It struck me this morning at the gym while diligently pumping iron from a seated position at the smoothie bar. There are a number of similarities between reaching your fitness goals and writing goals. In both cases, you will likely fail if you attempt too much too fast. Especially if you’re trying to show off and accidentally flatulate while attempting a power lift.
OK, now that the obligations required by my Gas-X sponsorship have been met, we can move on to how the same principles that make up a good fitness regimen can be applied to achieving your writing goals.
(Make sure to stop in next week, when Trojan will sponsor tips on expanding your readership.)
Just like many people who enter the gym for the first time and see the dozens of different
torture devices designed to make you look weak and destroy your self esteem fitness apparatus that can sculpt your body into lean muscle capable of opening even the most stubborn mayonnaise jar, those entering the world of writing often find themselves being crushed under the weight of their own lofty goals by not building up literary muscle first. And by this I don’t mean technique, style or developing your writing voice. I’m talking specifically about easing into writing project(s) and commitment(s) in a way that strengthens your writing endurance so you can avoid “injuring” yourself creatively.
This isn’t to be confused with creatively injuring yourself, which I also know about. But that’s a totally different, embarrassing post.
In the same way a smart fitness plan is built on improvements through gradually adding weight in small increments, running for longer periods or monitoring and increasing resistance in measured amounts, writers need to follow the same example if they want to keep their disciplined writing commitment from turning into sloppy repetitions that can hurt their goals. Any gym instructor will tell you lifting a lot of weight too quickly, or without the proper control, is pointless and even dangerous.
Especially if I’m your spotter.
The key is to recognize your limitations and commit to lifting nothing more than you’re capable of until it’s time to add more.
How will you know when it’s time? When you realize you’re making the circuit without getting winded. In literary terms, the best measurement I can give you is this: When you find yourself easily beating your deadline(s) on a regular basis — whether self-imposed or established by an editor or agent — you’re probably ready to build more muscle.
I’d like to point out that even after 16 years as a columnist and author, I still have a tendency to find myself red-faced and straining, and not from the need for a stronger laxative. I simply have a hard time passing up opportunities to write. When I recognize a pattern of going to the officer earlier and staying later each day, or come home to find my kids calling a complete stranger “Dad,” I know I need to re-evaluate how much I’m lifting on my literary barbell. That’s because, in addition to avoiding the strain that too many commitments can put on your writing, it’s just as important to avoid what that strain can do to everyday life. As writers, striking a balance between the fictional worlds we create and our presence in the real one is what fuels our inspiration and helps us keep a fresh perspective. We need that interaction with others in the same way Kanye West needs interaction with…
Anyway, you get the idea.
While establishing a writing routine is an important tool in being a productive writer, it’s also a tool for gauging whether you’re taking on too much. If what you’re lifting requires more and more time at the gym, you probably need to consider lifting less and defining the literary muscle you already have.
In the meantime, keep working the circuit and maintaining those steady, controlled writing reps.
But please, stay away from the gym if you’re gassy.
(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. This has been an excerpt from his upcoming book, Pearls of Writing Wisdom: From 16 Shucking Years as a Columnist, available this September from Port Hole Publishing. Ned’s first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publishing, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)