Does an exercise regimen make us better writers?

I am in my fifth week of working out more consistently than I have in years, perhaps even a decade. In 1992, I lost nearly 40 pounds as I worked on the final stages of my first novel. The writing was some of the best I’ve ever done, before and since, and I stayed in that “writer’s zone” months after the book was finished.

In 1999, I became a vegan and exercised regularly. The combination of those two things helped me drop 80 pounds and cut my cholesterol levels in half. It was the last time I heard my doctor tell me I was in better shape than most my age.

I was also writing like crazy. I was leading workshops in writing all around the region, publishing pieces on writing in newsletters and other writing publications, I had my own monthly column in a family magazine, and I was journaling 2-3 times a day.

When I stopped my vegan ways and dust gathered on the treadmill, my writing slowed down. My daybook entries were filled with frustration, and most of my writing beyond my daybook was weak and sporadic, at best.

But now, in just these first five weeks of resuming a disciplined diet and exercise regimen, my writing is taking off again. My daybook entries are entirely about the art and craft of writing, and my mind is clear in solving many of the problems I faced with my stories, even just weeks ago.

In a nutshell, I’m seeing a direct correlation between establishing an exercise regimen and becoming a better, more disciplined writer.

I did a quick search online to see if there were any established studies confirming my belief, but no matter how I typed in the search words and phrases, I came up with absolutely nothing, even searching through ERIC.

The generic cause-effect relationships seem obvious to me: If I lose weight and exercise, then

  • my self-esteem will improve dramatically;
  • I will manage my time more efficiently;
  • I will interact more with others in social circles and communities; and
  • I will be less afraid of success (and failure) and will take greater risks to see projects through to completion.

Easily, each of these generic benefits can be applied nicely to writing.

  • If my self-esteem improves, I will feel better and more confident about my writing.
  • If I manage my time more efficiently, then I will have more time to complete the tasks i begin.
  • If I interact more with others, then I will gain more experiences to use in my writing, as well as have opportunities to share my ideas and gain valuable feedback.
  • If I take greater risks, I will discover more genuinely who I am as a writer and what I am capable of accomplishing.

So even if there aren’t any studies out there (if you know of any, though, do let me know), I have to believe that my grad school mentor, Philip Gerard, got it right when he told us: Working on a book is like running a marathon. You have to practice hard every day at it and be in the best shape of your life. If you don’t, you’ll never get the damn thing finished.

I think you are right, Philip. Thanks for the lasting advice. I can now visualize that published book just on the other side of that FINISH banner at the end of the race. . . .

3 thoughts on “Does an exercise regimen make us better writers?

  1. I absolutely agree. I’ve been running every other day for nearly three years now (wow, it’s been that long) and not only have I been able to keep things in order stress-wise, but I’ve been able to use my jogs to plan out the plots for my writing projects. I actually get some great ideas while I’m running for characters and story development. I’m glad it works for you too! I love working out. =)


  2. Hey Rus!
    I am still sad that we didn’t have class this summer. I am still NOT over it.
    Anyway, I have a book that I have been following that falls into this fitness and writing category. The fitness part may not be what you are looking for since it revolves around yoga….but as always , I highly rec: yoga of various types for overall holistic health.
    Seperate from all of that, I think you will like it because it creates a place for concentration with a focus on intention in your voice.
    The Journey from the Center to the Page: Yoga Philosophies and Practices as Muse for Authentic Writing by Jeff Davis
    Gotham Books(c) 2004
    The Introduction: “Remembering Your Body”
    If it is out of print let me know, I can lend the book but this is the first one that I thought of.
    PS Vegans typically have very low carbon footprints, but I bet you knew that already 🙂
    Almost vegetarian, Cindy


  3. Speaking of visualizing… I’ve been meaning to mention this to you. Wayne Dyer talked about visualizing his finished book in Excuses Begone. He had the publisher create the book jacket for it, based on his description, before he even started writing it. Then he kept that book jacket on a book right on his table so he would see it every day while he worked. I think that’s a pretty cool idea to try. Even carry the book around or leave it elsewhere in the house, in places where we are likely to get distracted from writing.


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