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Writing and exercising go hand-in-hand!

Post by: Sujata Massey

Where I grew up, cool kids played sports and losers read books. Can you guess which side I belonged to?
When my mother came to find me for swimming lessons, I would hide in a bank of violets with The Dark is Rising. I’d nestle in the same spot with The Railway Children while the other kids in the neighborhood enjoyed softball games. I declared my “time of the month” lasted two weeks, with dreadful cramps, to excuse my absence from gym class. Naturally, I didn’t join any school sports teams in high school or college. After becoming a writer, I stayed far from the newspaper softball team and the impromptu basketball games at book conventions.



I wasn’t a team player. A lot of writers aren’t, which might explain why solitary work comes naturally. But what I didn’t realize until recently was athletic activity doesn’t have to be competitive. And there are some real values in movement, for the writer.



In my early thirties, I began to understand. I was struggling with a 600-page behemoth that was my first novel, working in a rigid chair before a bright computer screen. For hours, the only thing moving were my fingers on the keyboard. I loved writing, but my back always was stiff, there were searing pains in my thighs, and I felt both tired and restless. I found this ironic because I was writing about a strong young woman who could run away from crooks, rescue victims from drowning, climb walls and escape burning buildings, locked car trunks, knotted ropes, and so on.



I started with running, because it was free, and I could do it listening to music. Just four times around the university track was a mile. There was stadium seating with steps that could be run up and down, also free of charge. So I started. Although I felt like vomiting, I was consoled by my Sony Walkman blasting ‘80s new wave that thump-thumped slowly along with me. My literary heroine and I had become running mates; I felt her egging me on, although I never got past five miles, and it was always a slow journey. But while my heart loved writing, my knees didn’t, swelling into sore, ugly puffs that couldn’t be tamed by ice or medicine. As if in sympathy, my literary double Rei hurt her knees and underwent successful surgery.



My late thirties and steady publishing contracts meant that a novel was due every year--and at the same time, I became a mother. By now I knew I needed to keep moving rather than surrender to fatigue. Because I’d stopped running, I began taking fitness classes with weights. Body Sculpt burned a lot of fat and gave me sizzling mental energy for hours afterward. However, it was too hard on the right side of my body, because that was the elbow and hip that cradled babies, and my right hand was the one that did most of the typing.



In my 40s, I regretfully retired from Body Sculpt excesses and tried Pilates, which had the nice effect of strengthening the back; although its slimming reputation, at least in my case, is greatly exaggerated. But this kind of exercise, performed mostly while lying down, fit with my new, slower writing schedule (I was creating a long historical novel, written over four years). As I struggled with fears of never finishing, I kept smiling with the fun of Zumba, Nia and Intensati dance-oriented aerobics classes at an athletic club just a mile from my house. Being with others in class is pleasant—though I confess a lot of the time that I’m jumping and lunging, I’m thinking about plot twists or a new business angle to pursue. On the days I don’t visit the gym, I walk the dog for an hour and do calisthenics in front of the TV. All of it feels good, and does not seem like a waste of time.



To my surprise, both my son and daughter enjoy playing team sports. I’m happy to sit on the sidelines with sunglasses, a red pencil, and a manuscript to copy-edit. Occasionally I even look up at the field, because I don’t believe sports are stupid anymore. In order to write for the long haul, you’ve got to build all kinds of muscle.

 

 

Sujata Massey, who has authored a series of 10 mystery novels including the very famous The Salaryman's Wife, The Bride’s Kimono, Shimura Trouble and The Flower Master. Her books follow the story of Rei Shimura, who in the author’s words is “half Japanese, half American and young enough to be brave and fun and romantic.”
 

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