A Writer’s Health

If we’re smart, we want to be like P.D. James and Frederick Pohl, writing productively into our late eighties or nineties.

I mean, that is the goal, isn’t it?  A long and healthy life filled with enjoyment.  (You do, um, enjoy writing, don’t you?)

Sadly, there are the counterexamples like Charles Grant, whose cigarette smoking and the resulting lung cancer put him into an early grave.  Or those whose obesity similarly killed them before their time.

As for me, I’m hoping to be creating stories that readers enjoy when I’m ninety.  With further technological advances, maybe even a hundred. 

There are some elements of genetics I can’t control.  Both my father and grandfather died before reaching retirement age.  On the other hand, my mother is now in her eighties and is more than just still around.  She’s still working at a job for my brother’s company where she gets fulfillment and the work keeps her mind sharp. 

While the genetic hand I’ve been dealt is somewhere between Aces and Deuces and I’m powerless to change those cards, there are a number of factors I do have control over.  I’m redoubling some of those efforts so that I can be healthy and happy and yes, writing, when I’m ninety.

I’ve never smoked nor taken drugs.  My alcohol intake typically is limited to a glass of red wine — good for the heart — once or twice a week.  (Usually, it’s the cheap stuff unless I’m out to dinner with my brother Steve and he’s buying.) 

But I do have my weaknesses.  I like to eat.  No, make that I loveto eat.  I try to keep the fat content down, but I’m heavily into volume.  (The word choice of “heavily” was not accidental.)  Near the end of the two-week Master Class run by Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, a fellow student who’d been watching me eat at the communal dinners spoke up.

“Dave, I am so impressed with you,” she said.

My chest puffed out and I awaited praise for my dialogue, characterization, or sharp wit. 

“I can’t believe,” she continued, “that with as much as you eat you don’t weigh four hundred pounds.”

My ball-busting brothers could not have skewered me any more effectively.

I’d argue that the reason I’m not four hundred pounds is because I try to reduce fat intake and when I work out, I work out very hard.  My friends at the fitness center joke about the moat my sweat creates around the stationary bike.  It’s hyperbole, of course, but there’s an element of truth to it.

When I work out. 

Which isn’t often enough.

And although I’m not four hundred pounds, I do have a few to lose.  If I can lose them the right way, then I’ll increase my chances of joining the ranks of P.D. James and Frederick Pohl.  So here’s the game plan.

Twenty-five in fifty-two. My goal is to lose twenty-five pounds in the next year.  How am I going to do that?

Exercise from three to six times every week.  Every week.  In the past, I’ve had good weeks and bad weeks.  The key is to eliminate, or come close to eliminating, the bad weeks, those stretches when the day job demands (and everything else) squeezes out the time needed for exercise. 

I’m now taking the approach of the cartoon which shows an out-of-shape guy at a doctors office.  The doctor is asking, “Do you have time to exercise an hour each day or be dead twenty-four hours each day?”

Good question.

A friend of mine at work schedules into his calendar a “meeting” at 11 a.m. every day.  That’s his workout time and if anyone calls a conventional meeting for that time slot, he tells them he has a conflict.  I don’t think I can go that far, but I need to go further than I’ve been going.

I’m going to put together a workout schedule each week that insures that I get at least those three workout days in.  No matter what.

Improve my diet by becoming a five-day-a-week vegetarian (plus fish).  I’ve always envied the health benefits my vegetarian friends enjoyed but never managed to stick with it myself for very long.  That’s because of my inherent binary nature.  I tend to be all-on or all-off about most everything.  I’ve been called The Binary Guy before and for good reason.

So in the past I felt I had to be all-vegetarian or not at all.  And I’d last until the first juicy cheeseburger came along because I knew I couldn’t go forever without one.  Like an alcoholic fallen off the wagon, I’d go whole hog.  (Word choice intentional.)

This five-day approach, I believe, will work for me because I can be all-on for five days without feeling that I’ll never be able to eat chicken or red meat again.  And because of that, I don’t think I’ll go whole hog in the other two days.

It’s a choice that I think can work for me.

My approach will emphasize fruits and vegetables.  The Mediterranean diet (I hesitate to even type that most loathsome of all four-letter words but it fits) may be a fad right now but medical researchers have connected this approach with significant health benefits. 

As of yesterday, I’m caffeine-free.  Because I’m sensitive to caffeine and have a history of infrequent but brutal migraine headaches, I’ve slowly weaned myself off this drug over the past three weeks.  In the past, caffeine gave me a jolt when I thought I needed one, but it also left me with the dreaded “caffeine crashes.”

No more.  Caffeine, coffee, and colas are in my rear view mirror.

As, I hope, will be those bad weeks of no exercise and those unwanted twenty-five pounds.

Your mileage may vary. Perhaps for you, the goal will be to quit smoking.  Please, do it.  Don’t join the ranks of Charles Grant.

Whatever your focus, write down your health goals and make yourself accountable.


  1. Chris

    Good on you, Dave! I finally took the exercise plunge late last year, after resisting for several decades. Worked off nearly 30 pounds in 7 months, and feeling better every day. I really hate to admit it after denying it for so long, but it works!

    Not giving up the caffeine, though. At least not yet. A treat now is a fat-free latte with sugar-free syrup, but I still gotta have the real deal when it comes to the coffee. I bow to your determination!!


  2. Nicole

    First off, LOVE the pink blog. So cute!

    Fruits + Veggies do not equal a balanced diet. You need protein. Grilled chicken breasts (yes white meat) should be added to the list in addition to fishies.

  3. Dayle

    Good for you, Dave! And an inspiration, too! Next workshop we do together, you’re one of my walking buddies! 🙂

    Don’t diss the word “diet,” though. Just because most people misuse it doesn’t make it bad. It doesn’t mean (even though many people use it to mean) “what you don’t eat.” It means “what you eat.”

    I usually put it this way. “The lion’s diet on the Serengeti is gazelle.” (Or whatever.) It is not “The lion eschews the fattier wildebeast.”

  4. admin

    @Dayle You’re on for walking during the next workshop as long as Kris and Dean aren’t killing us, leaving us with three hours sleep. 🙂 The one gotcha is that I tend to get my exercise in first thing in the morning and as an East Coaster in Oregon, I’m almost always up before anyone else is awake. I’m doing the Character Voice workshop in September. Let me know if you’re going too.

  5. admin

    @Chris Thanks and congrats on your own positive experience with the exercise. That’s excellent. I always feel better after I’ve worked out, which makes it all the more frustrating when I let other things crowd it out.

  6. admin

    @Nicole The pink comment went over my head. I’ve got no clue what you’re talking about. The “theme” sure looks brown to me.

    As for protein and a balanced diet, I’ll have to disagree. Americans eat FAR more protein than is necessary and pure vegetarians and even vegans still get enough protein by just paying attention. I’m not trying to be a pure vegetarian, much less a vegan. If I have fish twice a week, then four of the seven days I’m still having considerable animal protein. I’ll have no problems getting enough protein overall.

    Keep in mind that there’s a lot of protein outside of animal sources. My salads always have the following in them — garbanzo beans, cucumbers, green peppers, lettuce or spinach, and tomatoes — all of which have protein. There’s also protein in fruits like bananas, cantaloupes, grapes, melons, oranges, peaches, pears, and strawberries. Not to mention some cereals, breads, bagels, pastas, and of course eggs, cheese, and milk.

    While some plant proteins are incomplete and attention must be paid by pure vegetarians and vegans to using the right combinations, this shouldn’t be a concern for me.

    I’ll also add that I’m no fan of chicken breast. If I’m eating chicken, it’s dark meat (I’ll still be grabbing for a drumstick come Thanksgiving) and that’s loaded with fat. So adding chicken isn’t a great idea for me.

    Adding chicken also changes the mindset for me. I’m no longer a five-day vegetarian then. I’m just limiting red meat, which is a good goal but not a mindset that works that well for me.

    For me, saying I’m a five-day vegetarian (plus fish) is a positive statement while saying I’m prohibiting myself from red meat five days a week is a restriction. The former mindset works for me; the latter doesn’t.

  7. admin

    @Dayle I meant to also applaud your use of diet as opposed to common usage. It sure works better for me.

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