A few years ago, on a stopover in Singapore, I had reflexology on the fourth floor of a haphazard shopping mall on Orchard Road. The man charged with the unfortunate task of reviving my crusty, travel-worn hooves asked, ‘What your job?’ I replied, ‘Writer.’ He clicked his tongue several times as he continued to punish my feet. I eventually asked why he was so disappointed by my occupation and he said, ‘Tch,’ again. ‘Stuck in head. Forget you have body.’
I wasn’t overjoyed with this, but the feet don’t lie. Indeed, much of the time, I am stuck in head, forget I have body. I think it was Jerry Seinfeld who said that he looks at his body exclusively as a vehicle for transporting his head around and, once upon a time, I agreed but, apparently, this approach is a killer. Australia’s recently released Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines link inactivity with heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and obesity. Not great news for writers. (Especially the bit about doing 300 minutes of physical activity each week.)
Ernest Hemingway, famously, wrote standing up. So, too, did Lewis Carroll, Nabokov and Thomas Wolfe (although he died at age 37. Sadly, standing up is not a cure for tuberculosis.) And, since that fateful reflexology session I have tried to inject more activity into my writing process.
Most of my latest book Two Wolves was written outdoors. It’s a crime-mystery story about two kids who are kidnapped by their own parents and taken out on the run to a woodsy cabin. Connection with Nature was an important part of the story and over the five years of writing the book I spent many weeks on the beach in Byron, jotting Notes on my iPhone or capturing ideas in Voice Memo. Something about being grounded, shoes off, breeze on skin, with the white-noise roar of the ocean, allowed the words to flow more freely and honestly. In the space of four hours I could write 2500 words – far more productive than my indoor, desk-bound efforts. And writing on the beach has the added advantage of not feeling like real work. An iPhone Note doesn’t look like an ‘official’ manuscript page, which relaxes the inner critic and allows you to get on with the business of sketching a draft (while simultaneously staving off cancer, obesity and depression, it seems.)
Like many writers, I still sit for too long most days, I still get trapped on the Web, but I believe in the mental, creative and physical benefits of activity, whether it’s beach-walking or yoga, a treadmill desk or simply setting an alarm every hour as a reminder to stand up and walk to the fridge. I like to think that my best work is ahead of me and it would be nice to be alive in order to write it.
As I type these words I’m in a restaurant with durian fruit, bananas and chickens hanging all around. I’m on another short stop in Singapore, and I have a good mind to track down that smarmy reflexologist guy with the clicking tongue, and thank him for potentially adding years to my life.