воскресенье, 3 марта 2013 г.

Pump Up Your Brain Power

By Dallas Woodburn

As a novelist and writing instructor, I am often asked for advice from aspiring writers. My students open their notebooks and poise their pens, hoping I'll give them some sort of magic formula to help them come up with creative ideas. Most of the advice I give, however, is pretty standard, nothing they haven't heard before: read voraciously, write every single day, study the craft of writing.

The only thing that might cause them to raise their eyebrows is my final piece of advice: exercise daily.

"You mean mental exercise?" a student once asked. "Like Sudoku?"

"I do the crossword puzzle every day," another student boasted.

"That's great, too," I said. "But no, I mean physical exercise. Something to get your blood pumping. Get your muscles moving."

My students looked at me blankly. I could tell they were thinking: We're not here to be jocks; we're here to be writers. What does exercise have to do with writing?

I understood their blank stares, because I was once in their shoes. I played sports all through my childhood and ran cross-country and track in high school, but as a busy college student regular exercise was a part of my routine that fell away. I had papers to write, books to read, club meetings and fundraisers to take part in, new friends to socialize with. Life was busier than ever. My world was expanding — I met people from not just all across the country, but from all around the world. I took an Intro to Psychology class; I learned how to play guitar; I brushed up on my rudimentary Spanish by practicing frequently with my dorm-mates. Every day, I was being introduced to literature and art and music and philosophies that I never before knew existed.

My creative life should have been flourishing, too. I should have been writing more than I ever had before. All through middle school and high school, when my days were filled with a strict regimen of class periods and after-school sports, I managed to carve out time to write: twenty minutes in the morning, half an hour before bed, one or two hours during the weekend. Ideas abounded — I was always scribbling words and phrases down on scraps of paper so I wouldn't forget any of them. By the time I graduated high school, I had published two collections of short stories, written a full-length play that was produced as my school's spring production, and was halfway through my first attempt at a novel.

In college, I was majoring in creative writing. My daily schedule, while hectic, was less structured; I may have had more homework, but I had fewer hours of class time each day. I should have been able to spend a good chunk of time dreaming up stories. I even had creative writing assignments as homework! Yet, writing was a struggle. I had dealt with writer's block before — every writer goes through dry spells at times — but this felt different. It seemed as if my creative well had run completely dry. It was difficult for me to muster the energy to sit down in front of the computer screen, place my hands on the keys, and write. My mind whirred, jumping around to class assignments I should be working on, friends I should call, what I should make for dinner, what I should wear to that party next weekend. I had never had trouble focusing before, but now I found it nearly impossible to get into the world of a story, to sink into my "writer zone."

Finally, one blustery day in early October, feeling frustrated and creatively drained, I decided I needed to get out of my cubby of a dorm room and move. So I laced up my workout shoes and went for a run. The air felt crisp and cool, and the many trees around campus were beginning to change color, their leaves blazing orange and red and burnished gold. The world condensed to the sound of my breathing, the pumping of my arms, the measured strides of my legs. For the first time since I had moved away to college, I felt calm. Like the world slowed down and I could finally hear myself think again.

Half an hour later, when I returned to my room, the blinking cursor on the computer screen no longer seemed menacing. Instead, for the first time in weeks, I felt excited to sit down and write. Ideas for characters and scraps of dialogue floated through my mind. It was like the mental pathway to my creative unconscious had been suddenly unblocked.

Now, six years later, exercise remains an integral part of my daily routine. And not just for my writing — I've found that exercise makes me feel more balanced, mentally sharp, and in touch with my emotions, which positively affects all facets of my life. Exercise keeps my creative juices flowing, helping me find solutions not just when I'm working on a story, but also when I'm faced with a teaching dilemma, struggling with a relationship problem, or feeling plagued by negativity. When I am pressed for time, I may be tempted to skip exercise for the day. Instead, that is when I know I need it most. Even a brisk walk around the neighborhood rejuvenates me and opens my mind to possibilities I had not noticed when I was hunched over my desk.

Indeed, I would argue — as Robert Frost once wrote about "The Road Less Traveled" — that exercise makes "all the difference" in the life of a successful, fulfilled, inspired writer — and person.

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