Write It Sideways

Should Writers Rethink Butt-In-Chair Mentality?

Today’s article is written by Suzannah Windsor Freeman, founding editor.

Butt-in-chair: we writers have come to equate that phrase with dedication, sometimes to the detriment of everything else in our lives.

Earlier this week, my husband and older boys were watching the Olympic women’s marathon on television. I was about to pull out my laptop to do some writing, but something about the event made me pause.

There they were, some of the most elite female athletes in the world, running like tomorrow might never come. The one thing that kept echoing through my head was, “Wouldn’t it be nice to get up and run. You know—just run.”

I suddenly felt so…stagnant. It had been a long time since I’d gotten out of the house by myself to get some fresh air and exercise. Nursing twins, toilet training a toddler, and chauffeuring my eldest to extra-curricular activities were taking up most of my time; what was left over was devoted to writing.

Butt-in-chair had become my life.

In that moment seeing those women just run—all I wanted to do was throw on some shoes and bolt out the door.

Could Your Writing Be a Health Risk?

Rarely do we think of writing as a risky pastime, barring the possibility of falling off your chair or stabbing yourself with a pencil.

But what about our physical health? Have you been ditching your daily exercise to squeeze in a longer writing session? Could you, in fact, be risking your life?

Maybe that sounds a little dramatic, but consider the following:

Think you’re okay because you’re not overweight? Maybe not. Telegraph.co.uk writes, “Lack of exercise ‘worse for health than being obese’:

[A recent study suggests] “cardiorespiratory fitness, which is developed and maintained by regular physical activity, is a better predictor of mortality than obesity,” Dr Weiler, from Imperial College Healthcare Trust, in London, writes.

Right. So, should we be worrying less about how our bums look in jeans, and focusing more on increasing exercise and regular movement throughout our day?

If that’s not enough, here’s an even more direct statement from Mail Online’s article, “Poor diet and lack of exercise blamed for bad health“:

“A ‘couch-potato lifestyle’ which leaves a man or woman idle, overweight and eating the wrong foods is more likely to put them in hospital than smoking-related diseases […]”

I’ll remember that quotation next time I pass someone smoking in the street and am tempted to pass judgement. Maybe what I’m doing to my body is just as detrimental.

Taking Time to Exercise Can Make You More Productive

Forget about the detrimental effects of a stagnant lifestyle for a moment, and think about the positive aspects of engaging in regular exercise. Did you know that taking time out of your busy schedule to be active can actually make you more productive?

Medical News Today writes that according to research presented at an American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting, “Workers’ quality of work, mental performance and time management were better on days when they exercised.”

Science Daily reports that research on the effects of exercise at work suggest that “it is possible to use work time for exercise or other health-promoting measures and still attain the same or higher production levels.”

So, no need to feel like you’re missing out by scheduling a daily workout; it might even help you write more (and better) in the long run.

Writing Success Is Irrelevant if You Flunk Out of Life

My philosophy is, “You can’t take it [your writing] with you.” What good is being a successful writer if you flunk out of life?

I’ve always been accustomed to taking several brisk walks throughout the week, but carrying twins to 37 weeks hasn’t exactly helped my silhouette or my fitness level, recently. I’m still struggling to recover, but I know I could be doing more to help myself.

Watching that marathon made me realize a few truths:

If, like me, you’ve been putting your health on hold lately, in favour of another personal goal (whether that be writing or something else), will you join me in making a commitment today?

Making a Change for the Better

It’s not enough to simply say, “Exercise more!” The main question is, “How are you going to exercise regularly?

Start by identifying the best time of day for you to get 30 minutes of exercise, then decide what form of exercise is most sustainable for you. Do you love to walk or jog? Swim? Cycle? Play sports? Throw on an exercise DVD?

Because taking all three of my youngest out at the same time is extremely difficult, I’m pretty much housebound during the day. So, I’ve made a deal with my husband: I get dinner started, and as soon as he gets home from work, I go for a half-hour walk (and listen to short stories on my mp3 player). He keeps an eye on whatever’s cooking while I’m out, and we all eat together when I get home.

It’s only been a few days, but so far this system has worked wonders for my mental health. I suspect physical benefits will soon follow.

Aside from getting regular exercise, here are some other things to keep in mind:

  • Move more during the day. Cleaning the house, washing dishes, hanging laundry, playing with the kids—these are all opportunities to add more movement to your day. You might try wearing a pedometer to keep track of how many steps you take.
  • Eat healthy. At the very least, this is one area of my life I’m happy with at the moment. It’s easy to create quick, healthy, and inexpensive meals for your family. Have a look at my post, 7 Cheap and Healthy Meals for Starving Writers, and follow my Quick Recipes board on Pinterest for more simple ideas.
  • Drink plenty of water. One strategy I’ve used for several months is to fill a 2-litre jug in the morning and drink it all before bed. Watching the water level in the jug is a great visual reminder of whether or not I’m keeping hydrated throughout the day.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m no athlete, and I don’t plan to run a marathon any time in the near future. Neither do I intend to give up all my favourite foods or join an expensive gym.

All I’m asking is for us writers to take a good, hard look at what we’re doing to our health with butt-in-chair mentality. Yes, there are times we have to buckle down and just do it, but there needs to be overall balance in our lives.

Do you think butt-in-chair mentality helps writers achieve their goals, or does dedication to our craft sometimes cause us to risk our health? What are your personal goals for balancing writing and health?

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