Mens Sana in Corpore Sano
Or as comedian Victoria Wood put it Mens sana in thingummy doodah.
It seems strange for a couch potato like me to be extolling the benefits of exercise but I’m aware that a strange process takes place when you abandon the computer keyboard for a pair of trainers and some fresh air. There’s something about pushing your body that liberates your mind, and it’s often when we are doing something other than writing that our subconscious provides solutions to problems we couldn’t overcome sitting at a desk. (I find housework works just as well although for me that’s a choice between two evils!)
One of my ex tutors on my M.A course used to quote a writer friend of his whose mantra was, ‘write three pages then walk three miles.’ Apart from giving us a much needed break and helping to prevent that terrible affliction Jane Wenham-Jones refers to as ‘writer’s bottom’, exercise often stimulates the imagination. The wonderful Joanna Cannon (author of ‘The Trouble with Goats and Sheep’ and ‘Three Things about Elsie’) starts her day (often at dawn) by walking in the fields near her home. I’m sure that practice has helped inspire her writing.
I’m half way through the brilliant novel ‘Ironopolis’ by Glen James Brown. In a recent interview, Glen explains how he found an answer to the problem he had of linking the different stories that make up the book: One day the solution for how the stories fit together dropped fully-formed into my mind while I was stupidly out running in the middle of a heatwave. I sprinted home, terrified I’d lose it, and scribbled it all down with a hand so sweaty I could barely grip the pen. When it’s ready, it lets you know.
So if we are stuck with our writing perhaps we should move away from the keyboard and start exercising. We can learn from the Romans: a healthy mind in a healthy body.