Some people, I’ve heard, actually like to exercise. These people are probably playing games such as tennis, golf, basketball, etc. Maybe biking, hiking or kayaking. There are also people who enjoy lifting weights just for the sake of lifting weights. Is your character one of these? If so, how good is s/he?  And when did s/he take up the game?

Then there are activities that some people do for fun and others do as a means to a specific end. In this category I’d put swimming or water aerobics for a bad back, running to relieve stress, boxing as a form of anger management, yoga to relax. Some people bike or walk for fun; for many others, walking and biking is a primary mode of transportation.

This group also would include those people who work out primarily to get or keep a body beautiful.

For most of human history, the vast majority of people have gotten plenty of exercise just trying to stay alive. Farming, hunting, and gathering food require activities people pay big money to recreate in a gym today. Building defense structures, making tools and weapons, chopping wood, washing clothes, and travelling are all much more physically demanding without machinery to help. In almost every part of the world, there are still cultures today that rely primarily on human or animal labor rather than technology.

Some people exercise simply because they have to. Physical therapy can be done to prevent a future injury as well as to treat an existing injury. Martial arts practice can people alive in crisis situations, but regular practice has also been helpful in the treatment of mental illness. A home might only be reachable by strenuous hiking; a job might require frequent lifting and carrying.

At the other end of the spectrum are people whose preferred activity is reading novels while snarfing chocolates or swigging scotch. Or maybe that’s watching TV while munching chips and chugging beer. Sound like any characters you know?

But even these people have probably heard “sitting is the new smoking” when it comes to being detrimental to one’s health. This group of people will find the easiest or least painful way to stay minimally fit.

  • Go to the gym with a friend and enjoy the socialization
  • Join an exercise class that’s nearby
  • Hire a personal trainer
  • Get up for jumping jacks during commercial breaks
  • Lifting the coffee mug to take a sip counts as doing bicep curls

For some, getting dressed and going somewhere is too much effort—not to mention those who don’t want anyone to see them doing whatever it is they are doing.  And in these times of COVID-19, many people don’t want the exposure. These people are likely to choose a stay-at-home option.

  • Buy equipment to use at home:
    • Balance ball
    • Exercise bands
    • Graduated weights, hand-held or strapped to wrists/ankles
    • Heavy-duty weights, barbels, etc.
    • A multi-purpose machine such as Bowflex
    • NordicTrack or similar treadmill
    • Rowing machine
    • A compact elliptical trainer
    • Stationary bicycle
    • Some version of a vibrating plate

Note: Jugs of water, broken swivel chairs, flat-surface furniture, paper plates, and compliant dogs or small children can provide the same benefits as all of these expensive gadgets for almost no money at all!

3.1 How likely is your character to show up at the gym wearing only a towel?

Bottom line for writers: Know your characters’ fitness habits, particularly main characters. There are three components to a person’s/character’s exercise decisions

  1. How does s/he feel about fitness/exercise?
  2. What does s/he think about fitness/exercise?
  3. What does s/he actually do?

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.


Writing Life: Exercise Improves Creativity


My frequent mentions of walking before breakfast while at Nimrod may have led people to believe that I enjoy exercise. Not so. Walking at Nimrod is necessary because so many hours of the day are spent butt-in-chair. Fortunately, it was also lovely.

view of Cowpasture River near Nimrod Hall during walk
Cowpasture River near Nimrod Hall during my morning exercise

I have a neighbor who walks every day and works out at the fitness center several times a week. My guess is that he is somewhere north of 85. Another neighbor asked, “Do you exercise so much in order to live a long time?” His answer was, “I exercise so much in case I live a long time!” That is my attitude toward exercise: I do it because it’s good for me. True confession: I should exercise more. Although I do some stretching and some strength training, my favorite form of exercise is walking, most frequently in the park near my house. There is a spacious paved loop that is very popular, but I hit the pavement only after heavy rains.

Paved walking loop through the woods where exercise sparks creativity
Paved walking loop through the woods

Usually I take a path through the woods. There are several of them, often running parallel to the paved loop, but also criss-crossing the ridge, following the fence line, and veering down to the creek.

trail or path through woods
Path through the woods where I feed my creativity

One thing I enjoy about the park is following the seasons there. In spring there are dogwoods and lady slippers. Right now I can enjoy the remains of the lady slippers (i.e., the leaves) and crows foot. The partridge berries are just starting, and I’ll be able to track them as the come on. And always there are ferns.

lady slipper and crows foot
Lady slipper and crows foot

partridge berries during exercise to improve creativity
Partridge berries

ferns during exercise to improve creativity

The main intersection of my writing life and exercise is thinking of story starters. For example, last January, walking in a nature preserve, I noticed my shadow on the snow, and thought of the Grim Reaper in winter.

shadow on snow looks like grim reaper in winter, morning exercise
Grim Reaper in winter

This led to the story starter on how what the Grim Reaper does in winter might differ from summer.


There is a ton of research (ton being a precise quantitative term!) indicating that both sleep and exercise increase creativity. Some of us are more adept at the former than the latter—but try to get enough of both. I won’t cite specific studies because this blog can’t go on forever and because the information is so readily available in psychology textbooks and on-line.

Writers who exercise.

I do not know of writers who directly attribute their writing success/productivity to exercise. If you know such examples, please post a comment. But I do know successful writers who exercise. Stephen King is one example.

book cover of On Writing by Stephen King
Stephen King is one writer who exercises

But as a case in point, I’ll cite Sue Grafton. Grafton was born in 1940 and has now completed A through X in her highly successful alphabet mystery series.  She has a very regular routine: up at 6:00, walk 3 miles, shower and breakfast by 9:00, write 2 pages, break at 11:30 for lunch, done by 1:30, and exercise again (either more walking or weights, jogging and/or swimming). She has a home gym which she calls a “Jill” because it is composed of 15 Lady Paramounts machines, constructed specifically for women. She eats dinner at 6:00 and is asleep at 9:00, hoping to get in touch with her Shadow side during sleep. You can see many photos of Sue Grafton and her living/working spaces on her website, including a picture of her Jill.

book cover of
E is for Exercise? Sue Grafton exercises several hours every day

Back to exercise.

The evidence says exercise is beneficial for everything from weight loss to memory loss, energy to mood enhancement, heart health to maintaining hearing, cancer to strong bones. . . . And then there’s creativity! In short, exercise seems to be a silver bullet for quality of life. I’ve almost talked myself into getting serious here!

Does exercise improve your creativity?

Do you know writers who directly attribute their writing success/productivity to exercise?