Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Writing As Cardio

I don't awaken eager to fire up my laptop and begin writing, but I love having written.

I feel the same way about exercise, especially during this record-breaking Texas heat.

Pitfalls lurk both in writing and workout plans. No credible exercise program guarantees steady weight loss. In fact, many warn newbies they'll initially gain pounds as they build muscle.

For writers, there's painful lag time between learning a craft point and internalizing it and between pinpointing what's not working in a manuscript and figuring out how to fix it. Worse, many a new writer's voice has been squashed, temporarily, by feedback that focuses on grammar rather than on storytelling ability.

Am all-or-nothing attitude sabotages exercise and writing progress. Anyone who overdoes cardio risks working up an appetite so ferocious it can derail a diet—and who can pump iron while holding a doughnut? A writer who doesn't lift her head from the work in progress starves the muse that's hungry for snippets of overheard dialogue and impressions of people recently encountered.

Plateaus, damn them, exist to test the fortitude of exercisers and writers. Imagine working out six days a week for two months without seeing any change on the scale. Now picture a writer stretching her writing muscles for weeks before results appear on the page. It takes discipline and a stubborn streak to keep going when there's little measurable progress.

In exercise and in writing, it matters that we show up. If I go to the park and walk two miles, sweat will trickle past the brim of my ball cap and sting my eyes, but I might spot a blue heron along the bayou and lower my blood pressure. If I open my Word document and begin typing, I might produce many unusable paragraphs, but there's a good chance something will gel and I'll make progress.

The joy that comes with in having written and exercised is a pipe dream until we begin.


Jennifer Groepl said...

Interestingly, I often find my best inspiration while exercising. Focusing on physical labor for a short time is a great way to clear the cobwebs!

Sheila Seabrook said...

This is so true, Pat. I took about four years off from writing at which time I read a lot of writing books and took even more online writing classes. I couldn't seem to understand plot and structure and because I was getting frustrated and panicky, every critique changed my story and voice. Last year, when I finally started writing again, those muscles were flabby and lazy. A year later, I feel like those writing muscles are firm and fit. No longer do I fear putting words to the page.

Now, if I could just find the same determination on the treadmill. :)

Lark Howard said...

Great comparison, Pat! Most of my adult life I've exercised at lunch time. It clears my head (and job stress!)and is a routine I can maintain. Keeping a writing schedule, however,is much harder for me.

The day job, husband time, adult life responsibilities have a way of interfering with that hour of writing time I'd like to set aside as inviolable. Sure, I manage large blocks of time several times a week, but I know my momentum on the WIP would have carried me to THE END if I had the same sacred habit for my writing as I do for my visits to the gym.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Jennifer,
I couldn't agree more. I solve pesky plot problems while walking--and come up with the smart answers I should have given days earlier.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

You've accomplished the writing equivalent of a triathalon. I'm in awe of you.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lark,
If we go to the gym to maintain fitness and safeguard health, we can convince ourselves the family will benefit. Sadly, a lot of writers, women especially, feel guilty about shutting themselves off from family to write. We perceive it as selfish. It's not, and I like your term, "sacred writing." We've got to ditch the guilt.