Most folks think of writing as a monkish, abstract endeavor more akin to meditation than exertion. But there’s a vital connection between the discipline of putting one word after another and taking one stride after another, as Nick Ripatrazone explains in this must-read Atlantic article:
The steady, repetitive movement of distance running triggers one’s intellectual autopilot, freeing room for creative thought. Neuroscientists describe this experience as a feeling of timelessness, where attention drifts and imagination thrives. …
Since I’ve returned to distance running, I’ve changed the way I think about writing. Writing exists in that odd mental space between imagination and intellect, between the organic and the planned. Runners must learn to accept the same paradoxes, to realize that each individual run has its own narrative, with twists and turns and strains.
Writers and runners use the same phrase—“hit my stride”—to describe the moment when exertion and work become joy. Writers stuck on a sentence should lace their sneakers and go for a jog, knowing that when they return, they will be a bit sweatier, more tired, but often more charged to run with their words.
We know a sound mind in a healthy body is sharper and livelier because mind and body are not two separate entities. Each one affects the other. But Ripatrazone expands on this truth by proposing that running helps the mind harmonize with the rhythm and tempo of the body, stimulating the writer’s ability to “focus on a single, engrossing task and enter a new state of mind entirely—word after word, mile after mile.”
I fully agree, and would add that other physical activities also promote writing ability. I’ve found that weightlifting, a strenuous, repetitive, and somewhat dangerous activity, sharpens my focus and endurance, two qualities essential to getting words onto paper. Yukio Mishima even wrote a book, Sun and Steel, about the benign discipline lifting weights imposed on his writing. And Ernest Hemingway relied on boxing to help him break occasional writer’s block.