Like exercise, regular writing can shape your (literary) thighs

Bike typewriter copy Last week, in my continued saga at Gliterary Girl on the hazards rewards advantages realities of being a writer, we spoke about some of the tools you need to develop your writing “Voice.” This week, we’re going to talk about making regular use of those tools by establishing a writing “Routine.”

In a way, establishing this routine is a lot like going to the gym. Except that you don’t get sweaty, never leave a seated position and, unless you write romance or erotica, you probably won’t increase your heart rate much.

But aside from that, it’s just like going to the gym.

When I first started writing in an actual newsroom, my routine consisted of sitting at my desk, staring blankly at the screen and banging on my keys as quickly as possible until it was time to go home, where I would do my actual writing.

Why did I do this?

I was intimidated. On either side of me, journalists were typing feverishly — seemingly non-stop — while I sat waiting for inspiration. My brain was still hardwired for waiting until the kids were asleep before slinking off into the study/laundry room to do my writing, as long as nothing else needed to be done. I was a single parent of two children under the age of 10 at the time, so there was always something else that needed to be done.

I realized two things one night sitting in my luxurious study/laundry room:

1) I needed to push myself to establish a new writing routine that fit my lifestyle and commitments, and
2) By putting my daughter’s favorite sweater through the drier, it was now the perfect size for our neighbor’s Chihuahua.

I’ll admit, re-programming myself took time and persistance. And I had to get over the fact that, as my fellow journalists were typing away, there were long periods of silence — some as long as 10 to 12 seconds — echoing from my cubicle. The truth is, my brain actually adapted quickly to having a real writing schedule, much in the same way your body adapts to a workout routine. And I say “your body” because mine still hates going to the gym no matter what time it is.

I realize not everyone has the luxury of writing full time. However, the same rule applies to anyone who is serious about writing. Married or not, with or without children, full- or part-time job, stay-at-home working or away-at-work parent. In addition to priming your brain to be ready for action at a set time on a regular basis, setting a strict writing routine says something very important to yourself and others:

I’m a writer and you’re not, so neener neener!

Ok, not really.

…Well, actually, yes — but that’s not my point.

My point is that it says your writing, just like making time for each of your other responsibilities, is just as important. Whether it’s 30 minutes or three hours, every day or certain days of the week, that time is a commitment you’ve made to yourself, as a writer, to write — without exception, excuse or apology.

No one objects to you making dinner, doing laundry or ironing on a regular basis. Why should your writing be any different?

Unless you iron your manuscripts; that’s just weird.

Next week: Step one to being a writer: Write!

(You can write to Ned Hickson at, or visit his blog at

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

27 thoughts on “Like exercise, regular writing can shape your (literary) thighs”

  1. I have been trying very hard to establish a writing routine. I know it’s important. My family, however, has other ideas. Maybe because when they see me on the computer they immediately think I am playing “Candy Crush” — sometimes I am, but it’s mindless and helps me to THINK about what I’m planning to write — they don’t get that there is a thought process that one must enter into PRIOR to writing. I am going to counter their whining by pointing out the very valid point you made — about them not complaining when I clean, cook, do laundry — and all the other crap I do in a day — like going to my “real” job (HA!) Thanks, Ned!

    1. You’re welcome 🙂 Having an established time that everyone understands is important to you is really important. Plus, you can stop trying to squeeze it in here and there, and feeling guilty when you do. Whatever length of time it is, for whatever day(s) you have established, everyone can plan for it — especially YOU 😉 Oh, and don’t forget to bring Scarlett…

  2. Good post, Thanks. I do write every day but it’s hard with kids and work. My family are highly amused by my new “hobby”. I had to pay to get my laptop fixed and they joke that writing is already costing us money! Ah some day they may eat their words! I’ll not share the take away fries I’ll buy from my first pay check, with any of them!

    1. I’d like to say that was a clever attempt to draw attention to my post by purposely misspelling the title; I’d like to tell you that, from my native country of Dixionary, that is how we spell exercise; I would like to explain that, due to the high level of endorphins running through my blood from exercising… Oh, hell. Who am I kidding: I’m a spelling dork 😉

  3. LOL, your posts always make mee laugh! Wow, your dryer must have a REALLY hot setting to make it shrink that much! 😉
    Like anything in life, we make time for what’s important. If you have a passion for writing, you WILL make the time. 🙂 And I think a schedule is a great idea!

    1. Yeah, my drier’s pretty hot. In fact, until I met my wife, it was the hottest thing in the house. My daughter still holds her shrunken sweater over me. Like a hanky. And I agree: you have to make time for the things that are important, whether it’s writing, family, Hell’s Kitchen, or whatever; making them priorities is the best way to remind yourself and others that they are important 🙂

        1. I was a chef for 15 years before I started working at the paper… are you KIDDING?!? I LOVE that show, even though I wasn’t the yelling type of chef, I knew plenty who were!

  4. Very true. I did a lot of writing in the past, including a much-rejected novel (* small whine *) but my blog has been my return to it. It’s hard to stick to a routine for it and it always gets shoved to the back of the line. Good point – if it’s important, one has to make room for it. Hope you have a nicer study now 🙂

  5. I agree, a writing routine is vital.
    I have an old laptop which I keep at work. It has only office software. No games. No Internet. Every lunch break I sit and write. Those five, one hour slots each week are some of my most productive.

    And because I’m busy writing, I’m not sneaking out for a Pasty. Good for my waist line, and it’s saved me a fortune. Win win.

    1. That’s an excellent plan all the way around: Productive, creative, cost effective and utilizes time that otherwise might have been, uh… “waisted” 😉

  6. As always, I enjoyed reading your post. I cling to a writing routine because once I begin, I remember why I love it, and it also gives me an important reminder as a writing teacher. When you spend time grinding your own brain cells into a fine powder trying to find that perfect turn of phrase, it makes you kinder when you hold a red pen over a student’s essay. 🙂

    1. I love that description of “…grinding your own brain cells into a fine powder…” 🙂 And I can definitely see how that could give you some perspective when it’s time to wield the mighty two-handed “Red Pen” of fate. Or muse, depending on the kind of day you’ve had in the classroom! I have so much respect for what you do, especially when I think about the door stop I had between my shoulders through most of my school years! THANK YOU for all you do. Oh, and please don’t grade this… 😉

  7. Ned, I love the analogy at the end about approaching writing like any one of a number of necessary chores–laundry, making dinner. I look forward to next week’s installment. Always looking for new ways to remind myself to write (DAMMIT!).

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