Friday, 14 March 2014


Blood Tracks author, Paula Rawsthorne asks how can writers keep fit when they have one of the most sedentary jobs on the planet?

Maybe I should have blogged about an aspect of writing or a current hot topic such as the ‘Let Books Be Books’ campaign, but instead I decided to post about trying to keep fit when you’re writing.  If this doesn’t seem relevant to the creative process I’d argue that it is in fact crucial.  I’ve decided to blog on this subject as much for myself as any readers, as I need reminding daily how important it is.

 So many people’s jobs involve sitting in front of a computer screen all day.  However, for most writers this problem is compounded by not having set working hours.  We often find ourselves sitting in dark, airless rooms throughout the night, transfixed by a glowing computer screen.  We hunch over our keyboards with terrible posture, blurry eyes and stiff necks. Occasionally a family member may take pity on us and demand that we stop, but usually they’ve all gone to bed and forgotten about us.

At numerous stages when I was writing my second novel, Blood Tracks, I’d spend hours on end working on the laptop.  At times my brain felt like it was being cooked.  My eyes became sore and dry and I subsequently had to get my first ever pair of glasses.  My legs frequently went numb and by the time I’d extracted myself from the computer and rolled into bed, my mind was so full of work that it wouldn’t switch off.

Of course, the solution to all this is obvious- don’t work through the night, don’t work right up until you go to bed and, most importantly, take breaks!  The ‘taking breaks’ part may seem like the easiest aspect to achieve but many of us find it difficult to put into practice.  Whether during the day or night time, it’s hard to drag yourself away from the screen when you have a deadline or are engrossed in your writing.

Some writers may be saying that they have the opposite problem; that they find it hard to drag themselves to the screen to get down to writing.  After all, we’re all notoriously good at procrastination. However, from my market- research, it appears that many writers spend their procrastination time sitting in front of the screen, participating in various forms of social media.  The facts are, if we don’t want to develop DVT or eventually need a hoist to get out of the chair, we need to regularly stand up and get away from the screen.  

As most of us work from home we have the advantage of deciding when to take breaks.  Also, as we’re not in an office environment, we can get off our chair and do whatever form of exercise we want (you might wish to close the curtains first).  If you want to try a ‘downward facing dog’ go ahead!  If you fancy blasting out your favourite track and dancing round the room, be my guest.  Why not try a few press-ups (there’s no one to see you collapse after four)?  What about skipping?  It’s an excellent form of aerobic exercise and you can pretend you’re Rocky Balboa. If you’re really desperate, you could do a bout of housework.  Whatever it is, it’s all good as long as we’re getting our circulation going.  Of course, we all know that exercise increases blood flow, releases endorphins and oxygenates our brains so that when we return to our desks we should feel energised and the words should come toppling out faster than we can type them.

My family say that the only exercise I get is walking to the local cafĂ© to get a takeaway coffee and cake, but I’m getting better. Short bursts of exercise suit me.  I’ve got a 10 minute exercise DVD!  It’s probably 5 minutes too long for my liking but it’s certainly helpful (when I remember to use it).  I never walk up and down the stairs, instead I run.  Sometimes, if I see sunshine, I’ll jump on my bike and go for a half hour ride.  When we spend so much time inside it’s great to have a blast of fresh air and Vitamin D.

Of course not all of us writers need coaxing to get off our backsides; some are hard core when it comes to exercise. I know that distance running is popular with many writers (e.g. Kerry Drewery (A Dream of Lights), Patrick Ness).  Not only do they reap the benefits of aerobic exercise but they often say that, whilst running, they achieve a meditative state where story ideas start flowing.  I tried running once- I did it for charity to make sure it would be too embarrassing to back out.  Whilst I completed the route, I was too busy staggering and panting to reach a Zen-like state.  It didn’t work for me, but it might work for you- converts are the most zealous!

Acid author Emma Pass believes that dogs make great writer’s assistants.  She says that doing daily walks with her lovely dog ensures that she gets exercise and helps story ideas to form.  Other writers swear by a spot of gardening to break up their chair time.

I also know writers who get up at the crack of dawn each morning and hit the gym.  I admire their discipline but not enough to do it myself.

At the other extreme, I know of authors who write in bed for hours on end.  Whilst it seems to work creatively for them, I fear for their circulation and worry that they’ll end up as the subject of a Channel 5 documentary.

If the problem was just sitting for too long then ‘standing desks’ might be the solution, but then we’d end up with varicose veins instead of DVT.  There’s always ‘treadmills with workstations’ but these are expensive and might encourage us to stare at the screen for even longer periods of time.

It would seem that the simplest way to keep fit whilst writing is to force yourself to take regular breaks away from your chair and screen and make sure you hop, skip and jump (or whatever works for you) so that when you return to your desk your fit for action.

I’d love to know what you do to try to keep active during long periods of writing?


  1. I'm probably not the ideal person to answer this, because I have far too much unwanted energy to stay seated for any length of time. I think the longest uninterrupted writing session I've ever had was about two hours, but it's usually around 45 minutes. Even while I'm sat down, I'm a terrible fidget, which probably accounts for my svelte physique!
    I really like to write on the move when the weather's nice, actually - I wrote the key scene of my latest novel in an A6 notebook while walking through the woods last summer.

  2. I walk up a big hill. Usually I remember to come back down again.

  3. Hi Nick and Mark, Thanks for your comments. Nick, I'm so jealous that you can achieve the perfect combination - you literally write in your notebook, whilst exercising and getting fresh air. I'd love to develop that skill.
    Mark, Glad you remember to descend as well as ascend; it gets quite nippy on those hill tops at night (though it might provide material for a good story)

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