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What My Exercise Routine Taught Me About Writing

Writing is like exercise. It’s challenging. It hurts. It takes commitment. Sometimes you don’t want to do it.


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Brooke Harrison

4 months ago | 7 min read
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Writing is like exercise. It’s challenging. It hurts. It takes commitment. Sometimes you don’t want to do it.

I didn’t have a workout routine because (1) I didn’t know where to start, (2) it’s hard, and (3) gyms are intimidating. At some point I said to myself, this is silly. My body needs exercise, and I want to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

I decided to try Kayla Itsines’ “Sweat” app because it removed some of the barriers to entry… the app tells you exactly what to do and how to do it, and I could work out at home.

The thing about exercise is this: the more you work out, the better you get at it. And the better you become, the more you want to work out. This is true of almost anything, especially our creative pursuits.

Exercise is about 2 things: discipline & consistency. When I decided to commit to my writing as I’d done my workout routine, I began to see the parallels between the two…

The Hardest Part is Getting Started

I work out first thing in the morning. And let me tell you something: I never jump out of bed feeling “excited” to exercise when my alarm goes off. Getting out of bed is the first difficult decision. And then it’s pulling on my workout gear. And then it’s warming up.

But once I’m out of bed, I may as well get dressed. And once I’m dressed… ok, sure, I’ll do a few reps.

Writing is the same way. It’s those first few moments when I sit down at my desk, and I feel like a child because I’m so squirmy. I’ll tidy my workspace, or check my email (again), or get up to go to the bathroom. Suddenly, anything and everything is more pressing than the task at hand: writing.

All you need to do is take that first step. The first push-up, the first squat, the first sentence. Once you’ve crossed the threshold, there’s a much higher likelihood that you’ll continue.

Doing Something Is Better Than Nothing

I used to think it didn’t “count” if I couldn’t finish my exercise circuits. But even a little exercise is better than none at all. Whether it’s a quick power walk or a few reps, at least I’ve forced my body to move.

It’s tempting to procrastinate my writing when I don’t have the time to dedicate a whole hour. But I always regret it. Because one skipped session turns into two, or three… and then I’ve lost my forward momentum.

5 words is better than no words. A sentence, a paragraph, a page… don’t underestimate the power of those daily inputs. It will add up over time.

Create a Routine

When I built my workout into my morning routine, exercising was no longer a choice. I’d been treating my workouts as if they were “optional.” Rather than “hey, should I work out today?” it became “Wednesday — arms & abs.”

For the longest time, I treated my writing as if it were optional, too. I allowed myself to skip a session if I hit a creative block or felt uninspired. Excuses included “I’m not ready,” and “I need to let that idea stew.”

Now, writing is a non-negotiable daily habit — it’s become part of my morning routine. Wake up, work out, write. Whether it’s a timeframe, a word count goal, or something else — all that matters is you do.

You’ll Be Better At Some Things Than Others

Don’t ask me why, but abs are my favorite day of the week. I could do sit-ups all day long (this is a gross exaggeration), but I still can’t do a pushup without resting my knees on the ground.

I’m good at writing dialogue, and so I enjoy it. I feel less confident about other skills — like writing in third-person POV, or drafting scenes with a lot of exposition. And that’s ok. Take pride in the things you do well, and let it fuel your fire — to tackle all the other stuff that requires more time and attention.

You Need to Warm Up and Cool Down

My warmup helps me ease into my workout routine (especially when I’m still sleepy). The exercises are simple, intended to warm up my muscles for the full workout.

And when I’ve finished my circuits, I look forward to the cool down, to stretch and lower my heart rate.

I find it difficult to sit down and launch immediately into writing. Unfortunately, I’m not that disciplined (yet). I have a few routines that help me get into the creative frame of mind.

I like to read about craft — either an article or a few pages from a craft book I enjoy. Sometimes I’ll journal or freewrite.

To “cool down,” I take a few minutes to journal and reflect on the session. I’ve written an article about this process and how it’s helped.

It Never Gets Easier

I thought it would only take a few months before I could make it through a workout without feeling like I would die. Well, yes and no… I’m stronger now, and I can do more reps, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It still hurts. And I still feel sore the next day.

In her post The Things Nobody Tells You About Being An AuthorAlly Carter writes…

“The writing doesn’t get any easier… The old adage is right: you never learn how to write a novel. You just learn how to write the novel you’re writing right now.”

If you’re not sore, you’re not growing. Discipline and experience will make some things more intuitive — your ability to write and revise faster, to differentiate the good ideas from the silly ones — but the actual writing will never be any “easier.” Every project has its own unique challenges, and you will never be a stranger to doubt, fear, or creative blocks.

With knowledge comes acceptance. When you let go of the expectation that writing will get easier with time, you’ll feel so much freer to create.

The More Reps, the Stronger You’ll Feel

…all that said, you’re building muscle. I remember how exciting it was to feel physically stronger at the end of the first month. Over the next several months, I gained energy and endurance. Taking the stairs doesn’t leave me winded anymore.

Deliberate practice, my friends. Build your creative muscles by writing every day and learning more about your craft.

You’re Playing the Long Game

I felt discouraged when I started the new workout routine because I knew there was a long road ahead. “Getting in shape” doesn’t happen overnight — it takes consistent progress.

If you want results, you have to be consistent. There’s no shortcut.

“You have to resign yourself to the fact that you waste a lot of trees before you write anything you really like, and that’s just the way it is.” ~ J.K. Rowling

Some Days Are Harder Than Others

Monday is leg day. I do not look forward to leg day. The workout is tough and I’m always sweaty, sore, and worn out by the end of it. Some days are harder than others and you may not know why.

Some days, the words flow freely. Maybe I’m feeling motivated or inspired, or I’ve reached a scene I’m excited to draft. Those days are the best. Other days, writing feels like walking on the sand with something heavy strapped to my back.

Again, it’s the consistency that counts. On tough days, you give yourself a mental pep talk and you put in the time. Because it’s the reps that count.

Listen To Your Body

Every now and then — it doesn’t happen often — I wake up feeling like a truck ran me over. Getting out of bed to work out feels impossible.

I’m not talking about the days when you “just don’t feel like it.” Those especially are the days when you need to push through. No, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’ve learned to listen to my body and trust my gut.

Sometimes you’ll need the extra rest. When this happens to me, it’s usually because I’m coming down with something or my body is reacting to stress. It is OK to take a break.

When your brain is fried — take a break. Come back to the writing later. Sometimes you need to set a project aside to gain clarity.

If You Miss a Day, It’s Not the End of the World

Life happens. I get sick, or I have to be at work early, or I’m traveling. If I have the opportunity to work out later in the day, I’ll take it. If not, I don’t beat myself up about it — at least, not anymore.

One missed day will not negate your progress. But the goal is to get back to your routine as soon as possible. Don’t let the guilt of missing a day (or a few) persuade you that it’s no longer worth it, or that you should give up. That’s completely counterintuitive and nonsensical.

Yes, there are days when the routine is thrown off. Write again at the next available opportunity. Get back in the writing chair and resume your streak.

Your Thoughts Have Power

Growing up, I convinced myself I wasn’t “sporty.” That label belonged to my sister, who tried her hand at every sport (and was good at them all).

Something changed when I made the commitment to work out consistently (no excuses allowed!). As time went by, and I continued to stick to the routine, my internal dialogue changed… I stopped telling myself that I wasn’t athletic.

“Your mind believes what you tell it.” ~ Paul J Meyer

Tell yourself you’re a writer, and you’ll start acting like one.

You Feel Really Good When You’re Done

I feel great when I’ve finished a workout. Sore and sweaty, sure, but I’m ready to take on the day.

There’s a feeling of satisfaction for accomplishing something you maybe didn’t want to do. Another day down. Another workout logged.

I feel that same sense of satisfaction when I write. I’ve taken what’s in my head and wrangled it down into something coherent on paper. Taking steps toward your goals always feels good.

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