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Treat Writing as a Workout, Not a Craft

By Momoko Price, January 12, 2014

It seems like 99.9% of us have the same guilt-ridden, dysfunctional relationship with writing, be it copywriting, academic writing or creative writing.

We love it … and we hate it.

We make plans to write more, write better, write daily. Then, every evening, we find some irresistible reason not to.

Too tired.

Not feeling it today.

I can catch up tomorrow.

New series on Netflix!

The list goes on.

Up until recently, I was the worst at neglecting my personal (i.e. non-client) writing projects. Once in a blue moon, maybe every six weeks or so, I would force myself — mentally kicking and screaming the entire time — to sit in front of my computer for an hour and force out a few tepid paragraphs. And I’d hate every word.

Over the last few weeks, however, things have improved dramatically. I’ve been putting in at least an hour every day on my writing projects; and sometimes up to 5 or 6 on weekends.

So … what’s changed?

I finally stopped looking at writing as a creative aspiration, a work obligation, or even a hobby. I now see writing as a workout. Workouts are something you have to do regularly to see any improvement. You can’t “cram” workouts and you can’t make up for them, either. You just have to do them — no excuses.

In fact, I’ve discovered that writing is actually a lot like jogging: The first few months suck. Every workout just underscores how out of shape you are and how lazy you’ve been. Every workout feels pointless and tiring. And only occasionally — after dozens of shitty, demoralizing workouts — are you ever rewarded with anything close to a pleasant experience.

Like jogging, writing can be dreadful and soul-sucking — until you adapt to it. The trick is figuring out how to push past those first few shitty, demoralizing months until you finally break through and start experiencing some of its benefits — whether it’s an inspired moment, a beautiful turn of phrase, or the admiration of an editor.

Have you had trouble getting into the groove of writing daily? If so, here are just a few helpful tricks I've borrowed from my experiences as a runner:

1) Start small.

Take a look at the training plan of a Couch-to-5K app: Do you start by running 1 kilometre the first week, then 2 the next, then 3 the next? Hardly. You start by walking first, and then jog for maybe a minute or two (at whatever pace you can manage).

By the same token, your first few weeks of writing “workouts” should be easy & short, not hard & long. The challenge at this stage isn’t about writing anyway. It’s about learning to ignore the voice in your head that says you can't do it.

2) Focus on time, not output.

Every beginner running program starts with time-based workouts (run for a certain number of minutes per day), not distance-based workouts (run a certain number of miles per day). Focusing on output before you’ve established a strong, regular habit just puts extra pressure on your workouts, which makes it all the more tempting to quit. Some writers recommend putting in a certain number of words per day, but I personally find it much easier to commit to a certain amount of time per day. The words will follow.

3) Keep track.

Tracking your sessions and what you accomplish over time is critical for stoking your motivational fires, whether you’re training for a marathon or writing a novel. Try logging the number of days in a row you write without skipping a “workout”. If you’re a data geek (like me), you can use Excel or Google Spreadsheets for this, or you can use a productivity app like Commit. Because sometimes all you need to keep on going is seeing how far you’ve already come.

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