“Can you recommend some books on writing,” a colleague and friend who is in the happy circumstance of being on sabbatical asked me recently. Unleashed from the demands of work and free to roam where he chooses, my friend, an artist, wants to exercise his writing muscles. Reading about writing is one way to do that.
I, too, am exercising my writing muscles in a more purposeful way these days. It is an effort that I find, humourously, not unlike my effort to exercise my body’s muscles.
Four years ago I began to seriously incorporate exercise into my life. Initially, all I could manage were slow walks along the lake or 30 minute swims in the pool. I have arthritic knees, am overweight and exercise has never been at the top of my pleasure list. But the effort has paid off and now my exercise routine includes 60 minutes of zumba or cardio kickboxing several times a week. I still have arthritic knees and carry more pounds than I’d like to but my muscles have grown stronger and can take me places I never dreamed I could go – jumping jacks, planks and push ups, 60-minutes of intensive movement. I’ve even begun to jog along the lake.
I have goals in mind: to nurture the health of my body so it takes me into the next 25 years of life; and to write a book about the remarkable friendships I’ve discovered as I’ve opened my door to strangers in my condo community.
My writing exercises have included one-week boot camps when I either take a writing course or find a quiet place where I can write undisturbed for hours at a time.
I am part of a writers’ group in my condo, where each month we share something we’ve written, asking questions of one another, applauding our efforts. The authnticity of these friends has pushed me to deeper places of vulnerability and creativity.
I’m always reading – sometimes novels which show me what a masterful storyteller can do (I am on book three of Elena Ferrante’s set of four novels); sometimes essays about writing (like a recent article a friend sent me about what to do about writers’ block); sometimes books about how to move forward in life (currently I’m reading Switch, How to Change things When Change is Hard); and everyday, the Bible, which is the wisest, most thought-provoking book I’ve ever read. It never ceases to give me hope that I might learn to speak truthfully and capably with the voice God has given me.
I’m learning from coaches. When I took my one-week intensive writing course through Humber College last fall, I was given the rich gift of Toronto’s poet laureate Anne Michaels as my tutor. Because the course is held in conjunction with the International Festival of Authors, I stuffed myself daily at a smorgasbord of creative thought, brought to the table by gifted writers from all over the world.
Today, I decided it was time to resume writing this blog as part my exercise regime; to discipline myself to a monthly instalment in the same way I discipline myself to the gym every week. I like variety when I exercise my body’s muscles; the same is true for the ones that serve my writing life.
Accountability to a few friends has helped me immeasurably as I’ve worked on my body’s health. To readers who visit every now and then, thank you. You don’t have to do anything. Just the idea that someone might stop by for a visit is enough to make me invest in this effort.