Friday, November 11, 2011

New Year’s Resolutions: reflecting on a year of writing by Meredith Cole

Meredith Cole lives, writes, and exercises in Virginia. Her mystery series with St. Martin’s Minotaur is set in the art community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and was nominated for an Agatha Award. She teaches writing at the University of Virginia.           

New Year’s Resolutions: reflecting on a year of writing
by Meredith Cole

Last year I was disappointed with my productivity and the writing I had accomplished in the previous 12 months. So I resolved to do better. I did this by carving out time to write and making a commitment to write everyday. But I also did something that some writers may found surprising: I made a New Year's resolution to exercise everyday.

I know for some writers there are a million things they’d prefer to do before they get all sweaty, so bear with me. Exercise, it turns out, is great for your brain. It helps to create new synapses and helps to prevent Alzheimer’s. It keeps you strong so you’re less likely to hurt yourself as you age. Exercise also helps prevent breast cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Just think how many books you’ll be able to write if you live so much longer!

There are only a few hours in the day, and I’m sure your days are as packed and overloaded as mine. I have no idea how you’ll fit one more thing into your life, but here’s what I did:

-Make it a priority

The day begins and the to do list starts to pile up. Things start to fall by the wayside, and most women let the stuff that feels selfish (exercise, etc.) drop off their list. So make it a priority. Get up earlier and do it first. Over the past year I’ve tried this with both writing and exercise and it’s worked great. I’ve had to go to sleep a lot earlier, but that’s not too hard for me. After a full day of stretching my brain and exercising my body, I’m ready to crash.

-Change it up

The first thing I had to do was redefine exercise for myself. For years my only exercise was swimming, and I had to plan my life around when the lap lanes were open at my pool in Brooklyn. But I wanted to make sure that I did other exercise to benefit my body in other ways. I wanted a mix of cardio, strength training, yoga, swimming, running and dance.

A year ago, my family joined a gym that offered not only a pool, but also all sorts of fun classes. And free childcare. I became a Body Pump addict, and I make sure to go once a week. It’s an hour of weight lifting to music, concentrating on all the major muscle groups. I do more repetitions and use heavier weights then I would ever do on my own.

Another great option I discovered—streaming exercise videos from Netflix. If I still hadn’t squeezed any exercise in by the end of the day and the weather was lousy, I would do a kickboxing video or Pilates on Netflix. 30 minutes and I was done.

This past year I’ve made myself try new classes like Nia, Zumba, Body Step, and Reformer. I’d still like to try Tai Chi, Kettle Ball, Boxing and Athletic Conditioning, so I’ll try to slip those in at some point.

-Be flexible

If you decide that you can only exercise between twelve and one, then there are plenty of days that you won’t be able to do it. Or you can only run. Or real exercise has be “x.” Your exercise for the day can be a walk to a corner store as briskly as you can manage. Or raking all the leaves in your yard. So be flexible and it’s a lot easier to fit it in.

The same goes for writing. If I can’t fit in five new pages on my WIP, I’ll at least write in my journal, write a blog post or work on a short story. I’ve got to keep my writing muscles exercised regularly too.

-Involve friends

I still haven’t coordinated with friends to work out lately, but in the past that was a great motivator for me. Instead of meeting for drinks, meet a friend at the gym and swim or work out together, or go for a run or bike ride. You’ll chat, get caught up and you’ll feel great at the end. I also have had writing dates with friends at cafes. Sometimes you need someone else to cheer you on, and that’s okay. Writing can be a very solitary business.

-Give something up

If you look at your life and can’t see a single thing you can give up, this might be hard to imagine. But here is how I don’t spend my evenings: watching TV. I don’t have time, so I don’t watch and get addicted to seeing anything that’s on. I also have too much reading to do.

My house is not as clean as I’d like. I don’t make meals from scratch every night (and I luckily married a man who is a wonderful cook). And I barely did any craft projects this year (just recovered a glider chair – but that didn’t take long).

Do I miss all of it? Sometimes, and so I fit a bit of it back in when I can. But I’ve discovered that I can squeeze some activities I enjoy into the evenings (slow cookers are awesome), still leaving my mornings free for my new priorities.

As 2011 comes to a close…

Have I been successful at my goal? Perhaps a few weeks this year I managed to exercise everyday. But I don’t consider it a defeat. I’ve gone from exercising 3 days a week to exercising 5-6 days a week. And that’s been terrific. I feel stronger and more energetic. I wrote a first draft of a new book in a new series, MURDER TOURS THE CAPITOL—a DC tour guide mystery, faster than I’d ever written anything before. I have fewer headaches. I even have some, um, muscle definition.

So what are your New Year’s Resolutions this year? Did you accomplish what you wanted last year? And how do you fit writing/exercise or all your favorite things into your life?



Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Meredith - Hello and Welcome!

I enjoyed this - thank you. Good for you for accomplishing goals you set for yourself; it's easy to let them fall by the wayside.

I did not make any New Year's resolutions, but after retiring and realizing after a few weeks at home not doing as much as I promised myself I would, I did start going to the gym. I started at Curves, and after doing that for a couple months realized I had become very fond of exercising and really pleased with how well it made me feel. So I joined a gym, have a trainer and love it.

And I'm excited to hear about your MURDER TOURS THE CAPITOL - sounds great!

Patty said...

I hate resolutions. I will do things but not if I "have to". I love to swim and hope to get back into that. Right now when not working I help my roommate deal with her MS stricken mother. The emotional and mental drains of that leave me little time for much but I do keep up the reading.

But, thanks for the inspiration. I might not get there this year but I hope to soon.

Meredith Cole said...

It's crazy to say this, but those whose life is the most busy and stressful need exercise the most. It's a great stress reliever, especially when it's a walk outside. I hope you can fit it into your life again soon. So glad you haven't had to give up reading.

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for having me Kaye! I'm having such fun writing this new book in a new series. It's very cool to be exploring a new city, and getting to create a whole new cast of characters.

Anonymous said...

Whoo hoo on the no TV, Meredith!! I don't have TV, and I am still so busy; I cannot fathom how people have time to watch! Good to see you here......good luck with the series!
Wendy Bartlett

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks Wendy! We do have a TV now (after many years without), but I have gotten out of the habit of watching in the evenings. I have too big a TBR pile!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Great to see you here, Meredith, and to hear about your new series. I exercise just about every day, either running 3 miles (very slowly!) or dancing to music for 45 minutes. Good for you re the weight lifting--it will keep you from shrinking into a little old lady later in life.

Anonymous said...

Meredith, This is, perhaps, the best advice to help a writer I have read in a long time. Thank you for that reminder, and the little kick in the pants it just gave me to take better care of myself.


Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for stopping by Liz and Lisa! Glad you're keeping up with the running, Liz. And I'm very happy you found it good advice. I'm a much happier (and productive person) after exercising. The rest is gravy.