10 Steps To a Better Body (of Work)
What Fitness Training Taught Me About Writing
I took my first aerobic exercise class years ago, after the birth of our first child. Although I never quite regained my pre-pregnancy figure, I’ve been a dedicated fitness fanatic ever since. Whether weight-lifting or jogging, the time spent in pursuit of muscle tone has taught me lessons which can be applied to my writing efforts as well.
1. GET TO THE GYM. This is an obvious first step, but one that has tripped up many a new health club member. You can’t see the results of a stair-climbing machine on your thighs until you’ve actually stepped onto it. Likewise, you can’t finish manuscripts and query letters until you’ve spent the hours required in front of the word processor or typewriter.
2. WORK OUT WITH FRIENDS. It’s easy to become discouraged when you face the challenge of just one more leg lift–or one more revision—alone. Critique groups, workshops, conferences and professional organizations like SCBWI do more than provide knowledge that you couldn’t get on your own. Like workout buddies, fellow writers can encourage and commiserate and help you stick with a program that will accomplish your goals.
3. VARY YOUR WORKOUT TO KEEP IT INTERESTING. The quickest way to fitness burnout is to do only one kind of exercise, day after day. The same can be said for writing. Work on several projects at one time, in various states of completion. Vary the type of writing you are engaging in, to keep it fresh and flexible. For example, you may not be a poet. Write a poem anyway. What you discover in the process may give your prose new energy.
4. DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE. You must breathe deeply when exercising. This is how your muscles get the oxygen they need to work hard. You can breathe life into your writing by giving yourself resources needed to sustain your professional development. Find pockets of time in your schedule for writing. Create a physical space dedicated to your work and all the “tools of the trade”. Practice mental yoga: a meditative approach to both life and writing. As you exhale old thoughts, breathe in creative inspiration.
5. EXERCISE ON A SCHEDULE. To obtain or maintain physical fitness, you not only have to show up at the gym that first day—you have to keep showing up, week after week. So it goes with your writing. Give each project a deadline, as well as an outline of the steps needed to bring your creation to life. Write whenever you can each day. Be flexible but firm. Keep at it, and you will reach your writing goals.
6. DON’T GIVE UP. Workouts and writing help develop agility. But sometimes you will stumble as you attempt a something new or difficult. If you miss a step, just keep moving until you’re ready to jump back into the routine. Mistakes, failures and rejection letters are ways in which a writer can learn and grow. Don’t allow a few missteps to destroy your momentum.
7. STRETCH BEFORE YOU EXERCISE. A few minutes spent warming up muscles with a pool side stretch makes swimming laps easier and more effective. You shouldn’t dive into your writing projects cold, either. Stretch and flex with journal entries, brainstorming and other writing exercises before attacking your task at hand.
8. IF YOU GET CONFUSED, WATCH THE PERSON IN FRONT OF YOU. The easiest way to learn a fitness routine is to make your arms and legs mimic those of exercisers in the row ahead. Make it a habit to read interviews and biographies of writers who are ahead of you on the road to publication. What have they learned that can help you in your own work? Read the entire list of Newbery and Caldecott winners, as well as the current best sellers. Learn all that you can from lectures and conversations with established writers.
9. NO PAIN, NO GAIN. It may sound glib, but the essence of this tired cliche is true. Physically, it hurts every time you work to gain strength or stamina. So it is with writing: to improve your skills and to refine your vision, you will have to do things that cause you discomfort at times. Don’t avoid it. Instead, pace yourself by easing into new techniques or subject matter in small doses. Adopt an attitude of acceptance toward discomfort. It’s a daily indication that you’re building up your creative abilities.
10. DON’T STRAIN YOUR BRAIN. When rhythm-challenged feet are faced with a complicated movement, the brain can freeze up. At times like these, it’s helpful to take a breath, relax and just listen to the music’s beat. Before you know it, your feet are naturally doing the very thing that your brain said was impossible. Sometimes your writing will freeze up, too. The right words and images refuse to take shape on the page. Or worse, you are facing a blank page with no clue as to the direction you should take. Sometimes it helps to just relax and breathe deeply. Tune into the song the universe is playing in your head, and hum along.