In our thin obsessed culture, information on starting an exercise routine is everywhere. Lately I have been doing research into the science of how we learn and how our minds work for creating the structure of school on Avalon. (The politics behind education, as opposed to the research, is the topic of another post.) One conclusion which seems so obvious if you have studied both exercise and learning is how similar the basic concepts are. Treat your brain like it is a muscle. It is not a great leap to then apply the basic concepts of an exercise routine to writing.
Short Steady Work Yields Better Results than Long but Infrequent
Most of us intuitively understand if you want to run a marathon you need to train over the course of weeks or months. You don’t try to run 15 miles and expect to wake up bright and early the next morning to run the whole marathon if you haven’t been doing smaller runs up until then.
Why then do too many people rely on late night cramming sessions rather than frequent short study sessions?
Roseanne Bane of the blog Bane of Your Resistance teaches about fifteen minute commitments to try to do small writing tasks frequently. I find often if I have a day with only the time/energy to write a scene or jot down a few quick notes, the next day I will return much more energy to write than if I give myself a complete break. The short work will give me an idea that will propel me forth at the next writing session.
Push Yourself Slightly Beyond your Limits, but no to the Point of Harm
When weight training, the method is to gradually increase weight to make the muscles grow stronger. Staying at the same weight won’t strengthen your muscles. Increase weight too much and too fast and you risk physical harm.
We only have so much mental energy or space in our thoughts. Writing the same thing over and over is boring. If in a creative rut, use some randomizer to create writing prompts and see where it goes. Or rewrite a scene from a different character’s perspective. Something to shake things up if they get stale. I have found when pushing myself to do marathon writing, there is a point I need to recharge or else what comes out will be shit. You can only run for so long.
Work on Different Skills
Professional athletes who work out every day usually don’t work the same muscle groups. Cardio one day, upper body a different day, lower body the next or whatever combination. Resting in between weight lifting sessions is important because that is how your body builds the stronger muscle.
Writing has many different parts. Actually writing the scenes. Plotting, character development, revising. Research. Occasionally throwing stuff out. My current work may be cheating a bit. As I am going through and revising, I am realizing I need to rewrite certain chapters from scratch or write new scenes. So in essence I am revising and creating new work at the same time.
Having multiple projects, especially in different stages, is a way of keeping the writing from becoming stagnant. (Pro tip: Don’t work on different projects in the same session, but definitely work on different scenes.)
One day write about the world you are creating or a character’s back story. Take a break from your current WIP to journal about how you feel about it. Do a series map. There are endless possibilities.
Don’t be Afraid to Take Breaks
While working out, staying hydrated is necessary for safety. Pain is an indication you are pushing your body too far. (There is a huge difference between discomfort and pain.)
The Pomodoro timer is useful for writes. Basically, set a timer for when you’re working with short breaks at set intervals. Even when faced with a deadline with real consequences a walk around the block can do wonders.
When writing this post, I realized the next logical step would be talking about how to structure and actual writing session. Have no fear, I will blog on that topic next week.