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

Bike typewriter copy It’s Friday, and as we all know (and by “we” I mean the voices in my head) it’s time for Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing, a weekly feature heralded as “Essential writing advice for anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a highway flagger.” Several months ago, in my continuing saga at Gliterary Girl on the hazards rewards advantages realities of being a writer, I talked about the importance of establishing a writing routine. This seemed like a good time to revisit that post because, in addition to still being knee-deep in manuscript revisions, I have finally begun to come down off of yesterday’s caffeine high, which has left me shaking like the only lamb at a coyote picnic.

So keep your pocket change this week; today’s Nickel’s Worth is on me!

In a way, establishing a writing 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.

(Ned is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. You can write to him at, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10,Florence, Ore. 97439 )

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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...

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

  1. *me, singing, here*

    “Life is wonderful, the second time aroooooouuuund…..”

    Some things are too good to absorb in one exposure. This is one of them. An artist/teacher I know once told me that the average person has to hear something new NINE times before it sinks in. Yes. NINE. Imagine! You have eight more excuses to run this by us again, and for many of us, it will take that long before we start setting aside specific time in our schedules just for writing.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Thanks so much, Marcia, and you are so very welcome for the reminder. If you want to read this eight more times, I will count that as literary exercise 😉

  2. I try to push for at least 4 hours a day. Some days are more successful than others, but not writing at all is pretty much a winning formula for failure.

      1. If you agree more, it might affect your taxes. I don’t know why this is, but it seems to be the case.

        1. Are you saying I should stop claiming you on my income taxes? If so, that’s really going to hurt financially. Or I guess I can give up my People Magazine subscription.

        1. They’re just jealous of your ripped finger. If our fingers joined forces, we’d be unstoppable! My ringing of door bells and you flipping off the people who answer is just one example…

  3. I *need* to do both. When I don’t get to the gym regularly, I’m not myself. When I don’t have an opportunity to write regularly, same.

    My brain also comes up with tons of ideas while I’m working out.

    I think the only solution may be to quit my job and stop doing chores.

  4. I think you’re right. This is a highly-debated issue at USC in my writing program. Many guest speakers (aka “the pros) swear by this daily practice while others say they write when they feel the urge to. But i think forcing yourself to write daily also forces you out of the dreaded “writer’s block” – which can linger for months or years if left unaddressed. Congrats on the manuscript work btw. Looking forward to seeing that bad boy hit the shelves.

    1. I agree, Lydia. Anyone who believes you can be a productive writer by waiting until the mood or inspiration strikes is fooling themselves. You have to give yourself the freedom to understand not everything you write is going to be gold. It’s a sifting process and finding the nuggets. But you can’t sift unless you have something to pan through.

      And thanks for the kind words 😉

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