Dead Writers in Rehab

By Paul Bassett Davies

The only thing worse than waking up with the hangover from hell is waking up with a hangover in hell

Friday, 25 March 2016

Fitness tips for writers, and is death such a bad alternative?

The following vital advice about trying not to drop dead at your desk as a result of your unhealthy lifestyle is from an unpublished self-help book by The Writertype:

"HOW TO DO WRITING - The only writing advice you'll never not need."


In many ways a writer is like an athlete. Except that a writer sits around all day and doesn't get much exercise. And athletes tend to be better looking. But apart from that, they're very similar. Writers are less prone to physical injury but they'll be happy to describe in great detail the profound existential pain they suffer if you make the mistake of asking how they are, even in passing.

Writing is a lonely, anguished craft, unless you're doing it wrong. Or unless you do it with someone else, which can be even worse. Especially if they subsequently become successful and you don't, and you have to pretend to be pleased for them while all the time your blood is boiling in a toxic stew of self-pity, rage and bitter resentment. That can be pretty traumatic. So I've been told.

Meanwhile, writers and athletes both face the temptation of taking drugs to enhance their performance. But the problem with writing when you're high is that while the first half-hour may be quite creative, you then continue writing for another fifteen hours, producing what you're convinced is work of unsurpassed genius but which turns out, when you read it later, to be drivel. So I've been told.

What's the answer? There may be ways to integrate physical activity into your creative work routine. For example, when you're watching daytime TV, for research purposes, you can walk to the television to change the channel instead of using the remote. You can even exercise at your desk. Try lifting a full mug of coffee up and down with one hand a few times while typing with the other. But be careful you don't spilb5>$jkq§nnnggg.

Okay, forget about that. Ideally, we're looking for a way to keep fit by harnessing and transforming creative mental energy. Unfortunately, there isn't one. Writing is a sedentary occupation, unless you do it standing up. Which is how Anthony Trollope produced around seventy novels, putting in a couple of hours every morning at a lectern before going off to work in his job at the Post Office. Maybe my postman is writing a novel. He's certainly got something more important to do in the morning than deliver my mail, which arrives around sunset.

Trollope wasn't actually a postman, although he did invent the pillar box. But the combination of writer and postman is, in fact, ideal: a couple of hours of writing in the morning followed by a stroll, with the additional gentle exercise provided by mangling envelopes and forcing packages through narrow letter-boxes.

Another option is to actually do your writing while going for a walk. The difficulty with this, I've found, is that you tend to bump into people and spill your drink. In the old days, a major author could solve the problem by having an amanuensis. But for the modern writer, having an amanuensis raises questions, like, "What is it?" and "Can I plug it into a USB port?" But once you know what one is, you'll see how unlikely it is you'll get one. Boswell may have clambered around the Hebrides behind Dr Johnson, diligently noting down his every thought, but if someone is following you around day and night, recording every word you say, you should probably start worrying.

Talking of worry, the best solution to this whole fitness question is to stop worrying about it. Stress is the real enemy. Look at those athletes, and all the agony they go through, day in, day out. And all the time, do you know what they're really dreaming of? They dream of spending their days sitting at a desk, gazing out of a window, re-arranging their paperclip collection and eating chocolate digestive biscuits. In other words, being a writer.  

Look, elastic was invented for a reason. It's nature's way of telling you it's OK to wear comfortable trousers that fit you no matter how little exercise you do. So, embrace the truth that as a writer you're more concerned with the life of the mind than the fitness of the body. And if it means that some people accuse you of living in your head too much, don't worry. Those people also live in your head. 


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