Friday, January 24, 2014

The Chair

For many years I was discouraged by others when I told them I wanted to be a writer, mainly because they were concerned I would starve and struggle and that it would be hard. They were right to a point, however, I ultimately decided that this was it, I was going to 'take writing seriously.' Once I did that, there was no turning back, I was in it and going to follow through, no matter how many bullets I had to take. Like many writers after that initial, stubborn eureka moment, I started reading everything I could about the craft, the process, publishing, editing, and a lot of articles warning about falling into certain traps and how to watch out for them.

One of these warnings I kept seeing was about spending too much time in THE CHAIR. The idea was that writers who were doing it full time, or just making a serious go of it outside of their day job, would begin to spend all of their time writing, forgoing things like exercise, hygiene, family, you get the idea, and how this could be bad for your health and your relationships. But back then I was working a day job, I always took time to exercise, EVERY day. Without fail. I was vigilant, programmed from growing up in the 80s with Jane Fonda and step aerobics and the mantra that you gotta get your 45 minutes a day of cardio or you won't burn fat and will turn into Mama Cass overnight.

So when I read this warnings, that I might end up with stuck-in-chair syndrome, I thought, psssht! That ain't NEVAH gwon happen to ME! Hell, if I ever get lucky enough to write full time, if I ever reach the magical nirvana of actually publishing books that people want to read, if I ever...oh God, I dare not dream...get to WORK FROM HOME! Well I'm going to feel so fortunate that I'll have a schedule, and I'll get up every day at 5am, workout like a fiend, clean my house, make breakfast for my husband, shovel a ton of coal, diaper the baby, and THEN I'll spend the rest of the day writing. Bliss! And I'm not stupid enough to over-do it, I'm not like those other people. I'll never get burned out, I'll never have achy wrists and strange cramps in my forearms. I'll never stand up and wonder why my knees are throbbing in pain since all I did was sit all day and write, it's not like I ran a marathon, sheesh. And I'll never spend so many hours in the chair in a mad, frantic race to finish a novel until it's three in the morning and I don't know my name and am so tired I fall asleep in the office and wake up with a Dorito stuck to my face. I'll  never be so concerned with what's going on in my mind that I put my body and its needs on the back burner. Not ME.

But that's exactly what happened. Not right away of course. It took years before I got to the point where I could actually quit my day job and have that coveted WORK FROM HOME nirvana I'd so dreamed about. But I made it, and at first I stuck to my 'schedule', getting up early, exercising, calling it a day at five when my man came home from work. But after a time, bad habits began to creep in. I got busy, which is what every writer wants. I had contracts. I had deadlines. I had actual readers for cyring out loud, can't let them down! And so I started making concessions. Just this one time, I won't exercise. Just this one time, I'll stay up and write until 3am. Just this one time, I'll not go outside or see sunshine for a week. I'm on a DEADLINE, after all! It's a special occasion! Gotta put the work first after all, this is what I wanted all my life. It must take precedence! But bad habits can form when you're looking the other way, and once they take hold, they burrow in deep.

But then recently I started to notice that my knees were hurting all the time. My eyes felt like Jell-O shots that had been left out in the sun, and when I looked in the mirror, there were dark circle under them. My wrists and forearms got random pains. And for some reason, all the clothes in my closet had shrunk. Some evil troll (probably one of those crazy reviewers on Goodreads) had broken into my house and shrunk all my clothes! And now my man wants to take me out on a Saturday night to socialize, probably because he sees cobwebs growing behind my ears, and I have NOTHING to wear because a troll shrank all my jeans. Or maybe...maybe all those warning articles I read back in the early days of 'getting serious about writing' actually knew what the hell they were talking about. Perhaps those warnings came from experience. And maybe I have, without realizing it, fallen victim to THE CHAIR. Shit. Is my face red. And is my ass fat.


And so, years after making that brave and stubborn decision to take writing seriously, I find myself back at the drawing board, once again creating a schedule and putting limitations on this crazy passion we call writing. Sure, sometimes deadlines can give you an excuse to go hard and crazy for a couple days and set everything else aside. But there will always be more deadlines, and there will always be more story ideas waking you up in the middle of the night. And if your body shuts down, well, you can't write like THIS...
Yes, your brain is a beautiful, magical thing. But without  your body, you're probably gonna find it harder to enjoy living this dream you worked so hard for. So I for one have begun to force myself to exercise before starting my work for the day, before all the excuses can creep in. Is it easy? Hell no, the laptop and THE CHAIR and all my bad habits try to talk me out of it.


 Also, I force myself to take breaks, days off, and try to get enough rest now. My mother has a bad knee from playing power tennis, and she's 70 years old. It would be pretty embarrassing for me to have bad knees from power SITTING.


And while sometimes I let a self imposed deadline (or that eureka moment when a story idea comes together) allow me to be the crazy writer and lock myself in a room for a couple days, I've realized that I can't live like that EVERY day. And of course, I want to be able to zip my jeans again. So the moral of the story is, don't forget your body. It needs rest, and it needs movement. Heed those warnings about THE CHAIR, or you may find one day that you can't pull your ass OUT of it.

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