Mark Terry

Thursday, July 03, 2008


July 3, 2008
About three years ago I got my first gym membership. I mean, really, first. Although I've been sort of semi-active my whole life, I've never worked out at a gym and lifted weights.

I've walked a lot. Played tennis when I was younger. Rode my bike a lot until I graduated from college. Swam well enough to become a lifeguard, although I never worked as one. In college I ran some off and on, took karate for about a year, then turned into a human version of the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

So, I lift weights three days a week and I like it. I started doing "cardio," which for me meant exercise bike, some running on the treadmill. Then, after about a year of that, I started taking long bike rides on my non-weight lifting days. That got to be a big deal for me (and still is). I love riding my mountain bike. 

Also, right around the time I started freelancing full-time, I started studying Sanchin-Ryu karate. My sons were taking it and now that I had time, I thought it looked like fun. I'm currently a first degree brown belt. The next level is black. My wife and oldest son also study. My youngest, who is 10, and a second-degree brown belt, has more or less quit, although sometimes we drag him to classes and have him workout. I hope he'll get back into it someday, but it's up to him.

Off and on over the last couple years I've tried running. I ran cross country in high school one year and although I was considered slow at the time, I look back at those "slow" running times when I was 16 with a longing that I know I'll never, ever reach again. Ever. My fastest 3-mile run was 19 minutes and 8 second. My first mile in that race was 5 minutes 12 seconds. That seems dazzlingly fast to me now, but even then I was slow. (And you can see how my mile-splits dropped off significantly if I ran a 5:12 mile).

Every time I've started running in recent years I start to get my mileage up to a 2 or 3 (slow) miles and I get injured. Usually it's a pulled or strained calf muscle.

I recently bought a new pair of running shoes and am trying it again, telling myself to take it easy and not push things.

All of which makes me sound like the biggest jock in the world. I really don't think I am. I just hit my 40s and have struggled with my weight all my life and my triglyceride and cholesterol and blood sugar levels caught up to me. Also, I have time to exercise and I also have a job that involves sitting on my ass all day typing. Getting out and getting exercise helps me stay at the desk, interestingly enough. Also, you know, if you look down the road and think about your 60s or 70s, I'd rather have some fitness to help carry me into that period. (I also started playing guitar. I'm apparently having some thoughts about how I want to spend the back 40).

I do a lot of different sorts of things so I won't get bored and also because the cross-training helps keep me from getting injured. They also do different things for me. Weight liftings works on strength and muscle mass (you lose something like 1% a year after you turn 40 if you don't exercise). Biking works the cardio but keeps the strain off my knees and ankles. Sanchin-ryu primarily helps with flexibility, range of motion, agility and balance, although depending on how I work it it could have cardio and strength benefits as well. Running, in particular, helps me keep the weight off, but it plays hell with the joints, so I can't do it every day, even if I wanted to.

This post, though, isn't about exercising (although I recommend it. You'll be more energetic and it'll be good for you). 

It's about writing.

I write a lot of different stuff. Over the course of my writing career I've written short stories, novels, poems, technical articles, magazine articles, online articles, white papers, web content, business reports, market survey reports, straight journalism, features, ad/sales copy, even the occasional ransom note (just kidding). Book reviews, Q&As, and I've even tried my hand at a screenplay (it sucked, but I should probably try it again someday).

Now, to re-emphasize the point of this, I want to mention some authors you might have heard of before.

John Sandford.
Under his real name, John Camp, Sandford won the Pulitzer for his work as a journalist. He's also written several teleplays and nonfiction books, as well as his bestselling novels.

Karl Hiaasen.
Started as a journalist, became a columnist, and, I believe, remains one. Has also recently wrote a nonfiction book about golf.

Lee Child.
Before becoming a novelist, Child was a script and telewriter in England, as well as producer, etc.

Randy Wayne White.
Before becoming a nonfiction writer, White was a fishing guide, but he spent years writing nonfiction pieces about travel, then wrote some novels under a pseudonym, before becoming the novelist he is today.

Sue Grafton.
Started out writing scripts for TV and film before becoming a novelist.

Paul Levine.
Started as a journalist, then became a lawyer, then wrote novels, then wrote for TV, then went back to writing novels.

Robert B. Parker.
College professor, then technical writer for an insurance company, then novelist and telescript and script writer.

Lee Goldberg.
Prior to his success writing for TV, Lee wrote nonfiction pieces (he put himself through college as a freelance writer). He's also written nonfiction books, TV scripts, novels, etc.

I'm sure I could go on and on.

I'm a writer first. The various other subgenres--novelist, report writer, magazine writer, etc., all come second. I'm a writer first.

The point is, try to write different things. It's a good exercise, if nothing else. If you write fiction all the time, take a crack at writing a script for your favorite TV show. Or write a magazine article. It uses different muscles and helps make you a stronger writer overall.

And for those of you whose first reaction was: "Oh, I just can't write that stuff, it just doesn't work for me." I have this to say: I used to say that, too. And then somebody encouraged me to write a magazine article and it sold and I got paid for it and I did another one and the rest is history. Nothing encourages you like a little success.

And two things might happen. One, you might find you like writing other things. And two, you might make some money writing other things.

Mark Terry


Blogger spyscribbler said...

I'm terrible at nonfic, but I try. I'm working on my second pop culture essay, and it's going MUCH better than the first.

I realized the other day that I haven't worked out since my foot, and it's been two years. I love working out, and it makes a huge difference in my life not to. I miss TKD like you wouldn't believe--it was true, pure joy and fun for me. I happened to meet a nurse in the laundry last night, and she gave me some hope on what kind of doctor to see (why couldn't the freaking doctor tell me that?), and I burst into tears just from the hope of it.

Running has been up and down for me. Right now, though, I'd give to be able to run.

7:27 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Writing NF is pretty much like everything else--the more you do it, the better you get at it.

There are probably some magazines about piano and music pedagogy that would love to have a good non-academic writing for them.

And I'd imagine you'd have some stories to tell about teaching piano. God knows, I only did it for about a year and I could probably fill a nonfiction book with my strangely behaved students and their even more strangely behaved parents.

7:48 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

I feel like I could write a TONS better book and a different book about piano pedagogy than what's out there. They're mostly written by "theoretical" rather than practical teachers. Problem is, for a book on piano pedagogy, they want a doctorate. So I don't know.

The magazines about piano teaching pay in user copies. Blah. But maybe it would help the no doctorate thing?

8:04 AM  
Blogger MissWrite said...

Both parts of your post are very relevant to writing. Really getting into freelancing last year I found that sitting here all day working REALLY had a negative impact on my body. I too have always struggled with weight, but it got much worse, and other issues began cropping up.

I bought myself a home gym and now conciously make myself get up and go work on it several times a day. That works a little better for me than classes or a gym membership because I'm so very far away from anything like that I know I'd rarely make use of it.

I know I can manage to make myself travel to my family room. LOL

However, even if people who spend their days writing don't buy expensive machines, a good long walk will work wonders. LOL

As for the variety in writing, that's one of the things I love most about freelancing. It is always different so you never get bored. I still prefer fiction, but as it is freelancing is usually pretty cool too.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I noticed on your blog you do a lot about fitness over 40. When I work out at the gym (Powerhouse) there are a lot of guys in their 20s and I want to tell them, keep it up, because once you turn 40 it gets soooo much harder. Of course, there are guys there in their 50s, 60s and 70s. There's one guy who's about 74, just retired from the military and I swear, he's in better shape than the majority of 20-somethings. A year or so ago I was on the exercise bike and this guy laid down on a bench, scootched out until only his shoulders and neck and head were on the bench and started doing leg lifts, horizontal and vertical from the bench.

As the guy on the next bench said, "Ah, now you're just showing off."

9:24 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

I've been thinking about trying a short story. It might be good to have something out there while waiting for word regarding my novel.

I play tennis, and I have a very nice exer-cycle that collects some very nice dust.

9:40 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I'm one of those people who does a lot better about exercising if I perceive it as fun--like karate and biking--or if I have someplace to go and a schedule to do it (also karate, but not biking). It's one reason going to the gym has worked out well for me. Aside from the obvious fact that it gets me away from actually working, I just know that Monday, Wednesday and Friday in good weather I go to the gym, usually between 10:30 and 11:00 in the morning. In the winter, when I'm not biking, I try to go 6 days a week, but Saturdays it can be tough to get out the door.

When I've tried to do exercise stuff at home, I tend not to stick with it. My wife's a runner, and she's pretty good about it, but I'm not as good usually about sticking to a running schedule (we'll see this time). With biking, yeah, I just think it's fun.

It varies for different people, though.

And as for a short story, why not?

10:36 AM  
OpenID eric-mayer said...

Maybe I should've been writing something other than essays for sf fanzines and mini-comics! But, you're right, it's good to do different things. One mark of being able to write professionally is that you can adjust, you don't just have one limited schtick you keep repeating. I've actually written quite a bit of non-fiction. My legal encyclopedia article aren't really "writing" though!

Ah, what wouldn't I give to be able to run again? My back won't let me. I loved running (and I hate exercise). I was slow. I only broke 22 minutes once in a 5k (in my forties) -- exactly in the middle. But my writing went better then too. I had more energy for everything.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I gather that running can be hard on the back. I'm not really sure why. Sometimes my back will hurt during and after a run.

Of course, I can say the same thing about sitting in a damned chair all day, too. All too often my back hurts after a day writing.

(Or probably a sure sign of aging, if I sleep too long, my back hurts in the morning. That really sucks).

12:23 PM  
Blogger Zoe Winters said...

And I'm sure, just like with crosstraining, in exercise, doing different things helps to strengthen your abilities overall. Like strength training helped my balance for yoga. I can see that kind of synergy working with diff types of writing too.

1:59 PM  
Blogger MissWrite said...

Ack, yeah I have to get back on that blog and post some more. I 'think' about it everyday, and then get tied up in a million other things.

5:03 PM  

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