May 1st, 2015

The #HealthyWriter Challenge

by Maggie Marr

image by mapichai, via

image by mapichai, via

This October will be the 10th anniversary of the sale of my first two books to Random House. At the time my books sold, I was still working as a subsidiary rights and motion picture agent at ICM and I was unaware of just how hazardous the career of writer could be to my health.

With the birth of kidlet 2 in 2006, the pounds I’d dutifully lost through Weight Watchers after kidlet 1 didn’t slide off as easily…or let’s be honest…I wasn’t as diligent in removing those pounds. In the midst of two children and diapers and breast-feeding and book deadlines and pre-school and sleepless nights and teething and [name all the things that come with toddlers] I lost sight of my health and my eating and any activity that wasn’t about corralling two young children.

For years, I lost sight of my health.

Fast-forward to 2014—yes 2014. Of course, on occasion during those 8 years, I attempted to ‘get healthy’, but there was always some deadline looming, or event pending, or client in need, which allowed me to shove to the bottom of my list all things that had to do with my health. Let’s be clear—I’ve never been a physically active person. I do not crave the hike, the run, the swim. I don’t want to eat the carrot, the broccoli, the quinioa. Give me a book, a glass of red wine, a baguette, and some brie and I am happy. To, me, sitting and reading and eating is the perfect day, but not so perfect for my health.

In 2014, at a writers conference I was walking to an event with a number of other writers. The writer beside me was huffing and puffing and I was huffing and puffing and I was struck with just how unhealthy I’d allowed myself to become.

My weight was pushing 187, my bloodwork, that I’d soon have done, would indicate too much cholesterol and some scary pre-diabetic numbers. I didn’t walk, swim, run, or exercise on a regular basis, my body ached and hurt, my diet included anything I wanted at anytime, and now I had fear over my health as a companion.

Our job as a writer can kill. Every study indicates that a sedentary lifestyle is a deadly lifestyle. A recent study found that to be healthy, as we age, we should exercise aerobically for 45 minutes 6 days a week. With my career as writer and attorney, it wasn’t uncommon for me to sit at my computer for 8 hours with only the occasional bathroom break as exercise.

After the huffing and puffing episode, I realized if I wanted to live a long life I had to change my habits.

For the first time in my life exercise and diet weren’t about ego, they were about staying alive. I wasn’t trying to get back to my law school weight of 118 so that I could look H-O-T in a pair of skinny jeans (those days had long passed). No, I needed to exercise and change my diet so that I might live to write all the stories bouncing around in my head. I wanted to live to attend the kidlets’ graduations and weddings and the births of all the grand-kidlets.

Alone I am weak, but with my writer-friends I am strong, thus the #healthywriter hashtag was born. The use of social media to keep myself honest. Many of my writer friends fight this same #healthywriter battle. The battle to stay healthy and write. The battle to get my ass, (that I fight to plant in the chair to write) up and out of the chair to move. To reach for the carrot sticks instead of the chocolate. To acknowledge that while the french fries may dull the pain for a brief while, they do not fix the problem.

The #healthywriter journey is similar to the ‘finish the damn book journey’. I’ve had some brilliant moments, some shocking realizations, a number of personal defeats, and a constant nagging voice urging me to stop.

I’ve used many of the same tools in trying to be a #healthywriter that I’ve honed completing 14 books.

  • Much like my writing career, on my #healthywriter journey, I create goals and check-in with those goals.
  • Each day I log my minutes/miles of exercise.
  • Once a week I take stock of my success by hopping on the scale.
  • I keep track of what I eat on fitness pal.
  • I’ve found a number of writer pals to ‘check-in’ with, as I often did when writing my first couple of books.

As in writing, with trying to get healthy there are setbacks. Many, many setbacks. The holidays…oh the holidays. I was pleased to just maintain my weight during the holidays and that was while exercising daily. Also, the weight slides off oh-so-slowly. I remember being a 20-something and I could exercise for a week, eat salads, and drop an easy five pounds. Those days are gone. Now, at 40-something, with exercise nearly every day and a healthy diet, I am pleased if I see any movement downward on the scale. A great week is a loss of a half pound. A HALF POUND.

The weeks when the scale doesn’t move or even goes up are torture. I liken the emotions in that moment to how I feel when I receive a rejection letter or a pass. The scale is rejecting my hard work and my reaction can, at times, be just as emotional. I get off the scale, and in that moment of rejection I have two choices, I can go and do a faceplant in a bag of chips, which will only create more rejection the next week or I can soldier onward.

In writing, when faced with rejection, this is an easy choice—I won’t stop writing. I can’t stop writing. Writing, for me, is like showering and when I stop, I get funky and smell bad. Getting healthy is similar. I can pause, I can eat the chips, bread, cheese, dip, ice cream, [insert your favorite bad-for-you-food] but that momentary food-high isn’t going to ‘fix’ the problem on the scale. Sure, the food will dull my pain for a while, but the challenge of blood work and pounds will still be present in my life, and if I eat enough chips, the pounds will bring friends for next week.

In this conflicted emotional state, when the scale has rejected my effort, I struggle to not self-sooth with food. Food is my drug of choice, and food most-definitely numbs the pain…momentarily.

It is in these moments that I am trying to reframe. Replace the old habit of self-soothing with food with a new habit that is built on self-love. I’ve discovered that  sitting down with a book or meditating for ten minutes or simply going outside into the garden can get me past the need for brie. Not always, but sometimes.

My #healthywriter journey continues.

Lately my #healthywriter good-habits have been lax. The end of March, I finished the 21-day junk food challenge and then became less-than diligent about my eating. I recently recommitted to my healthy eating. I continue to walk, almost daily. I’ve also re-started T-25 on the days that I just can’t get my walk accomplished.

Is this new lifestyle easy? No, and again #healthywriter is a lot like writing. Writing my 15th book isn’t easy. Writing a book, I don’t believe, will ever be easy, but I now have a number of tools to get me past the rough patches. I know myself as a writer, and the spots where I struggle and the bad-habits in my writing of which I need to be aware.

The longer I walk the #healthywriter path, the more this lifestyle becomes like writing, in that I know my trigger emotions, what foods I crave, what will happen if I don’t get enough sleep or exercise of self-care. With each day on my #healthywriter journey, I become stronger and better equipped to take on the next #healthywriter challenge.

How does your career choice challenge your health? What #healthywriter habits do you want to put in place?

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About Maggie

IMG_0612Maggie Marr is an author, attorney, and producer. She is the author of the best-selling Hollywood Girls Club Series, The Glamour Series, The Eligible Billionaires Series, and The Powder Springs Series. She maintains a small legal practice dedicated to entreprenures and artists.

Maggie has been reviewed by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and featured on KCRW’s The Business. You can follow her #healthywriter struggles and successes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

29 comments to The #HealthyWriter Challenge

  • Likening your fitness goals, discipline and technique to those you use for writing is a brilliant comparison. I am fighting the same challenge and just joined a “couch to 5K” running program. Tracking, writing stuff down is key, but even that takes a measure of honesty and commitment. Thanks for your inspiring words.

    • I LOVE ‘couch to 5k’ I’ve always had a not-so-secret desire to run a full marathon…in theory…in my head. Couch to 5k is awesome. You know there is an app? You can listen to music and it tells you when to run and when to walk…much easier than using a watch.

  • At 79, this older writer still has books to write and I’m on an exercise program, too. Of course it’s even harder now, but it is possible.

  • bettybolte

    Thanks, Maggie! I needed to read this today. I’ve been delaying focusing on my health with any sense of commitment until… Next Monday, or after my release day, or… Fill in a reason! I do love to walk, and when my feet are healthy I try to walk every day. I’m about to go for a walk with a friend, something I rarely do but would love to incorporate into my routine more often. Thanks again for reminding me why it’s so very important to take care of me first!

    • Betty! Thank you for stopping by. I know…so easy to delay. Really for me it was an ‘aha’ (more like ‘oh shit’) moment which caused me to get serious about my health. xoMaggie

  • I like this post a lot it reflects some parts of my own position especially since I am reading it on a day when I have had a bit of a health shock. Also over the last four months two people in a similiar position as I have lost their lives through all the hard work and no time for themselves. Until about ten years ago I was fit, but a wrong direction taken by me at that point has led to me slowly becoming old physically. I have struggled to get back to the healthy eating, healthy exercise, healthy mind, healthy body regime and my only excuses have been the fact I am in a relationship with someone who sometimes requires quite a lot of support, or, if I am truly honest it is really because of the anxiety I can’t quite let go of him not being able to cope in some situations, in other words more down to me than him, my apprentice writer phase in a community development environment on social media at present and my lack of regular work trying to do something different for the community in which I live. I guess that is going to take a while to get more relaxed about. It has been quite a traumatic journey the last ten years. Anyway my point is that when what healthwise happened this last week I suddenly woke up and realised just how much of toll I have been putting on my mind and body. I have already taken the first steps to giving myself permission to concentrate on me a bit more. That action I am finding really difficult. Then your post comes along as confirmation. I will try to keep up with #healthywriter if that is ok. Thank you very much.

  • Tanis Mallow

    Good for you. One trick: For about $3 (a shelf and two bungy cords) I rigged our treadmill into a walking desk – so on those days I can’t get outside I can walk and work at the same time. Writing while walking at a fast clip is hard but researching or reading and editing is very doable. If you scroll though my twitter feed (@tanismallow) you can see a picture.
    You go girl!

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      I know a number of people who’ve gone the walking desk route. I’m impressed. I can’t do it. I don’t read when I’m on the exercise bike either though. What I’ve been doing is setting a timer for 50 minute sessions. When the timer goes off, I’ll get up and stretch or do squats or a minute plank and then move around the house – change the laundry, go fill my water bottle, fix a coffee, etc.

    • Tanis, just looked up your pics on Twitter- what a great idea! I have tried to convert my treadmill, but wasn’t successful- I am going to by bungee cords today! Thanks 🙂

    • Tanis, the walking desk almost made the article. They are so popular right now. Many writer friends and agent friends and attorney friends have them. My agent has a standing desk now that adapts to standing or sitting. I could never first draft while walking, but as you mentioned, I could definitely edit. xoMaggie

  • Orly Konig-Lopez

    Love the comparison to writing. We can be so disciplined about meeting our writing goals and yet let our health goals drop without a second thought. It makes such a difference to have accountability partners. Thanks for blogging with us, Maggie!

    • Orly, Thank you for having me at WITS! Yes, it is like writing, because you have to put in the time and the effort to get the results. Often, for me, it is daily time and daily effort at both exercise and writing that garners my best results! HOWEVER I would prefer to be a lazy cow, reading, eating brie and drinking a nice cabernet. 🙂 xoMaggie

  • Holly Robinson

    What a great post! I reached the same point recently, where I realized that all of those hours of butt-in-chair were great for producing my novels, but not so great if I wanted to be flexible enough to bend over and tie my shoes. I’ve always gone to the gym a few times a week, but now I’ve added three yoga classes a week, and not only can I touch the floor with my palms now, I also find that the stress of meeting those deadlines sinks back into perspective after an hour of pulling my body into poses designed to release tension. Thanks for sharing your story! And congratulations on all of your hard work.

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Good for you, Holly. You may have just pushed me into that yoga class I keep putting off. 🙂

    • Holly,
      Thank you for stopping by! I’m excited that I am going to see lots more of you at The Girlfriends Book Club–Holly is our latest new Girlfriend! I really enjoy yoga and it goes in fits and starts for me, really because of the time commitment. With the drive and the 90 min class, I have to carve 2.5 hours out of my day and right now I just don’t have that much to time. I have found some really good online yoga classes. I look forward to getting back to a regular weekly class…I’m thinking maybe this summer. xoMaggie

  • I’m jumping on the #healthywriter bandwagon! Let’s encourage each other.

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      YAY, Deb. 🙂

    • Deb, I have to say that # really kept me honest, especially in the first 3 months when I absolutely did not want to to my T-25 workout. I knew that my other friends were doing their #healthywriter thing and they were counting on me, and I was counting on them. Social media as a form of positive accountability. #healthywriter xoMaggie

  • Sorry to check in late – was on a 300 mile motorcycle trip. No, unless you’re pushing the bike, that counts for zero calories.

    I so love when you call me out on FB, Maggie – reminds me to stay committed. I’ve always been active (read: Jock), but I offset that by being a glutton. No, really, I LOVE to eat. Add to that moving less as I age (not to mention two back-to-back foot surgeries last year), and 10 lbs comes on SO EASY!!!!

    But it’s bicycle riding weather here in Texas, so I’ve got that going for me.

    Now, if commit would mean more than one day in a row…

    Thanks so much for the great post!

  • I’m in about the same position – lost 25 pounds, put it back on when I went back to college, about 5 pounds each semester. Hey, it’s not easy being a student at 50+! Hit my highest point ever just before graduation, finally had the time and money to commit to Weight Watchers (I NEED the weekly accountability). I’ve lost 30 now, sometimes steady, sometimes just wobbling back and forth week to week, but my overall graph goes down. 20 more to go – hurray!

    For me, it’s partly how I look and partly that I have spent too many decades not finding time for my health. For books (reading and writing), yes. But not my health. I don’t hit pre-diabetic warnings, but my back is much happier when it’s strong, and when my back is happier, I can write more! I have plans for a treadmill desk to just stroll on (someone said start at 1 mph and work up to 2 but no more), but my office needs some major re-vamping before that’s an option. I’ll remember the shelf and bungee cords tho.

    It’s nice to know we’re not alone, so thanks for a great post and i’ll be checking in on #healthywriter. Jen

    • Jen, I LOVE weight watchers and used it after kidlet 1’s birth to get those extra pounds off my body (and there were a lot of extra pounds!) It’s true when our core is strong our backs are happy and we can write MORE! Also, dropping weight has caused my back to be much happier. Thank you for stopping by! Also, use that #healthywriter hashtag…it’s awesome to feel like I am supporting other people and also being supported! xoMaggie

  • I found myself nodding my head so many times throughout your post. Such a great comparison. Joining the #healthy writer bandwagon will help me I am sure! Thanks for the support.

  • Thanks Maggie. As writers we can get so involved in making sure that we get the edits done, first draft, revision, submissions etc, and meanwhile as you say, we are leading a sedentary lifestyle. It really does have an effect, so this post was well timed and much appreciated:-)

  • […] The #HealthyWriter Challenge A guest post on Writers in the Storm by author Maggie Marr. Our job as a writer can kill. Every study indicates that a sedentary lifestyle is a deadly lifestyle. A recent study found that to be healthy, as we age, we should exercise aerobically for 45 minutes 6 days a week. With my career as writer and attorney, it wasn’t uncommon for me to sit at my computer for 8 hours with only the occasional bathroom break as exercise. Read More […]