Swimming Through Writer’s Block: Can Exercise Make You A Better Writer?

I never believed in writer’s block until I was working on my last manuscript. I did everything right. I had detailed character sketches. I plotted and wrote a wonderful synopsis and first three chapters which sold “A Spy Unmasked” to a publisher. I pulled out all the tricks I learned at writing workshops. I raised the stakes, I put the characters in an impossible situation, I heightened the emotional and external conflict, and then…well…nothing. I was stuck. I wrote myself in a corner.

For the first time, I had writer’s block.

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I knew about writer’s block, of course. I was just fortunate enough never to experience it. Let me first say that I was working nonstop. I love the story about a sexy Regency era spy, an emotionally damaged hero who blames himself on the death of his wife after one of his missions goes terribly awry. He’s forced to work with a feisty, intelligent heroine who wants revenge for her father’s murder. It’s a great love story with a hint of mystery. But I was working part time, writing, stopping to get the kids off the bus and seeing to their needs, and then writing all night. I was ignoring my needs.

“You look awful,” my best girlfriend said.

What a wake up call.

I felt awful. I used to regularly swim laps and take gym classes, but I mistakenly thought this was the one aspect of my life I could sacrifice. It’s not like I could ignore the day job, kids or family, right?

We’ve all heard that exercise can decrease stress, increase muscle tone, and even help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. But can it help writers?

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I got back in the pool. Between laps of freestyle and breaststroke something miraculous happened. I figured out a way to write my characters out of their corner. I fixed the plot, and the book is much better for it.

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So does swimming cure writer’s block? Not really, but exercise stimulates creativity. I don’t need to cite scientific articles. I’ll just say it worked for me.

Other ways writers can squeeze exercise in their busy schedules is to swap a desk chair for an exercise ball. This helps tighten core muscles, back stability, and circulation in the legs. It’s not as easy as it looks though. It took several days for me to get used to sitting on an exercise ball and I don’t use it all the time. I try to swap it for my desk chair every hour. Another simple method is to set a timer and walk for the last ten minutes of every hour. It’s amazing how many steps I take on my pedometer.

I’ve also heard of authors who use voice recognition software to write while they exercise or scrub the bathtub. And there are those who can afford a treadmill desk.

However you choose to fit exercise in your busy schedule, you will be happy to know that you are stimulating creativity. Your body as well as your work-in-progress will be better for it!

So have you ever experienced writer’s block? How did you deal with it? And how do you fit exercise into your schedule? I’d love hear your views, so please share!

Tina Gabrielle

You can find me at:

www.tinagabrielle.com

http://twitter.com/tinagabrielle

https://www.facebook.com/TinaGabrielle

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29 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on doingsomereading and commented:
    I’m currently in a writer’s block and well, they’re (the characters) are coming back to me slowly. Very Slowly.

    Reply
    • I know how difficult it can be, but have faith. Those characters will speak to you soon and you will be able to write the book! Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  2. Awesome post, Tina. And a great reminder. Thanks!

    Reply
  3. Jenna Blue

     /  April 28, 2014

    Tina, I completely agree! Exercise classes are too noisy/busy/focused/frenetic for me to generate ideas, but solitary exercise is ideal.I can almost always count on an idea coming to me while I’m walking or running. It’s not always a good idea, sometimes it’s just backstory, or a character’s turn of phrase, but every once in a while it’s a whopper and I have to turn my phone on record and huff and puff my thoughts into it! Any which way, it makes me feel better just knowing the creative subconscious is still functioning!

    Reply
    • Hi Julie! Walking seems to work best for me. The dog is always agreeable and its when the characters come alive and solve whatever story problems I’m struggling with. Swimming is great as well, but it does require a trip to the pool.

      Reply
  4. Walking works for me – what Jenna called that ‘solitary exercise’ is the only way I get ‘unblocked.’

    As the rest of my day is very structured, the daily walk to and from my daughter’s school to my day job is when the ideas flow. I put my headphones on and hope I don’t meet anyone I know because it’s my time!

    The music helps too because I have a playlist for each book and so listening to those songs stimulates ideas.

    Reply
    • Hi Jen! What a great idea to have a playlist for each book to stimulate ideas. I don’t always write while listening to music. It depends on the scene I’m working on. But when I do listen to music it tends to be my favorite radio station. I’ll try a certain playlist next time.

      Reply
  5. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  April 28, 2014

    Hi Tina, I’m glad to know exercise helped you, and your characters, get out of that corner. It sounds like a great story. I’m looking forward to reading it. I can attest to the power of exercise. I can’t tell you how many times I have flown off my elliptical to jot down an idea or “story fix.” A few years ago when we got a new puppy, I was getting up every morning to walk her for about 40 minutes before getting ready for work every day. The creativity flowed, and I recorded all moments of inspiration on my iPhone Memo recorder. There was something magical about that time of day with my pup. Later in the day when I listened to the recordings, I found that I had already forgotten some of the ideas. Were it not for the memo’s, those ideas would have been lost!

    This past year has been tough meeting deadlines and family commitments/responsibilities. I have sacrificed my exercise time, but I need to find a way to get that time back. Thanks for the reminder! There’s a very good chance my pup is going to start walking at the crack of dawn again.

    RoseAnn

    Reply
    • Hi RoseAnn! I’m impressed you walked for a full 40 minutes before work. Maybe I need to get a puppy! I try to get in 30 minutes a day, but there are days I can’t fit it in my schedule. I’ve never used my iPhone Memo recorder, but I’m going to now. I’ve always believed I had a good memory, but it’s too easy to forget ideas by the time I get back to my desk. Thanks for the tip!

      Reply
  6. Here are some other writers’ thoughts on writer’s block and how to beat it. http://twistedwillowpress.com/writers-block/. as for exercise, I really need to get better about exercising more. i try to use it to brainstorm, but I need some sort of voice recording software or something to record my thoughts.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the web address. Some very good ideas there! Exercise is great for brainstorming, especially walking. Hope it helps!

      Reply
  7. Hi Tina, great post. It’s interesting how time spent doing something “not writing related” actually helps the writing process. I know with students, taking a two minute exercise break (with twenty jumping jacks and running in place) helps them refocus, too! Same idea. Best, Michele

    Reply
  8. Hi Michele! I love how you inspire your students with jumping jacks and running. I wish you had been my teacher!

    Reply
  9. I suffer from many blocks…usually in my head. But writer’s block seems to be curtailed by starting another story. If the block becomes chronic, just start another idea. Maybe you see a couple talking, or acting tense or amorous over coffee at Dunkin’ D.? Let your imagination go…briefly. Make a tale out of it. Another method is to read over what you have written before the block surfaced. By doing this you will run across something to revise…or add to. It gets the juices flowing. Exercise may work for some people. I’m in too much pain to imagine anything other than finishing my workout and escaping home.

    Reply
    • Great advice. I sometimes skip troublesome scenes and starting writing another scene that I had invisioned in my head. This helps with the flow as well. Thanks for the comment!

      Reply
  10. Michele Richter

     /  April 29, 2014

    Hi Tina, Oh are you right! I get my best dialogue walking on the treadmill. If you’re in need of a way to write the thoughts when swimming, try the scratchpad that scuba divers use. Husband gifted me this when I wanted to get thoughts down in the shower. There’s just enough space to preserve what’s important. Enjoy finishing your WIP!

    Reply
    • Hi Michele! What a great gift from your husband! Ideas do pop into my mind in the shower. Half the time I forget them by the time I can get to my computer. Your scratchpad is a great idea!

      Reply
  11. As a short story writer suffering from writer’s block, you have me rethinking exercise. Although semi-handicapped, there has to be something I can do to get those writer juices flowing again. I miss it. Thanks for a great post.

    Reply
    • Hi Pat! Thanks for your comment. Swimming is easy on the joints and most YMCAs have aqua aerobics which can help. Whatever you pick should help. Good luck with your short story!

      Reply
  12. Nice post, Tina! I definitely find my creativity boosted by exercise, but unfortunately I can’t always find time to do it! Such is life, right?

    Reply
  13. Hi Tina. Your post is coming at a time I’ve been struggling with finding time for exercise. My routine was disrupted when my Jazzercise class location and schedule changed. Then my day job got horribly busy and stressful. All that equals me stress eating and not being able to make class. I managed to get there yesterday for the first time in 3 weeks. It has me feeling horrible, which does impact my creativity. Not to mention I’m just burned out. I think/plot best while drying my hair or driving in the car. I also started playing the piano again, which helps me clear my mind.

    Reply
    • Hi Maria! You were the only one to mention playing an instrument. That’s a great inspiration. Music definitely boosts creativity.

      Reply
  14. I’ve definitely experienced writer’s block! But I find going for a walk or taking a shower – mindless activities that allow me mental white space time – usually help me resolve whatever is keeping the story from moving along. Congratulations on getting back in the pool!

    Reply
  15. Jaye Marie Rome

     /  May 2, 2014

    Tina, you’ve articulated what I’ve always found to be true. My most productive times, creatively, are when I get off my butt and go for a nice long walk. I don’t bring an iPod, because although it gets my energy up, it also distracts my mind. So I walk several miles, and without anything other than birdsong to distract me, my mind starts churning, working out the kinks or coming up with new plot points for my stories. I try to write them down as soon as I get home, so I don’t forget them.

    The shower is also a great place to get my brain working. Sometimes I take showers that are way too long, because I latch onto an idea and start plotting,

    Like Joe, changing it up and working on another story also helps.

    Jaye

    Reply
    • Jaye, I took a break from my latest, which could be called the most disturbing tale ever written. Ask Robin. However, for everyone here, after reading your post I realize when I am in the middle of an important scene/dialogue/emotional description of my main woman character I play over and over again a song(usually tear jerking) to get me in her head. Possibly, it might help some of the female writers when trying to understand and express a male POV. In Heroes, my baby Amy Lee of Evenessence sang My Immortal 100s of times.
      At present, I must fit into a woman that realizes she can never have 100% the only man that could complete her. (The perfect anti-heror) The Viet version of the Titanic theme gets me there. I rec. it. You don’t need to know the language. Love songs are like that. Trish Thuy Trang. Oh well.
      That’s my piece…

      Reply
    • Hi Jaye! I think walking might be the best too. Walking outside rather than on the treadmill helps me the best. Something about good weather and pretty scenery helps me with plotting and sorting out story problems. Keep it up!

      Reply

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