How to Create a Writing Practice (Even When It’s No Fun)

How to create a writing practice

How to Create a Writing Practice (Even When It’s No Fun)

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My personal trainer is out of town on vacation, and so this week I’m on my own in showing up for and directing my workouts. (Literary alert: Extended metaphor ahead!)

I do not want to go work out today, as evidenced by the fact that I am procrastinating by writing this blog post instead of getting it over with. The truth is I never want to go work out. I don’t actually love doing it. It’s hard. In the moment it feels bad.

What I love, though is how good it makes me feel later—maybe not in the day or two afterward, when I’m walking around like Frankenstein’s monster because everything is stiff. But for most of the rest of my life when I am not actively working out or feeling the acute effects of pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of doing at that moment, my regular workout practice has made me feel stronger, more fit, more agile, and more energetic.

Not unlike the way that the more regularly I write, the more progress I make on my projects and the better I get as a writer.

I like the way I look thanks to my exercise regimen too, and it’s much more fun to get dressed every day when I’m not mostly focusing on the cunning use of camouflage. I like that, as I frequently tell my husband, I’m creating the body I’m going to age in, and hopefully putting currency in the bank for a healthier and more active old age.

There’s no resting on laurels in writing. As soon as you stop, your work stops growing, both literally and figuratively.

Dammit.

In the same way, even when I don’t always feel like writing, I love rereading what I’ve accomplished thanks to my regular writing practice, love the body of work I’ve created, love that I’m putting ideas into the world that will hopefully continue to reach people long into the future.

And the extra-annoying thing is, I have to keep working out regularly to continue to reap those benefits I value. It’s the same gripe I have with vacuuming: I can’t just endure the unpleasantness to get to the point where I want things and then trust that it will last forever. I have to vacuum again. Regularly, in fact.

I have to go into the gym multiple times a week, even on days when I don’t feel like it, even when I’m busy, or else all these muscles I’ve created start to atrophy and fade away. I lose all the ground I’ve already gained.

There’s no resting on laurels in writing either. As soon as I stop, my work stops growing, both literally and figuratively.

Dammit again.

Creating a Writing Workout Regimen

As with writing—which I genuinely enjoy—it’s not that I don’t like physical activity. I actually love it. Point me toward any kind of a game or something physical and fun and I’m in. I often take breaks in the middle of my writing day and go jump like a frolicsome child on my mini trampoline for a quick energy and mood boost. I take classes in self-defense and dance and bungee-fitness. I play pickleball and go on bike trips and hike with friends and walk my two dogs—separately!—every single day, twice a day.

But that’s not necessarily going to get me the specific results I want, which—let’s be honest—have more than a little bit to do with muscles. I like being strong.

It’s called a workout, not a “fun-out.” It’s right there in the name.

Read more: “Why Do You Write?

If all I wanted was to stay in reasonable shape and good health, my fun activities are probably enough, but they’re not going to get me to my personal goals—just like the fun writing of journaling and sprints and self-contained passages where you simply get to indulge your imagination and creativity aren’t necessarily going to get you toward your specific publication goals if that includes full-length stories and publication. For that you have to be a bit more disciplined and do things that may feel hard in the moment and a lot less fun.

It’s called a “workout,” not a “fun-out.” I mean, it’s right there in the name.

Finding the Fun in the Pain

And yet…if I’m honest (do NOT tell my trainer this), I actually do like my workouts most of the time. As much as it’s challenging to push myself to the point of exhaustion and muscle failure, it’s also fun to face that challenge, to meet it, to slowly see my progress as it takes more to challenge me as time goes on and I realize how much stronger I’ve become.

And it’s fun to share that with my “workout community.” My trainer has become a friend—we chat a lot about our lives and businesses. I look forward to seeing him when I go.

I share sessions with my best friend, so I get to hang out with her for a bonus hour twice a week too, and we chat throughout the workout—sometimes to the point that our trainer must break us up to separate corners of the gym to make us focus, but being together makes the time more enjoyable and lets us complain good-naturedly to each other about the pain and effort, which seems to lessen them.

And a whole bunch of our friends have started working out at the same gym—some with our same trainer at different times—so we get to compare notes and progress, which is validating and…okay, I’ll admit it, fun.

I have a lot of pressing items on my to-do list today. It would be easy to just bottom-list my workout and reclaim that hour for other projects. After all, my trainer isn’t here and no one is waiting for me or expecting me to get my ass in there. I’m the only one holding me accountable.

But I know that if I miss one workout, it’s going to be easier to miss the next one too. And once I’ve missed two, I’m going to start to lose motivation because I know my abilities will already be starting to slip and the next workout is going to be a lot harder. Plus I’ll start to get used to reclaiming that time in my schedule and I’ll lose the habit.

Read more: Getting Back on Track When Your Writing Is Derailed"

So I’m off to the gym to push myself “to the pain!” as Westley challenges Prince Humperdinck. The hardest part is so often just getting myself there. But I default to my established routines: put on my workout clothes and shoes, do my warm-up, get my water, and physically show up to where I need to be. That’s the biggest hurdle. Once I’m there I’ve got momentum and I’ll do what I need to do. Eventually I know I’ll start to actually relish pushing myself.

And even if I don’t enjoy it today…I’ll still be glad I did it.

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8 Comments. Leave new

  • Gilbert Corliss
    July 11, 2024 2:52 pm

    Very inspirational piece. I am a practiced and proficient procrastinator. I have it down to a science (addiction). I fear if I stop procrastinating, my talent will become lax and useless. My writing has suffered from the siren song of Facebook, and this has inspired me to redirect my focus to my daily commitment to my goals, and leave the will practiced procrastination behind.

    Reply
    • Oh, social media…the crack of procrastinators. 😉 Love your disciplined approach, Gilbert. Have you read James Clear’s Atomic Habits? It’s full of practical, useful tools to push through procrastination and create habits we want to form. I’m also a fan of just straight-up self-discipline, but he offered some really helpful techniques.

      Reply
  • Cathy Shouse
    July 11, 2024 3:36 pm

    What a great analogy! Yesterday I was in the same boat, didn’t have a scheduled time with my trainer but had promised myself to go on my own. The time neared to leave and I said to my husband, “It would be so easy not to go.” But, like you, I was aware how just slipping a little can become a slippery slope, and I’ve worked so diligently to get where I am. In the end, we both went.

    Now you’ve helped me to see ways to apply this to my writing. It’s a win-win. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Glad it resonated! Like you, I find if I can just get past that initial block of resistance, it’s fine. But that block can be a real hurdle. I don’t remember where I heard it, but there’s a saying I love: “Engagement precedes interest.” Even if I’m dreading something, if I just start doing it pretty soon I get into it. Thanks for the comment!

      Reply
  • Tiffany's Trainer
    July 11, 2024 4:53 pm

    I approve this post 🙂

    Reply
  • Jo Anne Burgh
    July 11, 2024 5:04 pm

    I love your analogy, which is very timely for me. Back on 4/1/24, I appropriated Jami Attenberg’s 1,000 words of summer (which I’ve done two or three times) for (a) spring, and (b) 30 days instead of 14. I figured this would help me to jump-start my new novel which, at that point, was little more than a few vague ideas and a couple thousand words. So, I committed that I would write at least 1,000 words every day for the entire month of April.

    The funny thing is that as April drew to a close, I found I wasn’t ready to stop. I went back through my old blog posts and found one from 2017 about how violinist Hilary Hahn had practiced the violin every day for 100 days and how lots of other people were doing a 100-day challenge to develop habits. One hundred days sounded huge, but I tend to write long books, so I thought, “Okay–1,000 words a day for 100 days will be 100,000 words.” It still sounded huge, but I decided to give it a shot.

    And so it began. One of my cats, Charlotte, took it upon herself to be my coach, curling up beside me every night in the recliner as I wrote. (One night, when I was having a late dinner and thus hadn’t gotten to the recliner on time, Charlotte paced back and forth beside the table. Who knew she could tell time?) Even on a now-infamous night when I worked (day-job) until 3:30 a.m., I made it a point to do my 1,000 words before I went to bed because I was damned if a judge’s unreasonable deadline was going to interfere with my goal.

    On Tuesday, July 9, 2024, I reached the 100-day goal, clocking in at nearly 110,000 words for the manuscript. Mind you, there’s a boatload of work to do–including scenes remaining to be written as well as lots to be rewritten or excised–but even so, last night–after the challenge was technically over–I sat down in the recliner, Charlotte beside me, and wrote another 1,000 words. For now, at least, the habit is sticking.

    I think this particular challenge worked for me for two reasons. First, I respond well to deadlines. (We procrastinators thrive on them.) Second, I learned to stop considering whether I *felt* like writing, and I simply did it. Turns out, if you show up regularly, so does the muse. I have a little purple notebook dedicated exclusively to this novel, and it’s always within reach so that whatever ideas, snippets of dialogue, etc. may occur to me can always be recorded.

    Now, if only I could apply all this discipline to working out. . . . 😉

    Reply
    • Wow, Jo Anne, how I love this! It’s astonishing what kind of progress we can make with small but consistent efforts. Just do this one thing…and then the next thing in front of you…and the next, and before you know it you’ve finished whatever it was you were so daunted by. And I love that it helped form a habit for you–I do think you’re right: If we commit to a regular habit and do the thing even if we don’t feel like it, we see results. (My muscles are living proof for me…. 🙂 ) I too am a great lover of deadlines–I need the structure and expectation. Congrats on your impressive manuscript completion–that’s inspiring! (Now you get to start the slog all over again to summit Revision Mountain…but that also gets done the same way–by small, regular increments.) Thanks for sharing.

      Reply

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