By Valerie Peralta
Every morning when I open my eyes, I know I need to exercise. A three-mile walk, a HIIT workout, and some stretching or yoga. But my running shoes sit in my closet. My workout clothes remain in their respective drawers. And I don’t know exactly when any of this physical activity will occur; I just know I want to exercise sometime during the day. Writing is another important item on my daily to-do list. Yet, I haven’t dedicated a block of time on my calendar for that endeavor either. I just hope that sometime during the next sixteen hours, before I crawl back into bed, I will have worked out and written.
Some days, seven or eight o’clock in the evening arrives and I haven’t yet accomplished at least one of these two activities that are integral to my well-being. Adages attesting to the fault in my ways abound. The most searing of which: Fail to plan; plan to fail.
Remedies to my self-imposed dilemma exist. Gentle approaches that even the most structure-resistant procrastinator such as myself can adopt. In Marlon James’ Moon Witch, Spider King (Riverhead Books 2022), Sogolon tells: “Watching the little poison frog take on a day is how I learn to live through it. First rip the day in half, time to sleep, time to walk. Then tear it down more, then more, and more after that. Tear a day into pieces you can swallow….” Tearing a day into pieces, endurance athlete and retired Navy Seal David Goggins advises his Instagram followers to get outside and move their bodies within the first hour of waking up. Author Karen Osborne shared her nightly routine with attendees of Fairfield University MFA program’s Alumni Day in July 2022. Every night she sets an intention that she will write the next morning by visiting her office before bed. As she prepares her desk for tomorrow’s work, she reminds herself: “That’s where I (am) going to be the next morning.”
On my journey to exercise and write more consistently, these tips give me actionable goals that are easy to incorporate into my day. But I wonder: What if exercise and writing were to meet? Is their intersection beneficial?
Jericho Brown, the 2020 Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry (The Tradition, Copper Canyon 2019), tweets about his burpee workouts often. In an interview with Chase Jarvis on the Creative Live show, Brown recounts his ideal writing day: “I wake up in the morning. I go downstairs, and I do a hundred burpees. I come upstairs, out of breath, and I eat something. After I eat, I sit down, and I start writing.”
In one of our monthly Zoom calls last spring, my friend KJ Micciche, whose debut novel The Book Proposal is coming out in May 2023 from Sourcebook Casablanca, lamented that her schedule had changed so she was no longer able to work out right before writing. She missed the endorphins the exercise released and was finding it harder to tap into her creativity during her writing sessions.
I have not tried writing immediately after a workout. I live in South Florida, where the humidity provides a layer of sweat eleven and a half months out of the year, even with activity as mild as a stroll to the mailbox, no matter the time of day. And I like the feel—and smell—of my freshly bathed body. But what if I used exercise the way smokers use nicotine? Whenever my fingers become heavy and my ideas sluggish, I could knock out a set of pushups and some mountain climbers to stir up endorphins.
In his essay “Of Idle People Who Rove About,” Brevity founder Dinty W. Moore quotes Henry David Thoreau (“Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow”) before explaining that on the days he walks to work, a trek that takes him forty-five minutes, he is more productive: “…because I was sharper, clearer, had used some of the foot-time to sort the detritus from my brain and identify the daily to-do list that actually mattered.” I relate to Thoreau and Moore’s conclusions. Aside from responding to prompts provided in generative workshops, my poems typically originate as I walk along the manmade lake in my neighborhood or as I push a cart down grocery store aisles. Rarely do I work through a wordless moment while sitting and staring at a screen. Instead, content for blank spots on the page typically come to me while I’m engaged in some other activity. And now, having both exercised and written this day, I will return to bed knowing my tomorrow can include the same.
Read Valerie’s other work here at Reckon:
Healthy Habits: Starting to Stick
Healthy Habits: Interdependence
Valerie Peralta is an intermittent practitioner of just about everything she does striving to be more tortoise and less hare. After copy editing for two decades, she’s finally trusting her own words on the page. She earned an MFA in creative writing from Fairfield University; her work has been published by The Blended Future Project and is forthcoming in Heart Balm. She lives in South Florida within running distance of the Everglades.