My July Reads

In a few short days, we’ll be moving from a cottage by the sea to a house with a garden. Though we’ve enjoyed our rocky shoreline view of eagles and herons and sea lions, it’s been seven months of uncertainty, of feeling deeply unmoored.

Some people need roots and I am one of them.

I’m looking forward to finally getting settled, to planting another garden, and to unpacking the many boxes we’ve had in storage. Within walking distance of our new home is a beach (pictured here).  There’s a great, long stretch of sand where we can walk for miles in either direction. Sometime soon, when I need a break from unpacking, I’ll grab a book and wander down for a waterfront reading break. Meanwhile, here’s what I’m reading this month.

At the gym: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

On the weekend: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Before bed: The House Whisperer by Christian Kyriacou

Books read to date in 2019: 30

Fitness . . . Just Another F Word?

For some, the mere mention of the word fitness sends us into, well, fits. One friend of mine is convinced fitness is the ultimate F word. She’s a nurse with a job that keeps her active and on her feet, but that’s not the case for us writers. Writing is, by nature, a sedentary activity and so are many writing-related activities. Things like reading, research, and interviewing people for background information are almost always done sitting down.

Since this Wednesday marks National Women’s Health & Fitness Day, it’s a great time to look at some of the ways writers can get out of that seat and stay active.

Get a treadmill desk. You’ll get used to it quickly (I did) and you’ll find your energy, creativity, and general fitness improving. If a treadmill desk isn’t doable for you, consider a standing desk, or sit on a balance ball chair. Any of those options don’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition; I switch from my sit down desk to my treadmill unit multiple times a day.

Set a timer so you remember to get up and move around, ideally every hour. Some writers go so far as to do push ups and sit ups during their break time. I am not one of them.

Take a daily walk. Team Sheltie demands a walk several times a day, even in inclement weather. I normally take them out first thing in the morning and again just before dinner, but in the winter when the light levels are low, I sometimes switch it up and get them out midday. Invariably, I come back to my desk energized and primed to write.

Look for reasons to be active. Gardening keeps me upright and moving (and my muse seems to really like digging in the dirt). Work in a hike when you visit with a friend. Cycle to the library or the grocery store. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Small things, simple things, but the small, simple things add up.

Stretch. My weekly yoga class is a lifesaver, not only for my cramped and tight muscles but also for reducing stress. You don’t need a class to do yoga, however; the stretches can be done anywhere you have a few feet of floor. Pick postures to loosen your shoulders and neck from being hunched over the keyboard (bow pose, eagle arms, fish or ear to shoulder) and your hips and hamstrings from sitting (lizard, half-pigeon, the warrior, or the bridge).

Finally, baby your hands and wrists. It may not be part of being fit and active, but injuries to hands and wrists will curtail output, which could lead to depression, which could lead to more time on the couch. Check your posture; improper posture when typing can strain your wrists. Use an ergonomic mouse with a track ball and alternate hands. Stretch and flex your wrists and hands regularly. I like to use a squeeze ball; I keep mine on the desk as a reminder to use the thing (it doesn’t work sitting in the drawer). Finally, seek help the minute you feel pain. I’ve successfully treated wrist pain with acupuncture, while other writers rely on physiotherapy, ice or a wrist brace.

Happy healthy writing.

Writers and Walking

Today is National Walking Day which makes it a perfect time to talk about writing and walking. I’m not talking about the benefits of walking and writing at a treadmill desk, though I love mine and recommend you try one if you get the chance. Instead I’m talking about writers who walk as part of their writing life.

First, a quick reminder of body chemistry. Walking, like many other forms of exercise, improves blood flow. It makes the heart pump faster and that sends more blood and oxygen circulating throughout our body and brains. Scientists also believe that regular walking promotes new connections between brain cells and helps prevent brain tissue from withering with age. In short, walking is good for us. And long before scientists were espousing its benefits, writers seem to know it.

William Wordsworth, for instance, was a celebrated walker; his poetry is filled with walks through forests and up mountains. His friend and essayist Thomas De Quincy estimated that the poet walked nearly 180,000 miles during his lifetime, an average of six and a half miles a day starting from about age five.

Virginia Woolf depended on walks through England’s South Downs to “have space to spread my mind out in.” Henry David Thoreau walked three or four hours a day sauntering through woods and fields to collect his thoughts and help inform his prose. When Charles Dickens couldn’t sleep at night, he’d walk London’s streets until dawn. Even when insomnia wasn’t a problem, he was a walker, declaring “If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.”

Danish writer Soren Kierkgaard wrote in the morning and walked the streets of Copenhagen in the afternoon, mentally composing paragraphs and working through new ideas. After the walk, he’d head back to the desk to get his thoughts down on paper.

Ernest Hemmingway also walked as a way to work out issues in his writing. “I would walk when I’d finished work or when I was trying to think something out,” he wrote in A Moveable Feast. “It was easier to think if I was walking and doing something.”

Henry Miller believed most writing is “done away from the typewriter, away from the desk. I’d say it occurs in the quiet, silent moments while you’re walking or shaving or playing a game or whatever.”

One of my favorite passages on walking is found in If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland (the book is highly recommended, by the way). She writes: “I will tell you what I have learned myself. For me, a long five-or six-mile walk helps. And one must go alone and every day. I have done this for many years. It is at these times I seem to get re-charged.”

More recently, Orson Scott Card was quoted as saying that it’s “worth the time to take an hour’s walk before writing. You may write a bit less for the time spent, but you may find that you write better.”

And if that’s not enough incentive, how about this last quote from the prolific and successful J.K. Rowling who says, “There’s nothing like a nighttime stroll to give you ideas.”

Night or day, walking isn’t only good for you it’s also good for your writing. And that’s something to celebrate on this, National Walking Day.