#NotWriting: Exercise the Demon!

Steven Ramirez

This morning, I did a thousand sit-ups.
Okay. A hundred sit-ups.
This morning, I did ten very good sit-ups.
Because I’m not getting any younger, I realized this morning, and my window for washboard abs is rapidly closing.

They say writing, like anything else, is a muscle that must be exercised. I’m assuming they say this. I didn’t Google the phrase. What I did Google, however—when I should’ve been outlining my novel (oh yeah, I’m outlining my novel)—was “muscle,” or more specifically, “can muscle disappear?” And while the internet at five in the morning is hesitant to use the word “disappear,” the fact is that without regular use, muscles will shrink, and wither, and like a bear during winter (or in my case, nuclear winter), return to a more dormant state.

NAR_testimony Clay Rodery

Then there’s muscle memory, which, long Google search short, basically means if the muscle was never used in the first place, then good luck conjuring up those eight-pack abs when the kids move out, when the mortgage is paid, when you finally have the time, and resources, to take a crack at the next great American sit-up.

But today is the first day of the rest of your life, they say.

But the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, they say.

And besides, they say, writing is re-writing.

Which is fine. But as of this morning I had yet to write anything, so there could be no re-writing, and thus, no writing, and it was this knot in logic that made me anxious, then antsy, so I got on my back, joined my fingers at the nape of my neck, and made like fourth period gym all over again.

Eyes on the ceiling.

Hips straight.

Up, down. Up, down. Up, down.

I soon expended myself—me: a tangle of bathrobe and bedhead, sprawled across the rug like something exorcised from the deepest recesses of muscle memory—and as I lay there, huffing, puffing, I thought about fourth period gym, about being young in general, and I suddenly recalled a story I’d written around that same time. Something about a giant man made of ice who went around destroying cities. Or did he save cities? And if so, from what? What terrors, I wondered, filled my nine-year-old skull enough to summon the aide of this large and sentient block of ice?

The point is I’d written it. No outlines, no anecdotes, no trips down the Google rabbit hole. Just me flexing a muscle I didn’t even know I had. And maybe that’s the secret to all this, to exercise, to washboard abs, to writing with that reckless and proverbial abandon. Knowing that whether the ice man is here to destroy your stupid city, or rebuild it from the ground up, he’s here. He’s always been here. It’s five in the morning and you’re terrified. Where else is he gonna go?

Steven Ramirez is a writer living in Chicago. His fiction, "Five Movie Endings," first appeared in North American Review 295.3. His work has since been published in the Blue Mesa Review, Indiana Review, Puerto Del Sol, Lumina, Santa Fe Literary Review, and PANK magazine, among others. He is currently at work on his first novel. You may find Steven on Twitter, @StevenLRamirez.
Illustration by: Clay Rodery, an illustrator who lives and works in Houston, Texas, just down the road from NASA Mission Control (which accounts for a lot). Clay is featured in North American Review's issue 299.3, Summer 2014.