4 ways writing is like working out (and the best writing tips I’ve heard/read/seen)

writing-exerciseAlong with working out, writing is one my biggest de-stressors and one of my chief sources of happiness. And like exercising, when I haven’t done it in a while, I start to feel twitchy. I often have to force myself to do it. Then, once I have, I’m happy as a clam and wondering why I don’t do it more often.

Last month, I started attending a bi-weekly memoir writing class. I love it. The class is small (only six people), so there is a lot of one-on-one attention and opportunities for sharing my work and receiving valuable feedback. Most importantly, the class has re-ignited my writing spark and filled my head with story ideas.

In class last week, my teacher shared some writing tips, and I realized they weren’t all that different from advice I’ve received around starting – and sticking to – an exercise regimen.

1. You just have to do it
My writing teacher kicks off each class with a free writing exercise. She provides a passage for us to read, then we write for 10 minutes about whatever comes to mind. There are two rules: you can’t stop writing and no editing. What results appears to be a stream-of-consciousness mess at first, but if you take a closer look, you can usually find a gem – a great idea, the germ of a longer story, or something you want to explore more.

The same goes with establishing an exercise habit. You just have to start. You may not know what types of movement you enjoy most, or what will yield the best results for reaching your goals, but starting will get you on the path to finding out.

2. The first draft will be crappy
In Bird by Bird, author Anne Lamott writes (and I love her even more for it), “Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts… There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go – but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.”

Likewise, your first workout will likely straight up suck. Your muscles will ache. You may have to cut it short because your lungs feel like they’re on fire. You might find that your running speed isn’t anywhere in the vicinity of what it used to be, or that you can’t lift half the weight you once could. Don’t banish your workout gear to the back of your closet. The second workout will be better, and the third, even better than that.

3. You have to switch things up
To become a stronger writer, you have to step out of your comfort zone. Try writing in a different voice or on a different platform, read a book outside of your typical genre, or do a writing exercise that challenges you to think in a new way.

On the exercise front, you have to do the same. If you do the same workout over and over, your body will get used to it and will consume less energy. Challenging your muscles and stamina in new ways will allow you to continually achieve new PRs – and see major results.

4. It’s quality, not quantity, that matters
One of my favorite bloggers, Jeff Goins, writes, “History remembers our words not for how much we said, but for the weight of what we said. Take the Gettysburg Address, for example. One of the most famous speeches in American history, this brief oration delivered by the sixteenth president clocks in at just under five minutes… Great communicators present their points in the most concise and challenging way possible.” One powerful sentence goes a much longer way than a paragraph of sentences that skip around the point.

In the fitness world, we’re hearing more and more about fast workouts – the seven-minute workout and Dr. Oz’s highly publicized 20-minute workout, to name just a couple. Research has found that a short blast of intense exercise can rev up your metabolism for the entire day, more so than a longer, slow and steady workout. I put this theory to the test this week with treadmill workouts featuring major spikes in speed and incline. Ten minutes into my 20-minute workout tonight, I was sweating more than I ever have during my typical 40-minute power walk.

Do you have any great writing and/or exercise tips to share? Did I forget any key similarities? Let me know!

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