Believe it or not, I used to be a “sporty” kid. Now, I’m not saying that I had great athletic talent (far from it), but I played basketball for seven years, tried cheerleading and volleyball for two, and rode horses competitively (and for leisure) until I went to university. However, somewhere along the way I lost touch with physical activity.
“Somewhere” means age 14 to 15. It started in freshman volleyball, when my coach played favorites (I was not one) and made the rest of the team miserable. Couple that with breaking my arm while horseback riding the following summer, and I was ready to give up sports. I went from a casual athlete to a proud, non-exercising emo kid (but that’s another story).
Since graduating university, I’ve tried to get back into exercise. It’s been a difficult journey, but I think I’m finally making worthy progress again. While I doubt I’ll ever be able to do the splits or run a mile again, I hope to be reasonably fit for my age and keep my body healthy.
In my efforts to rejoin the world of exercise, I’ve noticed numerous parallels between my “health” journey and my “writing” journey. For more on how exercise can help your writing (aka the reverse of this post), click here. Maybe some of them will help you with your own goals, or encourage you to break out that old notebook or yoga mat (whichever you need most).
Step 1: Labeling myself
I don’t believe that you can have success as a writer until you identify as a writer or as “someone who writes.” Making this simple shift enabled me to write my first novel. This same logic applies to my exercise goals. For the longest time, I saw myself as a gym outsider because I don’t identify as an athlete anymore. When I started thinking of myself as “someone who goes to the gym,” I suddenly felt the permission to go. Silly, but important.
Step 2: Choosing my “why”
While I love writing for fun, it was never reason enough for me to finish a novel. It was only when I set a specific, short-term goal (winning National Novel Writing Month) and a long-term goal (becoming a full-time author) that I finished a book. Similarly, when I tried to exercise just because I “should,” I rarely did. Now that I have specific, health-related goals, I’m much more motivated to exercise.
Step 3: Playing the long game
Like writing, exercise is a long-term goal. In order to see any benefit, you must commit to doing it every day (or several times a week). At first, this sucks. But, after I made exercise a regular part of my weekly schedule, both going to the gym and working out while there became easier.
My friend Jonas and I hold each other accountable to our writing goals. While we work separately, we’re walking the path to full-time authorship together. Similarly, my husband and I attend the gym together. Once there, we work out in separate spaces, but we both leave feeling encouraged and confident.
Step 5: Making good use of the time
A productive writing session consists of scheduling the time, planning the scene, then writing with 100% focus and 0% self-criticism. I’ve learned to apply this same system to my gym sessions. The only exception? If I focus on working out, I feel like passing out. Instead, I listen to podcasts or people watch.
Step 6: Forgiving lapses
If you fail to write, don’t guilt yourself. Promise to do better tomorrow. Same goes for exercise.
Step 7: Tracking my progress
I keep track of my daily word counts in a spreadsheet. This helps motivate me to grow my totals and avoid a “blacked-out” day on the calendar. I’m going to apply a similar, weekly system for exercise to keep myself on track.
Step 8: Learning from others
We’ve all seen those “writers” who constantly complain about writer’s block or their misbehaving muse and never write. On the other hand, we’ve all seen those non-stop superstars who we want to emulate. You’ll find those same people at the gym. Every session, I see people come in, do five minutes on the treadmill, and leave. But then there’s Stair Master Guy. He’s a middle-aged man who has been at the gym literally EVERY time I’ve gone – always on the Stair Master, always drenched in sweat. Now that is commitment I want to emulate.
While I have a good start on my writing journey, I still have a long way to go on the road to physical fitness. However, looking at the parallels between the two gives me hope. If I can go from a grumbling, suffering, wannabe writer to a published entrepreneur with two novels, surely I can go from couch potato to routine exerciser. Neither path is easy – but then again, I heard somewhere that nothing worth doing ever is.
So, take it from me. Whether you want to write a book, run a mile, or achieve some other dream, you can do it. The going is slow and difficult and not always fun, but you will get there with patience, commitment, and a positive attitude.
What writing lessons have proved useful in other areas of your life? What non-writing activities have taught you to be a better writer? Share in the comments.