Building Stamina for Writers
By Doug Setter
There is a misconception that desk work, like writing, is an "easy street to making money." Personally, I am less tired from 10 hours of physical labour than 4 hours of solid writing. Sustained mental work, like writing is hard work, period. To get yourself through hours of writing, you need more than word-skills. You need the mental and physical stamina to complete your tasks. This can be greatly aided by controlling your environment and maintaining your mental alertness.
Let's face it, a surgeon does not operate well in a dirty, noisy operating room. Nor does a carpenter do their best work, using a rusty band saw balanced on their lap. To write well, you need the optimal writing environment.
Without going into too much detail, let us talk about ergonomics. A decent desk with a word processor or computer beats out the kitchen table with a manual typewriter. A quiet room with good air circulation and proper lighting of a least 1,000 lux will beat out a stuffy laundry room with a 40 watt light bulb or a candle. This is not to say to go heavily into debt over state-of-the-art writing equipment. But rather use some planning and preparation for the best writing environment that you can.
I used to struggle with poor lighting while using my electric typewriter to type out a bi-monthly crime column. I finally clued in and bought a brighter light bulb for my room and opened some windows for better air circulation. Suddenly, the column was being completed in nearly half the time.
The other ergonomic concern is the position of your keyboard. I found that going from electric typewriter to computer keyboard started to bother my wrists. A simple telephone book under my wrists solved this until I splurged for a more ergonomically sound keyboard. Even then, I find that my wrists feel better throughout the day, if I do some exercises like weights, home maintenance, yard work or anything else that requires some manual dexterity. This works well for those cabin-bound, living-off-of-the-land writers.
Do not neglect a good chair and desk. Through some kind of self-righteousness, I used to tough it out on a kitchen table or a stack of boxes and a crate or a chair. That is like cutting wood with a dull axe. I was giving myself more work than I had to. You can get a good desk and chair or access to a good desk and chair without much problem. Nowadays, you can visit your local college, university or library and use their chairs, desks and computers. All it takes is a bit of planning. (I once read an article on how to make a writing desk out of an ironing board. Well whatever turns your crank, I guess.)
Another factor in one's environment is the time of day that you want to write. Some people are morning people, while others are night owls. Find which time of day suits you the best. A normal circadian (24 hour) cycle has certain highs and lows. The lowest activity times tend to be around 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. 1 p.m. after a heavy lunch is a real uphill climb.
Sleep is often over-looked by writers on tight schedules. Working, during sleep deprivation, can be like spinning your tires. You can work until 4 a.m. only to wake up to a nonsensical mess that you swear someone else did. If you cannot get a good night's sleep due to work and family obligations, try grabbing a few short naps throughout the day. You can write better quality when you are rested.
I will talk a bit about nutrition here. I realize that many great authors function on cigarettes, alcohol and coffee. But to consistently think straight, you need a steady supply of fuel. This means a high protein breakfast and complex carbohydrates throughout the day. This means to cut out the high-sugar cereals, toast and jam first thing in the morning. The high-sugar meals will give you a bit of a sugar high followed by a low-sugar crash. You are far better off eating something like eggs or egg whites and oatmeal first thing in the day. Try it and feel the difference.
If you prefer to skip breakfast, then you should pack some kind of early morning snack made of complex carbohydrates. I have found that snacks such as: non-tropical fruits, vegetables or humus, kept me mentally alert without feeling bloated. Occasionally, I enjoy something like natchos with cheese, pizza and dark chocolate. (Hey, we are all human!) What you do not want to eat is candies, pastries or ice cream prior or during writing. This will tend to make you groggy from the sugar hangover.
Then there are food allergies. Some people, (like yours truly) react adversely to wheat and dairy products. If you suspect that you have food allergies, check your pulse after you eat the suspect food. If allergic, your pulse will usually increase. Other symptoms include: decreasing ability to hand-write clearly, mood swings and dark circles under your eyes. While it sounds far-fetched, you would be amazed at how much better you feel without allergic reactions. You will probably be surprised at which foods you have been allergic to all along. (You might even stop feeding these things to your children and watch their moods and school grades improve.)
Lastly, I will mention types of exercise to keep you alert and in top writing form. Aerobic exercise, such as running, aerobic dance, cycling, swimming, dancing or skating pumps up the oxygen into the brain. Some writers enjoy a morning runs, yoga sessions or walking before starting any kind of desk work.
Strength training can rev up your hormonal system and aid your alertness as well as align your body to counter the effects of prolonged sitting. My favourite strength training systems are: Ashtanga Yoga, Pilates and certain floor exercises. For yoga fans, I recommend the Sun Salutation. For Pilates, I recommend the Breast Stroke and Roll Ups. For fitness beginners try a few crunches, back raises, lunges and single-leg stretches. These movements will help keep your back and abdominals strong and flexible and lessen the risk of back pain. It is hard to be creative when you are in pain and discomfort. After all, writing should be an enjoyable experience.
Doug Setter holds a Bachelor's of Human Ecology. He has served as a paratrooper and U.N. Peacekeeper. He has completed 5 full marathons and climbed Mt. Rainier. He has instructed and consulted nutrition, fitness, kick-boxing and outdoor living skills for over 800 people. He is the author of Stomach Flattening and One Less Victim. He instructs fitness, weight-loss, alcohol-reduction, stomach flattening and kick-boxing. He currently manages 2nd Wind Body Science and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org