Run Writer Run: Why Exercise Will Improve Your Writing

Joe here: I don’t know about you, but I’m still working off those Holiday calories. This seemed like a great time to share this post from the archives about the importance of exercise for our creative writing. Enjoy the post and good luck with those New Year’s resolutions!

Confession time.  How much exercise have you done today? How about yesterday?  Over the course of the past week?

And why am I talking about exercise on a website that helps people write better?

improve your writing

Because getting your body up and moving is good for your plotlines.

Want to Write Better? Move Into Creativity

Bottom line first: physical activity is good for your brain, and what’s good for your brain is great for your writing (unless you’re not a human but one of those AI wanna-be novelists). So choose your juice: running, swimming, cycling, weightlifting, pilates, yoga, or the occasional triathlon. Just make sure you get cardio in there. That’s the perfect antidote to sitting at your desk moving no muscle—er, sorry, tendon—other than your fingers on the keyboard.

Write Better Morning or Night

We writers are notorious exercise abstainers. No, not all of us (and certainly not YOU), but enough of us to warrant this blog post. After all, who wouldn’t rather spend a glorious sunlit morning crafting the world’s next literary magnum opus rather than sweating it out the way all those high-powered, over-achieving, billionaire powerhouses do (supposedly) every day at 5am sharp?

You couldn’t pay me enough to spend my morning in the gym, overachiever status be damned. Yoga and feeding the hummingbirds, yes, every time. But there’s a reason for that—that’s what resonates for me. Every body is different; we each have our own unique biorhythms, and my body is not an early exercising bird. At least not physically—mentally, I can be up at 5 or 6 and write for three or four hours straight.

However, come late afternoon or evening, I hit the pavement. I’m a runner. I run for thirty minutes in the park across the street, blissfully plugged into my headphones. There’s nothing in the world that can top that feeling.

Except chocolate, but that’s another post for another time.

The Writer’s High

For us scribes, the runner’s high has a sister benefit: the writer’s high. If you run, you know what I’m talking about. It’s that state of pure ecstasy you reach when you hit your stride, when your muscles no longer ache, and you feel like you could run forever. And if you didn’t have that manuscript to finish, you probably would.

When you run, you’re unplugged from everything except the fresh air around you. You’re unplugged from all those interruptors that are so detrimental to literary creation: email, social media, traffic, conference calls and client deadlines, grocery lists and family obligations.

It’s that unbridled, energized freedom and energy that running gives you that generate creativity. I’ve untied many a pesky literary knot and brewed up lots of fresh new ideas for my stories while running. I’ve come up with plotlines, titles, dialogue, even marketing strategies—ideas and angles that might not have occurred to me if I had stayed home.

It gets the emotional (read: creative) juices gushing. Stirs up new images, associations, metaphors. You don’t have to take up running, per se—but do work in a good workout, make it a regular part of your writing routine, and you’ll see how fast that blinking cursor will disappear.

What do you do to get your creative juices flowing? Let us know in the comments section.

PRACTICE

What are you still doing in that chair?  Get out there!  Then, come back with your juices jazzing through your body and mind, and write a kick-ass story.  Post it right here—and let us know in the comments how exercise helps you write better.

About Birgitte Rasine

Birgitte Rasine is an author, publisher, and entrepreneur. Her published works include Tsunami: Images of Resilience, The Visionary, The Serpent and the Jaguar, Verse in Arabic, and various short stories including the inspiring The Seventh Crane. She has just finished her first novel for young readers. She also runs LUCITA, a design and communications firm with her own publishing imprint, LUCITA Publishing. You can follow Birgitte on Twitter (@birgitte_rasine), Facebook, Google Plus or Pinterest. Definitely sign up for her entertaining eLetter "The Muse"! Or you can just become blissfully lost in her online ocean, er, web site.

  • I’m a runner! I sometimes think about my characters while I run, or I listen to an audiobook because writers have to “read” too.

    • Hi Holly, excellent! Another fellow runner. Interesting you should mention listening to an audiobook. Very different process, listening to someone else’s words while you run, vs. music. Not unlike listening to a conversation, as if you were running with someone by your side. My Chinese acupuncturist once told me it is best not to talk (or engage in verbal conversation) while you run, since that takes your mind’s subconscious attention away from your body. Disconnects you.

      Not that you can’t listen to audiobooks while you run… but if you’re looking for that profound, inspired exhilaration and total body/mind connection that running gives you, choose music over audiobooks.

  • Does walking around the mall today count? 🙂

    • Hey Mirel! Umm… no. No amount of exercise in a mall is healthy for your writing. 🙂

      • Actually, while I accept that no amount of walking around in a mall is exercise, I beg to disagree with the no amount is healthy for your writing. The germs of stories lie everywhere, even in malls. In fact, recently I wrote a story from a seed planted by something I saw on an idle, non-exercise walk… (http://storiesworthsharing.net/nickles-and-dimes-short-story/)

        But my favorite exercise is dancing with the grandchildren (and yes, they give me a workout. They’re very energetic.)

        • I *was* joking…

          Dancing with children has got to beat the Iron Man triathlon any day.

          • My husband claims I have no sense of humor. although the people reading my novel beg to differ. (It’s a serious story, but there’s a lot of humor in it. I think the dh problem with my humor stems from our mixed continent marriage…

            As for dancing with children- they have way more energy than is normal. But to see their woebegone faces when I say I have had enough is better than any taskmaster at getting me back on my feet.

          • eva rose

            Dancing with grandchildren….actually any time with grandchildren… sounds delightful! Sometimes the questions they ask can initiate a story. “Are fairies real?”

          • Oh yes. And they keep on asking me for original bedtime stories. I have to start recording myself, because all too often I forget them…

          • You should Mirel… my own grandmother never did despite our pleas to write her stories down. She’s gone now.

  • Alice Christy

    Perfect timing on this post. I just bought a 3-month pass for Bollywood Groove Cardio classes and–in addition to kicking my butt–it is really helping my writing too!

    • Woo hoo! Go girl! Do they do bhangra? I used to dance to it back in my university days. Even met a famous Pakistani rock star once.

  • eva rose

    Hi Birgitte! Your blogs always inspire me to action! I am a runner also and maintain 30 minutes of cardio most days. I can just picture you running in your lovely California setting. I have struggled with poetry all summer, trying to capture images and feelings in verse. Have you ever written poetry? Or can you recommend a good reference book for different types of poetry? Thanking you in advance as I start my workout!

    • Hi Eva Rose, your comments are always so thoughtful. Excellent to hear you’re also a runner—very impressed you do it every day. For poetry, yes I have written some: http://www.birgitterasine.com/works/poems

      My latest upcoming novella, in fact, is written in poetic prose (basically free verse), all 12,000 words of it. (www.birgitterasine.com/works/upcoming/visionary) Try freeing yourself of punctuation, to start, and work with words the way painters work with color.

      Maybe try a short poem here? After your run of course.

      xoxo

      • eva rose

        Thanks! Will check out your poetry! Enclosing one of my WIP open to critique from anyone:
        columbine and tundra grass
        beneath my feet so fragile lie
        and herald views beyond the path,
        summit of a great Divide
        granite slabs by glacier smoothed
        and strewn like lookout seats
        lichen-clad, harsh-weather etched
        a precipice of Peace
        pristine airs push breezes cool
        toward clouds adrift below
        past purple peaks that pierce the sky
        painted in life’s Window
        brothers hawk and eagle soar
        beyond bighorn unaware
        stillness grips the alpine world
        and the whisper of a Prayer

        • EndlessExposition

          The rhythm in the line “towards clouds adrift below” is a little off. There’s one syllable too many. Other than that, beautiful lyrical poem. I love it 🙂

          • eva rose

            Thank you for taking the time to read it!

  • Morgyn Star

    30 mins min a day. Would prefer an hour. Treadmill and plotting go hand in hand!

  • George McNeese

    I’m not a runner, but I try to get in some exercise throughout the day. It doesn’t always happen. I need to develop a routine, especially since I don’t live nearby a gym.

  • shirley

    Someone mentioned husband doesn’t think she has a sense of humor. Husbands are unlikely candidates for this kind of information. In fact, I think a family member or a good friend as a critic for our writing is counter productive, unless, and this is the qualifier, this person is a writer. If you ask a friend to look at a piece of your writing and tell you what he/she thinks, make sure this friend is in your writing group.

  • A teacher once told me “no day without a line”. Discipline. Everyday I write at least for 10 minutes. I prefer the night, but in the day the time goes slower

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  • Gardening is exercise, especially for older people with limited mobility. Bending, stooping, dragging around a hose, digging, trimming and pruning….Any garden activity gives me exercise and stimulates my senses. I write haiku and have written many based on images from my garden.

    heat stillness
    buzzing in the Russian sage
    spreads to the roses

    Adelaide

    • Just lovely Adelaide, thank you for sharing! With you on the gardening!

  • Hello, Birgitte!

    Thanks for the inspirational blog post. BI wish I could run, but I’m no longer physically able to do so due to having reconstructive surgery on my right knee 13 years ago. I discovered and started practicing yoga following my recovery from physical therapy. The postures and the breathing exercises were beneficial for my mental and physical conditioning. Tonight, I practiced yoga for 30 minutes inside my home. Afterwards, my mind and body felt relaxed and I’ve been writing continuously for the past two hours. Most of the writing has been journaling, but it’s my writing and that’s what matters most to me.

    • Bill, yoga rules. I try to do it every morning myself—good for you! Have you tried Pilates? I would think you could give it a go even with your knee, there are lots of positions/exercises in Pilates that gently strengthen and stretch the legs. Plus it’s a killer boost for your core, which is critical for writers (given that we sit for so long when we write).

  • gianna serex

    Wrote this one out after volleyball.

    //
    Ali teeters from the hot tub, can clutched between painted, ring-coated fingers, her dotted bikini in serious danger of snapping off. “Go get us s’more cans, wull ya?” She slaps her free hand down on my arm to keep from slipping. Behind her, Tim and Kelly have their tongues down each other’s throats. Only Owen appears unaffected, staring between my sister and me, stone faced. Somehow I thought he’d be the hardest drinker. Maybe he’s just less obvious.

    “More,” she repeats, like I’m the one who’s stupid off a high. “Owen needs anudder drink. He’s too… boring. Not eciting enough.”

    “I’m fine,” he clarifies. “Al, how about you slow down for a little bit. Come back in and sit by me.”

    With a smirk, she slides back in and scoots onto his lap. To my disappointment, he goes with it, grinning and putting his arms around her chest. Too much for me. I get the hell out of there before I’m suffocated by their sexual tension.

  • MA

    I am NOT a runner either. When I need a mental break, I get up the yard pull some weeds turn the water on or even jump in the shower and BAM I’ll get an idea or break in the fear or block that I had about pushing through on a piece I had to write

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  • Bruno Coriolano

    Liked it!

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  • Tanya Miranda

    I usually run twice a week, but only if it’s above 30-degrees. This week, so far, it’s snowed twice and two afternoons windchill were below 0. So, I started Yoga for 1 hour at least twice a week at a local studio.

    When I run I literally work out the details of my novel or short story or blog post. Sometimes, if I’m blocked, I will pick a pedestrian on my road and make up a story about his or her life. There’s a lot of room for creativityy while running.

    But yoga is a bit different. There is someone talking to you, giving you directions, and you have to make sure you don’t tip over and knock someone else off their half moon pose. (For the non-yogis, this is the pose : http://www.yogabasics.com/asana/half-moon/)

    Whether running or yoga-ing (what is the word anyway?), once you’re done it give you a feeling of accomplishment, and that triggers a feeling of motivation, and that puts your butt in your chair and pushes you to write. Runner’s High = Yogi’s High = motivation to do anything. At least, that’s how it works for me.

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  • Yes! I’m at my most creative when I’m in good shape. And there’s not a better time to brainstorm than when running.

  • Ashley

    i have been a runner for a few years now. The consistency could be a little better, but i do try for at least 3 times a week for as long as possible. Baby sometimes makes it hard. I will have to try and focus on plotting and opening my creative side more while doing this.

    Love this article about exercise and being creative going together…thanks

  • Dupe Kuku

    I used to run. Then I got mugged one evening on my usual Sunday evening run and all went downhill. Now I just stare at the sun setting, and wish I was running with it.

  • Sabrina McJunkins

    There’s no better exercise than sex! It also burns more calories! I know my exercise plan!

  • Lois Guarino Hazel

    After a brisk, hilly 50 minute walk, I sat down and wrote 2 haiku and began a memoir piece.
    Here’s one haiku, based on my walk past the sheep farm . . .
    Velvet ears, muzzle
    Eyes beseech as soft wool falls
    Newly shorn, naked

  • Sarkis Antikajian

    Bridget, my art studio is on the top level of a two story building. There are 15 steps. So I start what I call my steps-exercise by going up and down the steps five times or until I run out of breath. Then I do my artwork for a couple of hours and during this time, I am on my feet and moving. Then it’s time to repeat the steps-exercise. And finally, I do some more artwork. And that’s the extent of my exercise activity. Now it’s time to do some writing.

  • Orlando

    Ms. Birgitte I read a poem that you wrote in Spanish. I guess that you spanish. great!
    One question I need a good book or website that I can learn more about writing, can you help me with this? I will appreciate it. thanks

  • I’m not able to run due to mobility issues, but I do dance and kick box,,not often enough because most times a story will grip me and I lose track of time. I have always wondered what a runners high felt like … never having experiencing it but always hearing about it.

  • Rodrick Rajive Lal

    An excellent piece, Birgitte, but I wonder if cycling early in the morning and a brisk walk following it would qualify as an ideal exercise for writers?

  • DiyaSaini

    Starring in my middle age, it seems difficult to disconnect myself with exercise. “Exercise freak from Birth”, in few words should sum up my description, as they were the salad days which made me one. Closed sweaty walls or loud bustling gyms made me cluster phobic, as if nature was calling me out. Nature & I have hugged timelessly, during wee hours at 5, weather has never been a determinant. Hand in hand with nature, carefree hourly brisk walk has me sworn to be only hers at that time, without any earplugs or shades as she may leave me wearying through out that time.

    Built or building me to be in-charge of my life, instead of life being in-charge of me. As we never really reach till the end of the rope & always find a farther distance insight.

  • I don’t run anymore. But I’ve taken up Zumba and feel real tribal when I’m dancing in a room full of wonderful women. I do get the endorphines going that way.

  • WritingBoy

    It ain’t he chocolate you want Birgitte, it’s the sugar.

    And as to running, I’ve never seen a happy jogger. And the people that do always appear to need to chase/achieve/catch something or run away from a something/someone/syndrome.

  • I can’t but agree, Birgitte! Whenever I skip exercising for one reason or another, I’m always reminded of how much exercise really impacts our well-being and productivity. This is a great reminder!

  • disqus_JPqX8SzY7B

    Great piece. My personal favorite form of literary exercise is Prose: https://theprose.com/