Writing and Exercise: Similar Techniques and Goals

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).

Appropriate for 2 reasons: I don't jog and I tend to kill off joggers in dark scary places in my writing.

Appropriate for 2 reasons: I don’t jog and I tend to kill off joggers in dark scary places in my writing.

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.

1. Schedule

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?

2. Concentration

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.

3. Determination

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.)

4. Spontaneity

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.

5. Willpower

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.

How Do You Balance Your Time? My Half An Answer

I love my job. And I’m not even saying that because you might think I’m lying if I jumped right in like that, but because I really do love my job. I’ve been there just under a year and have lucked out to already feel like such an important piece of the business. I’m pulling my weight, working my best, and can do my part to really use my skills. I’m constantly in work mode, keeping up with everything I can use for Facebook. My college degree helped me get here. I help write (about and for), market, photo, cook, and other fun things to keep it interesting, for the office, its publications and their social media presence. My coworkers are awesome. It’s not just a job. It’s a career and it’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole life. It’s a dream job.

I also love to write. I write eventually discarded short stories, forgotten and rediscovered novels, and nightmares I didn’t even know I had. I don’t want it to be another three years before the next book- I’m thinking less than one year. I know it drives my husband crazy when I don’t listen to him because I’ve wandered off into a new scene. It’s an escape and a way to constantly use my imagination. Books and magazines have been a staple in my entire life, and went full speed when I became a reporter and then editor-in-chief of my middle school newspaper in the seventh grade. I’m self-published and have been published several times in my life now, typically by local media. I know readers enjoy my work and how I want to pursue the rest of my time. Writing is something I’ve done my whole life. It’s a dream job.

So as you can see, I have two things that are very important to me. I can schedule some things for work stuff ahead of time, but I usually update it 7 days a week and often like to stay connected for any local updates. I can’t express how serious I am when I say I think about my job a lot – sometimes I can’t shut it off. It keeps me awake at night pondering solutions to questions that will probably never be asked. And then I get started with an idea or plot veer that I disappear into my computer. It’s not a bad problem to have, but between that and the characters yelling at me every day, how do I want to balance them out? In addition to spending time with my husband, friends and family, plus things like errands and downtime?

I only have half an answer for you. My schedule is predictable. I work, I usually stay in, we sometimes go out to dinner or drinks, and I like lazy Sundays. Sometimes, I do have the time to both decompress for a couple hours and then go write for the rest of the night in the back room. And even though my laziness loves to kick in, when I get started on a chapter, it’s hard to tear me away. If you do, it’s like I’ve just woken up from a dream and am still trying to remember all the pieces, so I only pay half attention.

The reason I say half an answer is because I know so many of you indie authors out there who are probably rolling their eyes at me, because they’re doing all these things, plus raising children and living far busier lives than me. (Since that’s not going to be me, I know I’ll eventually feel bad when I’m in my 30s without kids and complaining about no time. My married mom friends will punch me because I get a little quiet time. At least, that’s what my friend told me.) But that’s the thing – I feel like a lazy jerk sometimes because I don’t write fast enough. I let life get in the way, especially when it’s convenient.

And really, that’s my question. How do you balance it out? If reality were like my world in Gifted, my friend Courtney Cole would have to be either a Runner or a Doubler, because she is everywhere at once! She’s got her busy family AND she cranks out a book every few months, which is amazing to me! I can’t get over how fast she produces well-written, great novels that are all so different from one another. (I have to practically immerse myself in the characters before a story can really get going and sometimes that takes a while. That might be weird, I don’t know.) I really look up to her and wish I could write that fast (and well) but it might even just plain take me longer.

How do I write faster? How often do I yell at myself to get up and write before I make myself cry? And now that I’ve gotten this important, great job that now consumes most of my brainpower, can I find time to write? How do you stay sane, alone in your head, and relax long enough to get immersed in a book or another hobby? How do you find the time between kids (especially in the summer), jobs, weddings and other things?

Writers…share your secrets with me.