This post is a response to a recent Ploughshares Tweet in which they called out to writers in the Twitterverse to blog their ideas and suggestions for healthy habits. Thank you, Caitlyn for alerting me to this tweet.
We have that icon in our collective memory — the reclusive writer, crouched over a desk, pen and paper, ink-stained hands, a mad scribbling anachronistic rebel with a vision. The few who follow the tradition of dirty hands hole themselves up in their modern-day monastic cells in the hidden hours to transfer their ink to the flickering screen. Add either grandiose delusions, troubled relationships, addictions, clouds of smoke, broken bottles or the withering banality of obscurity, if you are so inclined to complete the romantic but antiquated image of homo scriptor.
The reality is that writers are at risk for a form of internal exile, away from the madding crowd, with bad back, bad posture, and nosediving into the screen. Writing has always been a private act with the public consequences of acceptance and rejection, either critical or commercial, or both. Yet, the body pays the price of a physical art such as writing. These days, though, writers have no excuse for remaining priests and priestesses in their own temples of thought. I contend that there is a need for “moderation” not “balance.” They are two distinct concepts. Below I offer five steps to moderate the physical and mental work of the scribal art.
Step 1: Wi-fi is everywhere so take the portable writer’s desk to the café or some place outside. Enjoy your favorite coffee, get some sun and knock down that Vitamin D deficiency. Watch and listen to the human tribe. Speech-surround is language at work. Contractions contract, quirky speech patterns quark, they zig and zag all around you in what is essentially an open laboratory. Best of all, it is free material, or, at most, it costs a cup of coffee. Wear sunblock and sunglasses: the other humans don’t like knowing that they are being observed.
Step 2: Find time to read outside. Read; not write. Fresh air, breezes, birds chirping, and greenery are reminders of the precious planet that we live on. Getting out and about also moves the humors around. If you do have the compulsive jones to write, then carry a small notebook and jot down ideas or observations, or snippets of dialogue. Unless you’re a born prodigy, a writer reads in and out of his element. Writers are the lawnmowers of the libraries, up and down stacks and across genres, time-periods and cultures. Books in translation are a blessing. I should mention that moving and finding better shade counts as exercise. Humans are the only creatures whose locomotion changes over a lifetime. We are also the only creatures that blush when reading Shades of Grey.
Step 3: Attempt to learn another language. It gives you another soul and it’s a form of mental hydration. Need another metaphor? Like grafting a plant, you’ll appreciate what is foreign and remarkable about your own language. Learn and stretch your mind with different syntax and vocabulary. Diction and Location are everything: “¡Qué caldo!” (What a soup!) instead of “Que calor” (It is such hot (weather)). In Italian caldo = warmth, in Spanish = soup; or learn “Me duele la gamba” (the shrimp hurts me) instead of “Me duele la pierna” (my leg hurts). In Italian: gamba = leg; Spanish gamba = shrimp. Embarrass yourself. Shrimps are best kept cold. Thank you, Claudio for having shared this hilarious anecdote with me.
Step 4: Physical exercise, be it dancing, running, walking, biking, or yoga. Pick one, or more than one, and do it. The law of the jungle applies here: Move or die. Inertia is death. Humans are not meant to be sedentary creatures. No movement spells atrophy. I’m convinced that office cubicles are killing us. Get up and walk around, stretch out and don’t let the fluorescent lighting zap your brain. BTW, yoga is a wonderful way of laughing at your inflexible Self and it has the added benefit of disciplining mental focus. That’s an added benefit when it comes to revising a text, or refraining from choking an editor.
Step 5: Get a pet. Aside from a wonderful way of meeting other people, a pet is unconditional with its love and it also creates an obligation that reminds you that you are not the center of the Universe. Dogs are wonderful, but I’m partial to cats. They are inveterate readers. They’ll put their paw on the page and stretch across their favorite pages. Dogs can make wonderful editors. They bite books and critics.
Five simple steps. No fancy equipment. No debate about PC versus MAC. Nope. No convincing you to write more or better. Our use of language makes all of us authors, but few of us have the discipline to put it down on paper or to align electrons on a screen through our tapping of the keys. Your reading this says that you’re a writer. We forget that we have bodies. Call it dualistic dislocation: Mind and Body, Head and Heart, or whatever. We each have only one body so we should take care of and respect it.
There you go: 5 simple reminders that writing should be healthy, that Life is all around you while you write and that it can inform your writing. Move the mind and the body will follow and the words will come. Oh, and don’t forget: moderation in all things and let the dog walk you and the cat choose your next reading adventure.