Writers like to show pictures of their work spaces–their shiny or messy desks, comfy or straight chairs, desktop or laptop computers, bookshelves filled with books, plants, and personally meaningful knickknacks.
A carpenter’s workshop is something altogether different.
For as long as I can remember, my dad had a workshop. Some of his shops were as big as a small house. In fact, the house he built for us when I was ten years old was meant to be his shop … just as soon as he built a nicer house for us in front of it, that is.
His plans got away from him, and he ended up building a large shop behind the somewhat larger house that was originally conceived as his dream shop.
Five or six years later he did build a beautiful new house for us and a new shop for himself on another street. Shop first, house next. Naturally.
So why would I think that a carpenter’s workshop would have anything to teach a writer?
Mainly because I saw how intensely my dad loved his shops and because those shops were like sirens luring him back to work when the work day was done. Dad would come home from work all sweaty and a little tired, eat dinner, maybe watch a little TV. And then–not every night, but often enough–he’d stand up and say, “I’m gonna go fool around in the shop for a while.” My mom called it his play.
Inside Dad’s shop was everything a carpenter could desire. A circular saw, table saw, miter saw, band saw, scroll saw, hand saws, and a jig saw. There were hammers, tapes, squares, levels, chisels, cords, and every size and shape of lumber stacked on racks along the walls, inside and out.
Dad loved his work. I think one of the reasons was that carpentry combined mental work with physical work.
That combination is a big advantage not only for a person’s physical health and brain function, but also for his mood. Here are just a few articles with studies that show the effects of exercise on the brain and mood:
According to Michael Otto, PhD, a professor of psychology at Boston University, “The link between exercise and mood is pretty strong. Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect.”
A recent study from the International Journal of Workplace Health Management showed that “people who exercised during their workday were 23 percent more productive on those days than they were when they didn’t exercise.”
Another study showed that you can memorize new vocabulary best not after you exercise but while you’re exercising at a moderate rate. (The women in the study were riding a stationary bike.)
I may not be able to juggle my computer while I’m riding a bike, but it sounds like I would be more productive, learn more new things, and be in a better mood if I would take a tip from my dad’s example and be more active.