Um…Little Help Here?

Okay, sometimes it’s not easy

I’ve written a few posts talking about what I do to keep writing. After fielding a few responses, I realized that what I’ve posted up to now were pretty much along the lines of “Just do it.”

People wrote or grabbed me to say, “Hey! I’ve tried to write (or exercise) on a regular schedule and I just can’t keep it up. It’s all very well for you to say, “Just do it.” What if that doesn’t work for me?”

Fair question. Developing good habits is hard. Getting rid of bad habits is hard. Anyone who pretends otherwise is an annoying prig, like this girl I knew in high school, Angel McPrissyface. Here’s the background: I experimented my junior and senior years with smoking a cigarette while walking into a liquor store, hoping that smoking made me look old enough to buy alcohol. Since beer-and-wine age in Illinois at that time was something like 19, it worked better than it probably would nowadays. Ah, my halcyon youth! But the point isn’t that I was a degenerate who bought alcohol before I was old enough to drink legally. The point is, I was a degenerate who learned to smoke.

If you have never smoked, I cannot possibly convey how addictive nicotine is. By the time I was halfway into my freshman year of college, I was definitely a smoker. So: I smoked for maybe a year, maybe a year and a half. It took nearly as long to quit as it did to get hooked. I might still be smoking if BK, who I was dating at the time, refused to kiss me as long as I smoked. No question, kissing beats smoking.

Anyway, while I was home from college that summer, kissing was not an available smoking substitute. I was in Illinois, and BK was in Tennessee. I mentioned to someone I knew, who was still in high school, that I was having a hell of a time quitting. She put this prissy look on her face and said, “Well I never started!” as if I ought to give her a medal, or at least a cookie. Good thing I had a friend who heard the exchange and said Angel McPrissyface was an annoying little prig. Which she was.

I would like not to be like Angel; definitely not the kind of person who says things like, “Just do it.” (Sorry, Nike, but seriously). In the service of that ideal, I am coming clean. I didn’t always write every day, or exercise 5-6 days a week. I started the exercise habit first, and eventually got around to the writing habit.

And here’s something else I hate to admit. Unlike Stephen King, I don’t write 2000 words of usable fiction every day. I write at least 750 words of something. Sometimes it is dreck: just a mind dump. That’s certainly how I started. Or sometimes what I write is a blog post, like this one. I hope this isn’t dreck, but I’m not in a position to judge.

Finally, after well over two years of using faithfully, the proportion of fiction to dreck is slooowly inching in the direction of more fiction, less dreck. Usually that happens best in November, or any other time when I’m able to write 2000 (or so) words daily, rather than just 750. Even so, much of that fiction might be a later draft, and much of what I’m doing in a later draft is actually cutting words I’ve written earlier. Transforming myself into a prolific fiction writer is definitely a work in progress.

So…I belatedly realized that when I posted (in my 3-Legged Stool entries) some of the reading I’ve found helpful , I left one really important book out:

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit may or may not help you, but it was a relatively quick read, and it got me back on track when I hit a rough patch.

But let’s say you don’t want to buy the book or you’re too busy (or cold, if you live by me)  to go to the library. Here are a couple of interesting posts on using the peculiarities of your brain to trick yourself into good habits:

Graphic from Robbie Blair’s site

I liked this post by Robbie Blair. He offers 14 ways to make it easier to start a writing habit. He mentions Charles Duhigg’s book, too, so maybe it’s not just me.

Graphic from Wait But Why site

And this post by Tim Urban (maybe with help from Andrew Finn?) was entertaining and seemed to have more than a kernel of truth about procrastination.

The Three-legged Stool of Creativity – Part Deux

Mens Sana in Corpore Sano:
Part Two of a three-part series on helping creativity flow

Adding the second leg

I’m sure I heard the phrase “Mens Sana in Corpore Sano” long before I had any notion what it meant. Then I started reading the Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. Amelia is fond of using that phrase, from the poem by Juvenal whenever extolling the value of exercise.

Elizabeth Peters – photo from website

I would like to say that after reading the first Amelia book, I started exercising. I cannot say it with a straight face. I’ve only paid attention to fitness and nutrition sporadically. However, around 2005 my doctor diagnosed me as prediabetic. Since I was already having trouble with my blood pressure, and sometimes with cholesterol and triglyceride levels, it was clear something had to change. When you have this combination, doctors may also refer to your condition as metabolic syndrome, and warn you you’re at risk for all kinds of horrible health issues.

Honestly, I wasn’t as afraid of having a stroke or heart attack as I was about becoming demented. There’s a lot of dementia on my father’s side of the family. We all figured it was Alzheimer’s Disease, but after my dad was thoroughly evaluated, it turned out that his dementia was most likely due to metabolic causes – the combination of diabetes, high BMI, high blood pressure, and unsatisfactory cholesterol and triglyceride numbers. Having seen more than enough dementia in the family,  I had a come-to-Jesus moment and determined that I’d get my BMI into the normal range.

Maintaining a healthy weight continues to be a struggle, but I’ve managed to keep about ninety pounds of the excess off for a couple of years now. I still have blood pressure issues, but my glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride numbers are good.

I also still have food issues. However – and this is something you don’t think about too much when you’re lying around on the couch in front of the TV with an enormous ice cream sundae – exercise can actually be fun. It can be an adventure, the way it is when:

Cookie & I go for a long bike ride


I take a hike at Starved Rock


it just feels good. e.g., belly dancing

Day to day, I just exercise enough to make sure I’m ready for the good stuff. A hike is a lot more fun if you’ve got the wind and the strength for it, so I do something cardiovascular three to five days a week (maybe six when the weather is good), and do strength training two to three days a week.  I could stand to do some more mind-body work, like yoga, tai chi or meditation, but I fit that in sometimes.

So that’s the second leg on my stool of creativity – taking care of my body. There’s all kinds of evidence that your mind functions better if your body is in good shape. Well… I’m still pretty flaky. However, regular exercise has given me more energy to do all kinds of things, and that includes writing.