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?

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