I started a fitness boot camp this week – a 6 week long, 3 times a week, 5 AM class that will theoretically help to jumpstart my getting back into shape. As I am NOT a morning person and I despise exercise, you can imagine the colorful words that stream out of my mouth at 5.30am when I think I’m about to die if I have to do one more burpee (if you don’t know what those are, look them up, try to do as many as you can in 2 minutes, then collapse into a heap on your floor).
Anyway, somewhere in my sweat-soaked haze, I realized that this boot camp – actually, make that exercise in general – is a lot like writing. I’m only 3 sessions in, but here’s what I’ve learned so far about why they’re similar and how to apply the same techniques to writing as you would with working out.
Writing and exercise are both the types of things that we say we should do and then immediately go do something else unrelated. I’d rather chop off my left arm than go do 20 push-ups (in general, not just 5am). Sometimes, I’d rather sit on my couch with TV instead of go write. The reason I’m out of shape? I never wanted to make time for it, so I didn’t. Now that I’m being forced into a workout schedule (a terrible, awful, no good, 5 am schedule), it makes me realize that whether it’s 3 hours a week or 15, we’ll never get that workout or new chapter in if we don’t force it into our schedules. You don’t have to commit to five hours a day – sometimes it’s only an hour or particular word count, but how will you get it done if you don’t make time for it?
If you’d seen me last week trying to do burpees, you would’ve laughed at my squinched up face (nevermind the heaving gasps), but that’s me keeping my concentration. If I get off beat of our sarge’s counts, I mess up, which in turn messes up the entire set. I have to push through the pain, stay focused on keeping in step with counts, and pace myself. Writing, as you can see where I’m going with this, is much of the same thing. I know the moment I sit down to write a new chapter, the first thing I actually do is check Twitter, which is pretty much the opposite of productive. When you go to write that chapter, commit. Turn off your wifi, shut the office door, and concentrate on your work. Don’t get distracted by other things – really focus on what you’re writing so that it’s the best it can be – which makes for easier edits down the road.
This is on the same page as concentration – if I’m not determined to get new words on paper, then I’ll let myself slack. I’ll make excuses and allow it to be okay. It’s not! How else are writers going to get their work out there if they don’t actually, ya know, write? Determination requires motivation, whether it’s your one-piece-a-day chocolate after a great workout or wanting to publish after finishing your final chapters and edits. You hear it all the time and here it is again: You gotta get your butt in that seat and write. Put it on your schedule. Whether you love or hate to exercise, it takes determination to get out of your warm bed on a cold February morning and run a mile in the snow (I did that last Fri!). You have to want it, that feeling of success after a great workout, that drive to push to your goals – just like I WANT to publish another book. If I’m determined enough, there’s nothing that says it can’t be done. (Which is exactly why I’m an indie author, by the way.)
When it rained Friday morning, most of us thought we’d get out of running outside so early. Surely she’ll keep us indoors, we said. Then just as we reached for our yoga mats, gleeful we’d be warm inside, Sarge told us to throw on our layers and head outside to run our first mile. Three and a half long laps later, I was able to say I’d run a mile in the snow that morning. That is NOT something I thought I’d ever say. See? Without that jarring volt of something different, I wouldn’t have the memory. While I did mention staying in your seat to concentrate, I do recommend taking a break every so often to explore real life. Spontaneity applies here: whether it’s a Saturday stroll in the neighborhood, a vacation, or whatever else strikes your fancy, go do it. You’ll get inspired by surroundings and events, plus have a story later.
Much like I’m learning to put down the doughnuts, I’m constantly learning how to hone my craft. I have full control over my body and novels, which means I should have enough willpower to say no to the sausage biscuits at work (did that last week), plus handle edits to a manuscript. You know that saying that authors have about killing their own babies (babies being favorite phrases or scenes, not actual babies)? We have to be strong enough to handle cutting those out of the manuscript if they don’t work. We should be strong enough to handle criticism (no matter where it comes from – we must accept that putting ourselves out there sometimes comes with a little sting). Willpower is an important factor in both exercise and writing – without it, you won’t do either because you’ll always “do it later.” I know myself well enough to know I won’t, which is why I have to have willpower to through it the first time around.