09 Nov 2015
To make a career out of writing, it’s important to be a healthy writer. But why is it more important than you think?
Chapter II. Taking Care of Yourself
There is a big difference between working for anyone and working for yourself. It’s such a huge difference that it can send some people who thought they were independent-minded back to the comfortable, uncertain corporate world.
It seems like such an obvious difference that it should be easily understood, yet it isn’t.
Here it is:
You are the most valuable person in the company. You are irreplaceable.
In the corporate world, workers are interchangeable. They’re cogs in a machine. They can be pulled and replaced, almost at will, and the company will go on. You can replace every person in the company, and it can still exist.
How long can a business last? How about centuries, or even millennia. The Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan hotel in Japan has catered to travelers since 705. That’s right: the eighth century. Even more amazing, the same family has run it all this time: 52 generations.
But writers are different. Nobody can duplicate the way Ian Fleming wrote about Bond, or Agatha Christie about Poirot. There are writers still penning official novels starring their creations, but they’re not the same. They’re not failures, and they can bring their own pleasures. But no one will say they’re as good as the originals; only good in their own ways.
So when you hang out your shingle, keep in mind that no matter what genre you write in, you’re the only person who can write like yourself. Your brain, your imagination, your endurance, your ambition are going to be poured into making your creations.
And that means taking care of the tools that you rely on to create your art.
What does it mean to take care of yourself? There are two general observations that I’ll make. One of them will be obvious, the other not so unless you experience it yourself.
1. Eat healthy, get enough sleep, don’t smoke, don’t abuse your body too much, yada yada yada.I won’t go into these; I don’t want to sound like your mother. You’ve heard this piece of advice all your life. I’ll just add that you should be aware of the effect certain habits have on your creativity. Too many late nights, and you risk coming to the desk hung over, spent, fatigued. You’ll find it easy to beg off work; one of the disadvantages of being your own boss.
So let’s all agree that you should do these things and move on to things you might not expect once you embark on a career. The one thing that you need to take active measures to counter.
2. The less you do, the weaker you get.
After I graduated from college, I worked at a number of physically demanding jobs. I was a temp employee, typing invoices one day, unloading trailers the next. I shipped bar-code scanners for a company. I delivered bread; a job that required me to get up at 3 or 4 a.m., be on the move all day, and finish up at 3 p.m., ready to collapse into bed and do it all over again.
Then I found my first desk job, editing copy at a newspaper. Instead of hustling all day, I sat behind a desk. I gained 10 pounds the first month.
The years passed. I got married, had kids, bought a house. I did yard work and home improvements. I worked in the yard, building stone walls and garden beds. I ate what I wanted and as much as I wanted. When I wasn’t doing chores, I wrote novels in my home office.
By the time I reached 235 pounds, I was prediabetic and risking high blood pressure. I was also suffering from sleep apnea. I would have difficultly sleeping on my back. I’d snort and gasp, waking my wife who would wake me so I’d turn on my side and go back to sleep.
All this, on top of a second-shift schedule—usually 4 p.m. to midnight, with some early and late shifts as well—really did a number on my health. I had to do something.The turnaround began when my wife got a WiiFit. Since I loved playing video games, I started exploring what it could do. Sometimes I played the fun stuff like skiing, the driving range and running around Woohoo Island, other times I tried out the exercises. I wasn’t consistent, but it was a little better than doing nothing. At work, I passed by the elevators and took the stairs. During my lunch break I’d circle the parking several times.
It wasn’t much exercise, but over the next few years, I dropped 35 pounds. I realized how much better I felt. I still had hypertension and was prediabetic, but my sleep apnea faded to where it was an occasional nuisance instead of a life-threatening condition.
Then I lost my newspaper job. For the next 18 months, I stayed at my desk for 12 hours a day working on annotating books, setting up the business, learning how to market and building and improving my web site.
During this time, however, big changes was occurring in my body. Not only was my weight going up—I was no longer walking in the parking lot and it was only one flight of stairs down to my desk—but I wasn’t moving around nearly as much. Most of the home chores were finished, and my son had taken on tasks such as mowing the lawn and weeding the garden beds.
The day of reckoning came at a local mystery convention. The bookseller agreed to sell my stock in return for appearing on panels and helping out. On the day of the event, I loaded the car with three heavy boxes of books and brought them to the site.That’s when I discovered I had no muscle strength at all. Mind, I was never a Schwarzenegger, but I knew I had been capable of moving around boxes. What had happened was that my muscles had atrophied. Worse, my sleep apnea had returned.
And that’s the realization I want to pass along: That when you become an indie author and you’re working from home, you have to make time for exercise. You have to get up and move.
I had to teach myself to pay attention to how much I eat and how much I exercise. It took a year to get into the habit of exercising every day, but now I know what I need to do to maintain my boyish 200-pound figure. It involves exercise in the morning, a 3-mile walk in the afternoon, and a 2-mile walk in the evening. I try to keep away from the carbs as much as I can and leave the sugar in the cabinet. When I do that, I’ve gotten close to 190 pounds. If I want to do more, I’ll either have to eat food with fewer calories, or kick the exercises up a notch.
The Best Way to Keep Fit
Whether you walk, lift weights, garden, join a gym, or find a workout partner, the rule will be the same: The best system for staying fit is the one you’re willing to do.
There’s a lot of disagreements about the best way to go about this. For a long time, it was thought that a combination of aerobic and strength-training exercises were needed. Running, aerobics, jazzercise, along with lifting weights, either the barbells or the Nautilus machines.
The counter-argument, led by Mark Rippetoe with his “Starting Strength” program, pumps for weight-training alone, specifically a few basic exercises using barbells. As you get older, Rippetoe argues, you need muscle mass to help you maintain your balance and fitness, and weight training supplies you with all the benefits of aerobic exercise. In fact, he says, running actually harms you, because it weakens the joints, particularly the knees and ankles, breaks down the strength you’re trying to build up; marathon runners are so slim because they don’t have muscle mass.
Then there’s disagreements over the body’s ideal weight. The body-mass index (known as BMI), has been criticized as being an inaccurate measurement. I admit I’m suspicious of it when I’m told my ideal weight, instead of the 190-200 pounds is 157 pounds. I haven’t weighed that little since junior high school.
There’s also another argument that says being a little overweight is actually better for you. In “The Obesity Paradox,” Carl J. Lavie points to studies that show slightly overweight (not obese) people survive serious diseases better than skinny people.
Again, I’m not going to argue for or against any of these position. I just want to lay them out for you to investigate and decide. But it is important that you do regular exercise, avoid smoking, watch your weight, and that will keep you fit enough to let you create your magic on the page.