Tag Archives: exercise

Shake Up Your Writing Muscles

I’m not gonna lie, I hate working out.  Yesterday I shook up my work out routine and I’m paying the price.  Instead of relying on the machines for my strength training, I did a few sets of squats that ended in a standing shoulder press with weights.  Not a big deal right?  I mean, lifting is lifting is lifting.

Not!

I can barely walk today.  My thighs burn like a forest fire on a hot July night because of this little tweak in my routine.  No pain, no gain–or so the saying goes.  And it’s true.  To build muscle, we must break it first.  Yet, working our muscles in the exact same way each and every time we hit the gym only trains our muscles to memorize the routine and work more efficiently, thereby burning fewer calories.

Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

Have I mentioned how much I hate working out?  How insane a person must be to think this is FUN?  That self-inflicted torment is so not right on many levels?

And yet, there’s a lesson in here.  If our muscles get bored with the same exact routine, doesn’t it follow that our minds would as well?  That if we only ever write in the exact same place, in the exact same way, each and every day our creativity will suffer from our over-efficiency?

Imagine how much stronger our writing could be if we were unafraid to push ourselves and try something new.  Instead of writing our slow and steady pace, what would happen if we wrote–for just one day–like we were a NaNoWriMo participant?  Or, instead of flying entirely by the seat of our hip-hugging low-riders, what would happen if we actually fleshed out some portion of our novels ahead of time?  Or, what if we wrote in the laundry room or the bathtub or in the middle of the food court in the mall?  What if we performed our day backward and ate dinner for breakfast and started writing after lunch instead of before it?

I’m not suggesting we shake up things every day, just every once in a while to give our brains a little boost.  A little infusion of otherness that challenges our writing muscles and keeps them from getting bored.

How about you?  Do you think this is beneficial, or do  you believe that adhering to a strict schedule is the most productive way to write?  What do you do to shake things up in your writing routine?  What parts of your writing routine are sacred and therefore must never be disturbed?

Curious minds want to know!

What’s your writing weight?

There is a truth in physical health and exercise.  When we begin a workout program, we typically lose a pound or two right away.  We feel good about this and our energy level spikes.  After all, our efforts are paying off.

Yet, this two-day high comes crashing down around us when our weight picks back up and our jeans fit more snugly than ever.  A bulking up period quickly follows our seemingly overnight exercise success.  At the end of week two, we are ready to throw our sneakers in the trash and dive head first into a double layer chocolate cake.

The truth is simple.  Well, actually several truths.

  1. Initial weight loss is typically all water weight.  We burn more calories, sweat and forget to replenish our H2O levels.  All told, our hydration level dips.  We lose a pound or two and rejoice.
  2. Muscle weighs more than fat.  By a lot, actually.  The more “fatty” we are, the less we weigh.  The more muscle we have, the more we weigh.  So, as soon as our bodies kick in gear and we actually start using those long forgotten muscles, we gain weight.  This spike can dishearten many budding health enthusiasts.  When coupled with the third truth, newbies fall off the exercise wagon in droves.
  3. Fat is bigger than muscle.  While it weighs less, it still takes up more room in our jeans.  And since our long-dormant muscles happily respond to our renewed efforts, we build muscle more rapidly than we lose fat.  This creates the sudden need for more space in the waistband as we add muscle bulk to existing chub.

Two weeks in to a new exercise routine and we feel lost.  We’ve gained both weight and bulk.  We are sore and frustrated.  This is the time we need to look forward to a leaner future and hold on to the knowledge that physical health is right around the corner.

Truth 4: Muscle burns more calories than fat.  The more (heavier) muscle we build, the more efficient our bodies become at burning off our love handles and saddle bags. 

We may never actually reach our ideal weight–the one we had in our minds as a goal.  Yet our bodies will be healthier, leaner and stronger.  Toned, not flabby.  Our jeans will fit better and our stamina will increase.

Many newbie writers, like many newbie workout enthusiasts, jump in blind.  We don’t realize that writing is a process, not an overnight success.  Ironically, writing truths are almost identical to weight loss truths.

CAT’S GUIDE TO A HEALTHY WRITING WEIGHT

  1. We must replenish our writing juices as much as a runner must replenish water levels.  Writers need to surround themselves with a support network that quenches their thirst.   We fare better with partners who let us carve out writing time, workspaces that encourage our muses and reading material to keep our minds sharp and fresh.  We need to live life fully so we have experiences to draw upon for story ideas.  We must hydrate our creativity and passion.
  2. As new writers (either new to the biz in general or new to a project), we tend to vomit words onto the page.  We meander, over-describe and populate our work with larger-than-large casts of characters.  During this time, our writing is bulky and heavy.  Run-on sentences run rampant.  Redundant phrases endlessly repeat ideas.  Purple prose flourishes.  But that’s okay.  It’s necessary.  It is the rough draft.  Without this rough draft, we have nothing to edit.  If we give up during this bloated stage of our writing process, we will never reach “the end”.    And so, I encourage writers to ignore the pains of carrying extra weight.  Instead, focus on your ultimate goal: writing a first draft.  It doesn’t have to be great.  Heck, it doesn’t even have to be good.  It just simply needs to be.
  3. Editing is akin to the time when metabolisms reset and we are fat burning machines.  The more practice we get writing and the more we hone our craft, the more efficient we become.  Our manuscripts lean up as we weigh each word choice.  We replace fatty words with more muscular ones.

“But how?” you ask.  “How do I become a writing athlete instead of a failed exerciser?”

Practice.  Learn.  Push yourself.  Every serious athlete sticks to a workout regimen.  They watch videos and read articles on how to improve their techniques.  They set goals.  And when they reach those goals, they challenge themselves to do it all again.  They practice harder, fine-tune the process and reach for loftier goals.

As writers, we are no different.  
 
What is your writing weight?  Do you ever feel the urge to give up on the journey (writing as a whole or individual projects) after that initial bout of creativity?  How do you balance that fragile stage between creativity and completion?  What motivates you to push forward to the next stage despite the frustration?
 
Curious minds want to know!
 
PS: Remeber The Skeleton Key blogvel I raved about earlier?  Well, my turn is up on Monday.  If you haven’t been tracking the progress, please start at Michelle Simkin’s Blog for the first chapter of an intriguing and fun  novel project by fellow aspiring writers!
 
Your weekend reading pleasure: all The Skeleton Key chapters to date.

 

Who Knew and a Challenge to You

I am working on a monstrously huge project right now, so after my day job today, I bellied up to the counter with a bag of left-over Easter Twix and started a web search for important days throughout the year. 

Anyone want to guess what today is?  Yeah, besides being April 7th, 2010, it is also World Health Day

Yep.  Found that out just as I slipped the last bite of gooey, caramel goodness into my mouth.

In honor of World Health, I will put the Twix away and go for a walk around the square.  This is a three mile jaunt and I should be able to get it in before dinner.  If I get my behind in gear.

But before I leave, I challenge you to do something out of the ordinary regarding your health.  Go for a walk.  Forgo the after dinner drink.  Eat a salad.  Throw the chips in the trash or sprint down the block.

In addition, I challenge you to give your favorite villian a conscience.  Tell us the villian you love to hate and what he/she would do to honor this day of health.

I choose Professor Snape to indulge in a hand to hand dragon fighting match–sans magic.

How far is your spread?

Yes, you read that right.  Spread, not reach.

Writers are in the enviable position of working in their jammies, snacking on gummy bears whenever the mood strikes them and having their erratic behavior excused as “genius”. 

Where we lose the edge is our seats.  Literally.  The longer we sit, the wider our bums tend to get.  I think there is a direct link to the gummy bears, but I could be wrong.  It might also have to do with the fact that writing uses amazing amounts of brain power, yet does nothing to tone below the neck. 

While it may be a while before I’m ready to compete for the Mrs. Universe Body Building Competition, I think I’ve slowed the spread enough to keep DH from putting me outside with tomorrow’s trash.  Here are a few tricks that have kept my writer’s rear from spreading to the next county. 

  • I walk to the farthest bathroom from where I’m at.  This inevitably means taking a flight of stairs on the way there and back.  It might not sound like much, but I think it helps–especially if I drink copius amounts of liquid.
  • If I snack, I take small portions.  Small means a faster refill.  If I’m still inclined to gobble more goodies, I have to make my way back to the kitchen for seconds.  Sometimes my sheer laziness means less calories consumed. 
  •  I try to change positions often.  A little wiggle burns more calories than a mere finger tap on the keyboards.  I’ve also been known to do a few lunges, jumping jacks or other such silly things just to get the blood flowing again.
  • I like to intersperse my Real Life duties with my writing duties.  This ensures I get up often and move around.  Laundry, bed making and sweeping can burn off gummy bear chub faster than chewing them can.
  • For an added bonus, I sometimes tighten my tummy or tushy.  One of the best exercises for a muscle is to be used.  I know, break-through info here.  But seriously, by contracting your muscles periodically throughout the day and either holding them until you feel the burn or rhythmically releasing and contracting them, you will do far more for your lower body than you can imagine.  And, it’s one of the few exercises you can do while still writing.  Or driving, or talking on the phone, or standing in line at the post office, or eating gummy bears…

What tips and tricks do you have to make your writing day a little more physical? 

*no gummy bears were harmed in the writing of this post*

Universal Appeal

By now some of you have met my DH.  You know he manages an ag dealership and hunts small, helpless animals.  Ostensibly to feed the family, though I’m not sure how Mr. Hare fits into that.  DH’s also a fitness buff.

Two years ago, he insisted on having his own work out room in the basement.  I’m pretty agreeable so I helped design the room and carry the stair master, the treadmill and the rowing machine down the stairs.  I stopped at the Universal Gym. Mostly because it was heavy, but also because I dislike them. 

Which leads me to the question: why do they call it universal?

It has no bicycle saddle, I can’t climb stairs on it and the last time I tried to sprint on it, I fell off and broke my nose.  Okay, that didn’t really happen, but you get the picture.  It is not universal.  Nor does it have universal appeal.  For every ounce of love DH has for it, I equal it in hate.

Literature is no different.  Not one novel in the history of writing has universal appeal.  For every advocate, there is a dissenter.  And yet aspiring writers continue to judge themselves by the books they do not like. 

As much as I like to pretend otherwise, I have fallen into this trap.  Tucked inside my desk drawer is a hideous picture book that I do not like.  I keep it because it inspires me. 

“If ABC got published then surely my XYZ will,” I say as I stuff the book into the far recesses of my desk.

Does this make me a snob?  Maybe.  Most definitely.

But I’ve been trying to change.  Over the years I have learned that the publishing industry is highly complex.  It is not a solo jog on the treadmill.  Rather, it’s a lot like those pulleys and weights on DH’s universal machine.  Everything is interconnected in ways I don’t always see or can’t begin to understand.  Yet my lack of comprehension does not change the fact that these systems must all work together to create the end result.

In writing, I must have talent, ability and perseverence just to get my story onto paper.  This is closely followed by motivation and honesty.  Yep, honesty.  I have to assess my writing with a discerning eye. 

Instead of dragging my old nemesis, The Picture Book, out from the drawer and comparing it to my work, I have to look at my writing indpendently.  They are two completely different pieces of literature.  Someone already believed in that book.  Mine has yet to wow the Publishing Gods.  And, inevitably, my writing will have faults too.  Who knows, it may be tucked away in another aspiring writer’s desk drawer for inspiration.

I hate the reality of that, but it doesn’t stop me from trying.  Sometimes years go by before a manuscript is ready for a serious work out–the one it will get by agents and editors and marketing departments and design staff.  At any stage in the process, someone can decide that my proposed, next best-seller hits them like The Picture Book hits me.   

No writing has universal appeal.  I loved the Bartimaeus Trilogy, my brother didn’t read past the first five pages.  Yet it made the rounds and can be found in a book store near you.

For a manuscript to journey from rough draft to end caps, it must undergo a rigorous work out on the universal machine.  We must provide the best work possible.  Our agents must love, love, love our book enough to gamble next year’s mortgage on it.  Editors, marketing managers and designers must believe in the project enough to put their sweat and ink into it.

If writing is a quick stint on the Stair Master, publishing is a work out on the Universal Gym.  I can tone my manuscript solo, but without the pulleys and weights, my writing will remain in my desk drawer next to The Picture Book.

It’s not to say everyone will love my books after purchasing them with their hard earned money.  I’m smart enough to know that.  However, somewhere along the way, I must have a team willing to pull for me. 

I’m sure that has Universal Appeal!

Do you find yourself comparing your work to published pieces?  If so, what do you take away from the experience?  Does it help you move forward or simply fuel your frustration?

Have you ever found a book with Universal Appeal?  If so, I’d like to know about it.