Regular writing can shape your literary thighs

Bike typewriter copy Friday means it’s time for Ned’s Nickel’s Worth On Writing, a weekly post on writing that Writer’s Digest has called “Valued customer.” and “…Long Overdue on payment.”

After last week’s NWOW, which was an interview I gave at R.G. Dole, a lot of you asked about the answer I gave to the final question:

Is it true you are a consultant for E. L. James?

Because I am under contract, I couldn’t answer that question, which brought us to the final, final question and the one people actually asked about:

What advice would you give to a writer who is just starting out?

In my answer, I said establishing a writing routine is crucial, and gave a brief explanation on why it was so important and how to make it happen. Many of you asked me to elaborate on this.

No one asked about my consulting for 50 Shades.

As it turns out, the third post I ever wrote for my weekly NWOW was about the benefits of creating a writing routine, and how those who don’t should be spanked…

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 humor columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, will be released from Port Hole Publications this December. Write to Ned at nedhickson@icloud.com, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)

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41 thoughts on “Regular writing can shape your literary thighs

  1. I can definitely agree… I know that writing on a regular basis… even if it’s just posts for my blog help out a ton… it keeps me thinking and keeps my writing improving…

      • way to rub it in with all your comments… I’ve never had so many comments on my blog till I posted your Interview… should definitely thank you for the traffic 😀

        • That’s great and I’m so glad it worked! I was afraid of coming off as a promo hound, but my intent was to drive folks to your site. In my mini van if they were willing to car pool 😉

          Seriously, thanks for having me.

          • oh no… I mean technically doing any interview is to promote yourself… and if I had a problem with that I wouldn’t interview people… I think in the end it helps both people out… plus you’re funny so you can pretty much get away with anything… 😀

  2. Literary thighs, awesome! I’m going to use that when I’m complaining about my mid-life bottom spread. Great reminder for keeping a writing routine. I’m not very good at it and it sure would help. 🙂

  3. I so need to follow this advice. I’ve got the gym routine down fairly well, so you’d think I’d be able to emulate it creatively. Not so– I just willy nilly about and write on random impulse. Must. Change.

    • Thanks, Aussa, but don’t beat yourself up over it. Especially since, with your aerobic capacity, it could be really painful. Figure out a time — no matter how small — and commit to it. Expand on it if the opportunity allows, assuming it doesn’t interfere with your attempts to avoid expanding elsewhere 😉 You Can Do It!

      (The writing part, not the expanding part…)

      • Hahahaha yeah, all those weights I’ve been lifting– I could really kick my own arse 😉 But yes, I need to do exactly that. The rest of my life is in a routine so it shouldn’t be that difficult, really.

  4. How indeed do you make it routine? I have recently fallen in love with writing, but because of my schedule, I have been fitting it in while at work (shhh, don’t tell my boss). I need to stop doing that, but being a working mom offers very little other time to do so… The middle of the night seems like a great time as well, unfortunately, that has proven to be very bad for my health!! Ah, the time dilemma. If only I could quit the awful job that pays my bills. Then I could write all the time! Whenever I wanted!

    • I completely understand.Even after 15 years as a columnist, I don’t take for granted how fortunate I am to be able to write for a living. But there were many years when, as a chef, I had to resort to scribbling between rushes and on days off. Plus, as a husband and father, I didn’t want to cheat the ones I love from time together. It eventually came down to setting a regular writing routine that I could count on and my family knew I was committed to. Over the years, as my writing took off, the time increased.

      Bottom line: there’s nothing wrong with stealing away a little time here and there when inspired — much like an exciting, spontaneous rendezvous with your spouse. But establishing a time exclusively for pursuing your writing passion — no matter the length — is an important to have. It not only gives you a time you know is waiting for you, it also underscores your commitment to it in the eyes of others as well as yourself 😉

  5. I too must limit my time to answering and reading blog posts. I rise early and give myself an hour and half before I have to make lunches, clean the kitchen, get ready for work etc. etc. however it goes so quickly. Then on the weekends, it is catching up with all the stuff that doesn’t get done through the week.
    You truly are blessed to be able to write as a career. 🙂

  6. Thank you Ned, that is the inspiration I need to timetable a slot to write and do it.
    I also need to do the same with my ceramics. And the gym.
    Erm, does it matter if I don’t have time to schedule in cooking food for my girls?

    • I’m sure they won’t mind. Hey, maybe you could multi-task by throwing pizza dough on your pottery wheel? As a father of four, I’m full of helpful suggestions like that…

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