September 17, 2020

Exercise Creativity

There is no dearth of how-to books for creativity. A subset of that is the how-to for writing, which I admit, I have read and continue to read. No one artist’s process is the same, and for that, we should all be grateful. No one can say that staring silently into thin air for a complete hour is the wrong way, nor is dancing around the block in your underwear (though the second might get you arrested). But there is one piece of advice I see consistently: exercise creativity.


To parse: Creativity, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary:

The use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

One can absolutely use imagination and original ideas in non-artistic pursuits. I would argue that those two elements have been key in the technological advances of our last century. In order to find a work-around to any problem, whether mathematical or chemical, one needs to have at least a little bit of imagination. But true, we use the word “creativity” when we talk about art.

In this case, inspiration may be the faucet, but creativity is the water.

Sometimes, creativity and inspiration are used interchangeably, but I would argue against it. Inspiration is an instigator, but Creativity solves a problem.

The real piece of advice I read again and again is the worst word: exercise.


I know. We need to exercise for our health. We need to exercise for our brains, now too.

Stephen King, in his book On Writing, talks about going on his walks. This is, of course, how he got sideswiped by a van and almost killed, but beside the point, walking was his way of getting his ideas marinating.

Rita Mae Brown, famous for her cozy mystery series starring a talking cat Mrs. Murphy, wrote in her writing advice book, Starting from Scratch, to lift weights and stay away from the alcohol-fueled ideologies of would-be Hemingways.

Haruki Murakami, the Japanese novelist, wrote in an essay, “The Running Novelist” for the New Yorker about his running habits. If the inspiration helps (there’s that word again), he was a thirty-three year-old smoker when he began running.

Elizabeth Gilbert, most famous for Eat,Pray, Love, writes in her book on creativity, Big Magic, about different ways to live a creative life, and while she doesn’t explicitly say exercise, she does offer an alternative to the boozy, dramatic artiste romanticization that many people envision for a writer. Keeping sober and reasonable, after all, does help to keep “a keener mind.”

This is my point, exactly.

All artists use their brain meat to facilitate their art, but writers have to keep language at the forefront, a veritable sushi boat sailing past us, and we have to pick the correct plate.

There are many studies that link brain function and exercise, including this one, published by Harvard. I will summarize for you, if you don’t want to take a few minutes to check it out: in short, while exercise does other really nice things for your body, like burn excess calories, reduce inflammation, build muscle, it also is linked to brain activity. Elevating the heart rate, even slightly, increases blood flow to the brain (as it increases blood flow to everywhere else as well), and is linked to increased verbal learning and memory. You heard me: verbal. Language, the sushi boats writers are trying to grab.

There are other benefits, like improved mood, and better sleep habits. Those are nice. I have also read that exercise helps other areas, you know, lower areas, if there may be a problem down there.

The exercise advice is not for any hard-core strenuous workout. No need to join a rugby team. An hour of walking, three times a week is recommended. Or whatever you can fit in, as we all have busy lives.

I might disagree–but it is a valid definition.


Personally? I walk. I don’t walk to imitate Stephen King. I walk because a knee injury prevents me from running. The thing I love to do most, though, is having an adventure, which can be anything. A proper Adventure has a number of elements, but mostly, is a thing you find exciting, and doing a thing you might not be very good at, or something maybe you have never done before.

The video below is an involved adventure. We prepped for it for several months, we made gear for it, and we spent a good deal of time planning. But it was a great success, and it spurred both my actual heart, and my metaphorical heart. That adventure inspired me, nothing specific, but it made me grateful. I believe that beginning any new project filled with gratitude will allow one the humility needed to finish the task at hand.

I leave you to it:

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