Two of the most common questions people ask writers are: (1) When do you write? And (2) what do you do if you get writer's block?
When I see these questions headed my way -- whether from a friend, a student, a book club member, or a radio talk show host -- I freeze like a possum crossing in front of a bicycle.
That's because my answers are so unsatisfying to most people:
1. I hardly ever write, but I'm always writing.
2. I don't get writer's block. Ever.
Yeah, I know what you're thinking: What the hell? What kind of writer doesn't have writer's block! Maybe you're even rolling your eyes like a dismissive teen in Algebra class. But both answers are true.
Here's my current secret weapon against low creativity libido: spin class. You know, that's the class where you furiously pedal a stationary bike to nowhere in an ominously dark room, while an anemic looking instructor shouts orders over thumping techno pop music. "Sprint!" "Climb another hill!" "Break away!"
I never thought I'd take one of these classes, because who doesn't look stupid in padded bike shorts indoors? Then I discovered that I can solve any thorny writing problem in spin class. Just this morning, I was pedaling hard to pass that old guy with the big calves in front of me -- funny how I never can catch him -- when I suddenly thought of a way the killer in the novel I'm writing could lure the protagonist into his car. Bingo! I nearly fell off the bike, it was such a brilliant idea! (I won't take time to explain it here. Let's just say that it involved a snake in the basement.)
I don't know if it's the rush of adrenalin that causes ideas to come when I'm exercising, but if I'm sweating, I'm writing. Jogging, gardening, moving furniture, you name it. Even a walk loosens up the words locked in the crammed, disorganized closet of my brain. I take my dogs hiking most mornings after dropping my youngest child off at school. My usual spot is a Conservation area with winding paths through marshes and woods. At one point, there's a terrific view of the river (where I often imagine bodies being dumped.)
There's just one trail that I can't follow anymore, because it passes a sculpted tree with colorful green and yellow lichen on its peeling gray bark. I once hiked past that tree and imagined a spirit woman stepping out of it, her hair flowing right out of the bark, to block my protagonist's path as she went walking. Now, Voila! I'm terrified of that tree. But it's a great plot point in my novel.
Sex serves nicely as creative exercise, too. I keep a journal on my bedside table. My husband has learned not to ask what I'm doing, as I roll out from under him and scrabble around for a pen so that I can jot down a new bit of dialogue that appears like a ticker-tape announcement in Times Square as we're getting busy.
This all might sound flaky -- I am a writer, after all -- but the truth is that even scientists have linked creativity to exercise. Some research suggests that you can experience a boost in brain power for up to two hours after just half an hour of exercise, no matter what the exercise is. Check out Dr. David Blanchette's studies on the link between aerobic exercise and creativity at Rhode Island College, or a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Better yet, print out articles about creativity and exercise to read while you're running on the treadmill. Then sit down to write. You might be surprised by how fast new ideas pour out of your pen.