Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Is “Author Fitness” an Oxymoron?

By Kay Kendall

Most writers now spend countless hours each day seated at their computers pouring words into their machines. Oh, for sure, a few rare birds do exist who live otherwise—British writer Graham Greene wrote his usual 500 words each day and then called it quits. Few of us are that disciplined, however, and besides, the literary pace has picked up considerably since Greene’s heyday (and more’s the pity).  

As Greene grew older, his daily word count even slid to 300 words. He said he couldn’t sit still longer than 90 minutes, comparing himself unfavorably to Joseph Conrad whose ability to sit and write for twelve hours at a stint was legendary.

Pity today’s poor authors. We no longer get the exercise that our predecessors did decades ago. After all, they pounded typewriter keys. Surely that burned up a few extra calories compared to the soft touch used on computer keys? And remember this—writers from the 1860s to the 1960s also had to fling their mechanical typewriter carriages when they reached the end of lines on their pages. Until electric computers were invented, there was that nice little workout too.  

Lately I’ve mused about the unhealthy life of a writer. Not only am I getting creakier as I sit for longer hours at a time, but also I’m reading that my lifespan is threatened if I sit too long each day. Health and fitness gurus are now encouraging everyone to stand up—and walk too, preferably—at least ten minutes out of each hour.

I think about doing that, but so far that’s not been added to my routine. If I’m really cooking on a chapter, I scarcely want to glance at the clock that’s telling me to stand up, walk around—heck, and even smell the roses, for all I know. At least when Graham Greene stopped after writing his required words, he then would imbibe too much alcohol and consort with willing women who were not his wife. That was some kind of incentive to get moving, I guess, at least for him.

I may not get up and move—or even wiggle in my chair—each hour that I am writing, but I do exercise at least five times a week. I use a stationary bicycle and recently added an elliptical machine to my workout routine. Once upon a time I was proud of these exertions. I was exercising more than the suggested number of hours each week. Yet that’s not good enough now. I am still sitting for up to four hours at a stretch each day. My bottom gets numb and sometimes—like now—my back aches a wee bit too.

So, I guess I’m ready for a new addition to my fitness routine. Either that, or I could adopt part of Graham Greene’s pattern and take up heavy drinking. Now there is a topic for another blog one day—Let us consider the great number of writers who were alcoholics.


Kay Kendall’s historical mysteries capture the spirit and turbulence of the 1960s, and her titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff too. DESOLATION ROW (2013) and RAINY DAY WOMEN (2015) are in her Austin Starr Mystery series. Austin is a 22-year-old Texas bride who ends up on the frontlines of societal change, learns to cope, and turns amateur sleuth….Kay lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. In her former life as a PR executive, Kay’s projects won international awards.


  1. I have started following an exercise tv program ("Sit and Be Fit" - I have a balance problem) and have noticed an increase in stamina and strength. It took 3 (half hour apiece) of the segments to start feeling the difference. I am surprised at how little it took.

  2. Excellent, Peggy! I think that means that you are in pretty decent shape. If you were not, then it would take you longer to see a difference. The elliptical machine I mentioned in the blog post is a killer but I need to build up my muscles around my knees....I never see a stair, sometimes in even a whole month, and that's not good. The elliptical should help with that. I am preparing for my next ten years of health! I see older people who are fit and who inspire me. It is definitely worth it. Good for you. I've seen that TV program. I bet your balance issue is related to your eyes, is that right? Thanks for reading and commenting!!

  3. You read my mind! This past week I accepted that I cannot sit so many hours a day without consequences to my health. I'm trying tricks like setting timers to get off my tush and do a few exercises. A few yoga poses one time, some range of motion or stretches another time, and at least one good walk every day, preferably outdoors. I feel better! Not just physically. I'm more productive and am no longer dreading time spent on marketing and housework. And my head is clearer when I'm writing. Go figure!! -- Kate collier

  4. Great post, Kay! Looking into a stand-up desk... using timers as C.T. mentioned and will have to check out the Sit and Be Fit that Peggy had good success with! A very timely discussion.

  5. C.T. and Sparklers, I'm glad you can relate. I do need to try the timer tip. Otherwise I get planted in my chair and don't move...not good for bones over 50. Let us leave it at that. :)