East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The dark side of the writer’s lifestyle


There’s a lot of people that wants the lifestyle and not the job of writing. Not the long hours at the keyboard, the rejection slips and the plots that ramble and get nowhere, but rather the interviews, the presentations and the signing sessions, the mingling with the beautiful people in exotic locales, the fast cars and the gourmet food.

Some of these would probably envy how I spent the night of last Saturday, sitting around a table in a pizza place with a bunch of writers, talking (among other things) about deranged Russian aristos, weird Portuguese exchange students and the cover art of romance novels.
These are great opportunities, for fun and education, and good food.
So, yes, envy me.
But there’s a downside.

This past winter was hard for me, from a physical point of view. I did a lot of writing (but not as much as I wanted) and I was able to pay my bills and even a few unexpected expenses. But on the downside, I spent most of my time holed up in my house, sitting at my PC, for hours, for days. The harsh weather and the fact that I live in the middle of nowhere prevented me from taking my usual long walks, and the net result was that my health suffered from it.

And as a consequence of this, I am now in a bad shape, and the much needed physical activity becomes harder to pursue.

There is something, that comes with the writing lifestyle, that is not usually part of the package as imagined by those that look at this job from the outside: you have to take care of yourself, and look after your own health, both physical and mental.
Because writing is a lonely business, and if physically you face long hours sitting in the dark typing, mentally you might end up feeling depressed, isolated, unhappy.

So what should we do?
I found this image, that is a good starting point…

  • Walking is the perfect exercise. It’s good for your health, and it helps your brain to unlock certain circuits and relieves stress. It’s also good for your imagination – I got some of my best ideas walking.
  • Rest is essential. Sleep deprivation leads to madness. And while “I’m on a roll, I’ll write through the night” can be good once in a while, we need our sleeping hours.
  • Meditation, or even just a moment of quiet and relaxation through the day is also a life saver. Setting up breaks is also quite useful – takes care of hand and joint pains and provides opportunities for short walks or other activities.
  • Fruit and vegetables, as to say vitamins and all that jazz – this goes hand in hand with healthy food and regular meals. I’ve often repeated that cooking a good dinner is both a physical and a spiritual vacation from the writing, and it helps keeping on track. We also need to keep hydrated. Water is a lot better than any soft drink.
  • The graphic says we need to turn the cell phone off, but for me it’s more Facebook. I never was one for phone communication (comes from working one year in a high-traffic military switchboard, I guess) but I do use socials to keep in touch with friend and clients. The problem is, after five pm, everybody seems to get even more rabid than usual on Facebook. So at five pm I started turning the socials off.

This leaves out the physical activity (beyond walking) that I interrupted for too long. These hills are not very safe to cycle around, but I could start doing tai chi in the courtyard again.

And this is only a tentative list, if very thorough and well designed. You can move things around, or add stuff to suit your need, but this is a good solid base to avoid finding yourself in bad shape and with a declining health profile.
Also, one could try and paint the whole in a very glamorous, writerly sort of way…

The writer that goes on long walks and practices some unusual sport, that entertains his friends by cooking healthy food, classical music (or jazz) playing in the background, and then retires to his bedroom for a brief meditation session and a well-deserved rest.
Perfect. Just add an exotic locale and some beautiful people.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

5 thoughts on “The dark side of the writer’s lifestyle

  1. All right, time for some unsolicited advice. The most important muscle group you have to take care of is the so-called “core”. Eight to ten minutes of exercise is enough to help you, two to three times a week. Start slowly, looking for form before the performance.


  2. I agree completely with Angelo about the need of the “core” traninig (the other parts of the body nearly exercise from themselves -apart, probably, abs… But you need them only if you want to be in a Conan cover), but let me disagree about the “…two or three times a week”.
    Eight-ten minutes is a time that you can easily spend everyday: make it an habit, clamping it to a daily routine (“everyday immediately before breakfast” is, IMHO, the best choice).
    If you want a good manual, look in the net for “5BX” (…talk about beautiful people… CANADIAN AIR FORCE!!! 🙂 ). It’s easy to find some PDF for free (probably legal, also…).


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