It’s important, because most of us are fighting against conflicting demands that sap our mental, physical, and emotional energy; fighting against a limited amount of time to meet our deadlines; fighting against various physical discomforts, illness, or injury; and fighting against an urge to just chuck it all and grab the TV remote and zone out. Suck it up, Buttercup – this is boot camp. We need to get in shape, physically, to give us a fighting chance to “be all that we can be.”
With National Novel Writing Month just around the corner, and so many people professing a desire to write a book, I’m going to share the “healthy writing” tips I’ve followed each year, come November, to help me meet my goals. Though geared towards NaNoWriMo and aspiring authors everywhere, these same guidelines apply regardless of your goals. Regardless of your current health and fitness level, it’s important to do what you can to ensure that you have the physical well-being, energy, and stamina to focus on and achieve your goals.
- Eat Healthy, Eat Clean. Prevent mood swings, energy spikes, and sudden fatigue by eating a healthy, balanced diet. Make sure that you’re getting the right mix of proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats. Avoid excess sugar, ingredients that sound like a college Chem Lab experiment and ingredients you can’t easily pronounce, or too much food – period. If you need tips for devising a better diet, try SparkPeople.com. They also have some great tools for tracking other goals – it’s not just about weight and fitness.
- Enjoy an eye-opening breakfast. Skipping breakfast is a great way to train your body to store fat and practically guarantees your sugar levels are a mess in the morning. Most of us do this all backwards – skipping breakfast and eating our largest meal at night, just before shutting down our bodies for sleep. We really ought to start the day with a nice big meal, have a healthy lunch, a light dinner, and a low-calorie snack.
- Take a good vitamin/mineral supplement. Sure, we should be getting all we need from the food we eat, at least in theory. But that’s assuming we’re all getting plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, and not loading up on fast food and pre-packaged convenience meals we can throw in the microwave after a long day at work. A multivitamin helps make up the difference; add high-potency B-complex to the mix, and you may just muster the energy to do it all. Take two high-potency B-complex vitamins, and you’ll be running around like the Energizer Bunny, your burps will taste funny, and your pee may turn an alarming shade of green. This is all fairly harmless, as B vitamins are water-soluble, but there’s really no advantage to overdoing it, either.
- Hydrate your brain – with water. Here’s a good starting place: Water: Do Writers Need It? by Milli Thornton. Clearly, I drink too much coffee and too little water. Buy a big sports bottle of water – the kind that holds at least a liter – and keep it at hand. Make sure it’s always filled up, chilled, and within easy reach – throughout November. NaDruWriNi was a fun parody of NaNoWriMo, and I can get into the spirit of it, but alcohol just makes me sleepy. I don’t write wild and crazy stuff after having a drink or three; I crash. Same goes for too much sugar, too much sodium nitrate, or too much food – period. I’ve never bought into the idea that drugs enhance creativity. I’ve known people who smoked pot or got drunk, and they were mostly legends in their own minds, until the high wore off. Few had the good grace to be embarrassed, later; apparently, there’s a reason why people forget what they did the night before. So while I’m not going to pass judgment on those who choose that path, I know it doesn’t work for me, and I don’t recommend it. And if I’m going to get through 50,000 words in thirty days – while working full time, participating in the “Surviving the Blog” contest, and staying involved in family life – I’m going to do it healthy.
- Exercise. It’s great for revving up the metabolism, getting trim, and staying in shape, but it’s also terrific for releasing all those lovely endorphins that make us feel relaxed, de-stressed, and happy. Don’t overdo it, or you’ll be so relaxed, de-stressed, and happy you’ll wake up with QWERTY permanently imprinted on your cheek.
- Sleep. Sleep-deprivation is a nasty, evil thing. (Oh, I know, some writers swear by it. They claim it gives them visions. They swear their characters only talk to them when they’ve had two hours’ sleep in the last forty-eight. I’ll bet.) Sleep deprivation slows our reaction time and makes most of us miserable and cranky. I don’t write well when I’m miserable and cranky. I write miserable and cranky prose; I might even churn out a morbid sonnet. But it’s not good and I’m not happy or fun to be with when I’m doing that. Eight hours is an unreasonable goal during NaNoWriMo, but I’m going to aim for at least five to seven, every night.
- Prevent Illness. Get your flu shot now; you don’t want an aching arm on November 1. (Why, oh why, does NaNoWriMo coincide with the end of hurricane season and the beginning of flu season?) I’m terrified of needles; I have to get my fifteen-year-old son to come hold my hand, and we get our flu shots together. Don’t skip out on those routine medical tests, either – if you’re a man or woman of a certain age or have any perturbing symptoms, schedule that mammogram, prostate exam, colonoscopy, thyroid function test – just do it. (Why, oh why, does NaNoWriMo coincide with the end of hurricane season and the beginning of flu season?)
- Quit smoking. I did, in 2006. 10 years of NaNoWriMo; 5 years smoke-free. It doesn’t have to be hard, but the convergence of November and NaNoWriMo is not the ideal time to attempt it unless you’re feeling ready and fully committed to quitting. When you’re good and ready, you can read my post on How I Quit Smoking, over on my personal blog.
Can you think of anything else that helps you to get in fighting shape?