional risks is a good thing, especially for women. The reasons risk taking is good include the following:

 

  • great, otherwise unforeseen opportunities emerge
  • shows confidence and helps you stand out
  • lessons learned may lead us on a new path
  • success must be pursued
  • you don’t achieve dreams by playing it safe
  • embracing risk-taking helps you overcome fear of failure
  • researched and prepared for risk-taking pays off
So, consider whether your character epitomizes or defies the gender expectations.

 

People take fewer risks as they age and as they settle into stable relationships. But even with age, a change in relationship status (death or divorce) can lead to a spike in risk-taking. What does your character do after a change in relationship status?
Domains of daring; as implied above, people are a complicated blend of risk-taking and risk-averse. This domain-specific likelihood of risk taking includes five domains:

 

  • financial
  • health/safety
  • recreational
  • ethical
  • social
In general, a person’s likelihood of risk-taking in each category is stable over time, but says little about his/her risk-taking in other categories.

Some psychologists claim that risk-taking is a result of a personality known as sensation seeking—pursuit of novel, intense, and complex sensations and experiences, and the willingness to take risks in pursuing novelty, change, and excitement. Subcategories of sensation seeking:

  • thrill- and adventure-seeking
  • disinhibition (deviant lifestyles, pursuit of change to stave off boredom)
  • a means of expressing aggressiveness and hostility
  • generalized need for activity itself
  • part of sociability, another personality trait
Overall, for both women and men, high risk-takers score high on three of the five basic personality traits: impulsive sensation seeking, aggression-hostility, and sociability. Heavy drinking is associated with all three of these personality traits.
Risk-taking is a product of both genes and experience. Studies of identical and fraternal twins, whether raised in the same families or apart, indicate that sensation-seeking is about 60% genetic, which is a high degree of heritability for a personality trait. Genes also influence aggression, agreeableness, and sociability/extroversion. So for your sensation-seeking character, what are the similarities/differences among family members?
BOTTOM LINE: Chances are your protagonist will take risks of some sorts, sometimes. Consider the why and extent of risk taking.

Looking Back

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana
 
Consider all the ways that writers look back. Historical fiction, memoir, biography, and essays come immediately to mind. Some sci-fi, fantasy, and time travel stories involve a ton of looking back. My newly released novel, Nettie’s Books, set in 1930-1935, is an example of what is traditionally considered historical fiction.

 

You can buy Nettie’s Books on Kindle here.
But think more broadly. Bradley Harper’s murder mystery set in 19th century London is also an historical novel.
knife fog bradley harper
Looking back can inform any genre: from romance novels to action/adventure, from “regional” stories set in the west, south, New England, or abroad to nature writing—and let’s not forget creative non-fiction. Even poetry? Yep.

 

So, it behooves writers to consciously look back, because you never know when doing so will enrich your short story, novel, children’s book, etc. Several ways of doing this are readily available. I’ll not even discuss the internet, because today that is just so obvious. But consider print media, particularly magazines that might come with your membership or donation.

 

This is well-written, and an excellent source of information specific to Virginia. But the contents also can spur ideas of topics to pursue beyond the borders of the Commonwealth. The publication is a benefit of membership in the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.

 

Smithsonian magazine is a parallel sort of publication but with a broader mission, often reaching beyond the U.S. borders. The Southern Poverty Law Center and ACLU frequently send letters and newsletters that you might want to peruse rather than pitch. Check out historical notes in your local newspaper. Even The New Yorker has articles that “look back” in every issue.

 

Last but not least, consider things forgotten on your shelves or stumbled upon among used books as a way of looking back at what was, at the time, current. For example, Women’s History Month is ideal.

 

Bottom line: Look around you and look back because you never know how your writing might be enriched!

Physical Limitations: Permanent or Temporary?

Shaquem Griffin
Folk wisdom says that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That would certainly seem to characterize Shaquem Griffin. He was born with a condition that prevented the fingers of his left hand from developing normally. Due to the pain, his left hand was amputated when he was four years old. He went on to play multiple sports, excelling in football, and following his college graduation, he was recruited by the Seattle Seahawks.

 

Physical Limitations Permanent Temporary
Why should writers pay attention to this sort of thing? Many people/characters have physical limitations and writers should always consider the impact of those limitations on the character and/or the plot action.

 

A chronic limitation/disability is permanent. It can be present from birth or a condition that results from accident, illness, an act of war, etc. For purposes of writing, the timing makes a difference. Someone coping with a chronic condition develops methods of functioning around the problem—a car modified to be driven without feet, for example. You can search on line for a girl who returned to dancing after having double leg amputation. Consider anyone in the Special Olympics. Musicians who have excelled despite blindness or missing limbs.

 

Issues for you to address: Just what accommodations has the person made to cope at work, at home, in public, in his/her love/sex life? And, what is his/her emotional state? Pragmatic? Optimistic? Depressed? Bitter?

 

An acute limitation is likely to be temporary. Here again, your character can have a major limitation (in the hospital in traction; in assisted living following a stroke) or something more minor, such as a broken bone or sprain. Besides pain, acute limitations are likely to create frustration—and perhaps embarrassment— as the person finds many things that used to be automatic are now not possible. Consider the woman who can no longer fasten her bra: how would she accommodate? Or the man who cannot cut his own dinner into bites.

 

For writers, the devil’s in the details. So don’t just state the limitation, consider the minute ramifications. For example, a cane user has a handbag, briefcase, perhaps a folio, and an umbrella because of a deluge. How is the door opened? How wet does the inside of the car get while struggling to get in and get settled?

 

Physical Limitations Permanent Temporary
Bottom line: Use physical limitations to characterize your character(s) and complicate the action in scenes and/or plot lines.

Why Bother With Short Stories?

Many people—arguably most people—consider book authors as the only “real writers.” After all, that’s mostly what bookstores are all about. Plus, most of the best known writers are/have been book authors. I’ve published three novels, and I must admit that completing a book is very gratifying. But let’s not diss short stories or their authors!

 

At this point, my short stories—fiction, memoir, and essays—have been published by more than fifty literary journals and anthologies, from Adanna to Xavier Review. (Visit this page of my website to see a complete list of publications and read some examples of my short stories.) One answer to the why bother question is that once there are enough, one can publish a collection. And I’ve done that.

 

different drummer vivian lawry
Another reason to bother is that it’s a way to start writing for publication. People who blanch at the thought of writing 70,000 to 110,000 words can face the challenge of writing 3,000-5,000 words. Several of the contributors to Virginia is for Mysteries have subsequently published books, including Maggie King, Fiona Quinn, and Heather Weidner. I published several short stories before my first novel (Dark Harbor) was finished.

 

virginia is for mysteries volume i
Also, sometimes a short piece in one anthology can lead to another. Many of the contributors to Virginia is for Mysteries also appear in Virginia is for Mysteries Vol. II.  And several also will appear in Southern Deadly Charms. All of these are projects of Sisters in Crime/Central Virginia.

 

And having made friends with compatible fellow writers, some might choose to peel off and go in another direction. One example of this is an anthology, Fifty Shades of Cabernet. Another example is the collection of four novellas, To Fetch a Thief.
 
Other ways to get short stories into anthologies.  One is to find a call for submissions for a themed collection. This is how I placed a story in Malice Domestic Mysteries Most Historical (#12). “The Tredegar Murders” is set during the Civil War. Another path is to have a story accepted and then included in a subsequent anthology. My short story “Aunt Fan’s Private Journey” was published in Drumvoices Review in 2007. When Drumvoices Review produced a 20th anniversary volume (Volume 17) in 2011-2012, my story was chosen for inclusion. When shall I ever again be in the same collection with Maya Angelou?
drumvoices review 17
So, short stories can end up in books in several ways. But publishing “beyond” literary journals and magazines isn’t necessary for writing short stories to be gratifying.

 

The gratification of writing short stories comes in many forms.

 

(1) The variety is endless. My short stories include magical realism, horror, memoir based fiction, historical fiction, mysteries. fantasy, literary fiction—no holds barred! Short stories are usually one-off, unlike a series of novels; the characters often have nothing to do with one another. But they can! I have now published four short story mysteries featuring the same Civil War prostitute/amateur detective, Clara.

 

(2) Writing short stories hones one’s writing skills because every word counts. There isn’t room for wandering off on tangents.

 

(3) Publishing short stories doesn’t require long delays of gratification. Traditionally publishing a book involves not only writing it, but months or years finding an agent, more months or years while the agent finds a publisher, and a couple of years in production. (Much of this can be short-circuited with self-publishing, but that’s a different topic.) Although there can be lags between acceptance and publication of short stories, it doesn’t typically stretch over years! Indeed, I had an acceptance last week that should be out in April! The publishing speed for short stories is especially fast for online journals.

 

(4) Having one’s work accepted by an edited journal is an ego boost! It’s an affirmation of the quality of the writing. Every time I get an acceptance, I paste a virtual star on my forehead.
gold star sticker
Bottom line: Short stories are wonderful! Try it, you’ll like it!

Sankofa and Other Birds as Symbols and Omens

sankofa
In writing class yesterday, one of the other students enlightened us all about “sancofa” bird. I found it fascinating and so did a little research on Wikipedia. It seems the more common spelling is “sankofa.”

 

Sankofa is a word in the Twi language of Ghana that translates as “Go back and get it.” (San = to return, ko = to go, fa = fetch, to seek and take.) It also refers to the Asante Adinkra symbol represented by a stylized heart shape, common in adinkra cloth in Ghana and wrought iron fences in the U.S.

 

sankofa other birds
But the bird image is what really struck me. Its feet face forward, head turned back, an egg in its mouth. “It symbolizes taking from the past what is good and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress through the benevolent knowledge.” It appears on many objects to foster mutual respect and unity in tradition. In North America, sankofa symbols are featured at the African Burial Ground National Monument in NYC and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Indeed, such symbols are all over Washington, D.C., New Orleans, and New York City.

 

sankofa
Sankofa appears often in tattoos, songs, and the names of musical groups.

 

All of this reminded me of the ubiquity of bird symbolism and the belief in birds as omens of the future.

 

The flight of birds makes them good symbols of the links between heaven and earth. The bird as a symbol of heaven stands in opposition to the snake, a symbol of earth. A bird is often seen as a messenger from the gods or forewarning. In general, birds are associated with spiritual states, angels, and higher forms of being. But individual types of birds often have specific meanings. Here are a few of the most pervasive ones, from all over the world.
bustard
The bustard is a symbol of the marriage of souls, of fertility, and of the descent of souls into the material world. It is common to many Berber tribes of Marabouts. The tuareg of Aïr, south of Hoggar, have their shields charged with a pair of of bustard’s feet. This same type of symbolism can be found in the Far East, in the crow’s foot of the Celtic world, and on the robes of Uralo-Altaic shamans, and in the caves of Lascaux. Even though it’s old, it can still be useful to writers.
crane
In Asia, cranes are symbols of long life.
cuckoo bird
Cuckoos are welcomed as a sign of spring in Europe, and are omens of a happy marriage.
doves
Doves symbolize love and peace. Dreaming of them means happiness is at hand.
bald eagle
Eagles are held sacred by Native Americans. Their claws and bones are believed to drive away illness. And as the symbol of the U.S., the bald eagle stands for endurance, independence, and courage.
barn owl
Owls are considered prophets of doom. In ancient Rome as well as modern European and American superstitions, a hooting owl warns of death. In Greece, the owl is associated especially with Athena, goddess of wisdom and fertility.
 phoenix
The phoenix is mythical, of course, but supposedly it dies by fire, then rises from its own ashes after 500 years! Therefore, it is a symbol of renewed life.
raven
I especially like crows and ravens. Ravens, in particular have been revered by sailors, especially Viking explorers, for their ability to find land. Some cultures believe ravens can predict death and disease. Folklore has it that the raven’s sense of smell is so acute that it can smell death before it comes.
stork
Although a stork is among the unclean beasts, in general it’s considered to be a good omen. Storks are symbols of good luck, of filial piety. In folklore—fairytales?—storks deliver babies, and some endow the stork with the power to cause pregnancy by its glance.

 

Bottom line: Stories often include symbolism, so why not insert some on purpose? Practically any bird—or animal— will do. Just look it up. Alternatively, use the superstitions and mythology to begin stories of magical realism.

Word Wealth

oxford dictionaries

You may know that I love dictionaries! Indeed, I have four shelves of dictionaries that look much like the above—only less photogenic! And I’ll tell you right up front that my goal for today is to turn your liking for dictionaries into loving. After all, words are the building blocks of stories, the most basic tool of the craft. And dictionaries contain a wealth of information.
dictionary definition

Why one dictionary isn’t enough:

1. Language is constantly evolving. New words are added every year. So, depending on the time when you set your story, you may need an “age appropriate” dictionary. The current vocabulary is so important that books that are not actual dictionaries nevertheless have sections on language, books such as Everyday Life In The Middle Ages, Everyday Life in Colonial America, etc. The timeliness of language is particularly true for slang. Heaven forbid you should drop “far out” (meaning extraordinary or bizarre in the 1960s) into a story set in the 1950s. And there are dictionaries for that!

 

dewdroppers waldos slackers
2. Language varies by occupation or profession. I have dictionaries that focus on war slang by war, a dictionary of jargon by profession, a dictionary of mob speak.

 

3. Language is regional as well as time specific. I have dictionaries of American English (so labeled), Australian English, and South African English—and there are probably more out there reflecting English as spoken around the world. But some, such as Yankee Speak, are much closer to home. How To Speak Southern, published in 1976, may be dated (or not) depending on when your story happens. But in any case, it’s short and worth a read just for the laughs.

 

4. Using archaic words can spice up your writing as long as the context makes the meaning clear. For example, biblioklept (meaning book thief), fleshquake (a tremor of the body), or crop-lifting (to steal a crop of standing grain).

 

word museum
5. Actually—and perhaps not surprisingly—I especially like dictionaries of weird words. Where else would one come across words like “nihilarian” (meaning a person who deals with things of no importance)?
weird wonderful words
Of course, one person’s “no importance” is another person’s passion! So a character using that label/word says a lot about the speaker. Indeed, a character who’s makes a habit of using esoteric words is rich with possibilities!

 

word wealth
6. And then there are common, easily understood words that are seldom used. Some of these are very personal. For example, my high school English teacher had an explicitly stated aversion to the word “bother” and urged saying “it isn’t” rather than “it’s not” because the latter sounded too much like snot. Consider dropping uncomfortable words into your narrative and/or dialogue to create a bit of unease or tension in the reader, and/or to characterize your character. Consider your—or your character’s—uncomfortable words.

 

7. Why not just look words up online? Now this is getting personal to me. If you need to check the spelling and/or definition of a particular word, the internet is quick and dirty—i.e. efficient. The problem (in my opinion) is that you get what you ask for. With a physical dictionary, you can easily tumble into reading nearby entries. So you look fulminate (criticize harshly) and wander into fulsome (sickening or excessive behavior)—and there’s a whole new adjective you can use!
dictionary
Bottom line: We all know writers read. Try reading a dictionary or two!

Writers Keep Fit

My tai chi teacher is fond of saying that in terms of ill effects on health, sitting is the new smoking. She urges never sitting still for more than ten minutes at a time. Treadmill desks and Hemingway-style standing notwithstanding, most writers spend a lot of time sitting. So, here follows my humble suggestions about how writers can keep moving during their work days. And I’ll start with my personal favorite, stay flexible.

 

writers keep fit
No one can produce the Great American Novel with carpal tunnel syndrome. One possibility is to use all your digits. If that doesn’t particularly work for you, consider these alternatives to keep typing—or, as many say today, “keyboarding.”

 

Then there is the pencil twirl, which is good for dexterity and also good as a party trick. Keep an array of pencils and pens around and when you’re on the phone or whatever, weave a pencil (or pen) through the fingers of one hand, first one direction and then the other.
writers keep fit
writers keep fit
Hand function is crucial, but flexibility is truly a full-body need. Try these moves.

 

Of course, it’s also important to jiggle one’s brain occasionally. Whenever you feel especially groggy or frustrated, try banging your head on the desk/keyboard.

 

Which reminds me, use scrap paper to improve eye-hand coordination. Crumple all those discarded draft pages into paper basketballs and lob them toward the wastebasket—if you can find it.
writers keep fit
Attend to heart health with aerobic walking. The ideal might be a 60 minute walk every day. But if that isn’t possible, consider 360 10-second walks around your desk chair, breathing heavily.
writers keep fit
Flexibility and breathing are crucial, but so is strength. If lifting your coffee cup (or whatever beverage) isn’t doing it for you, consider these moves.

 

And yes, ladies, one can do the squats in pencil skirts: just jut your butt out and keep your knees behind your toes, while keeping your back flat.

 

There’s much evidence that exercise goes better with companions. Consider bringing exercise into your next critique group meeting.

 

But More Seriously…

Many successful writers urge physical activity as necessary for writers. Everyone knows about Sue Grafton and Stephen King.

“The writer must have a good imagination to begin with, but the imagination has to be muscular, which means it must be exercised in a disciplined way, day in and day out, by writing, failing, succeeding and revising.”

― Stephen King

But testimonials are out there, all over the place. Here is a list of writers who have publicly endorsed physical exercise. Look them up for details.

 

New York Times bestselling author of ten books, also an award-winning professor at The New School and NYU.

 

Wolf has had the #1 best-selling book on Amazon and was ranked #2 for all historical romance authors.

 

Meidav won the Kafka Award for Best Novel by an American Woman and the Fiction Prize for writers under 40. She teaches at U. Mass Amherst MFA program.
Her novel The Fallback Plan made the “highbrow brilliant” quadrant in New York magazine’s approval matrix. She’s published three books.

 

Marivi Soliven
Marivi Soliven [Source: Team Yellow]
Author of 17 books, The Mango Bride won the Philippine counterpart of the Pulitzer Prize as well as Best Contemporary Fiction at the 2014 San Diego Book Awards.

 

Bottom line: Consider the collective wisdom of many productive writers and figure out how to get more active! Here are two places to get started.