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Five ways writing is like working out


This isn't me. This is someone who works out so often they don't have time to write.

Photo: Anastase Maragos/ Unsplash



I DO A FAIR AMOUNT OF EXERCISE. I run, play football, cycle, swim and workout in the gym. You're right if you're thinking I'm the master of none of those things.


Anyhow, while I was trotting along a hill at the weekend the idea popped into my head that writing is like working out. Though, obviously, it's a bit less sweaty. Below are five similarities between the two disciplines. So, kick your trainers off, grab yourself a drink and get your pupils moving… Let's go!


1. I aim for optimal timing. Mainly, I exercise first thing in the morning. Well before I can face any breakfast. This is partly because I like having my workout behind me before I down some porridge and get on with my day. I am in no doubt that my AM energy levels are better than my PM ones.


It’s exactly the same with writing. My early exercise appears to provide me with plenty of momentum. Which means I'm more productive before lunch. You, on the other hand, may prefer to get up in the middle of the night and write by candlelight. Whatever works for you works for you. Find your optimal time.


2. I have a set routine for my various workouts. I swim on Tuesdays because my un-young body is slightly broken from playing football on Mondays. And swimming helps put it back together. Having a plan means I don’t have to think about what to do each day. It’s already in my mental diary.


Writing is no different. Sketch out a rough plan of what you want to say before you start writing ‘properly’. Bullet points work well for this. Having a skeleton to work from makes writing easier. All you have to do is join the dots between each bullet point and, ta-dah, you’ve written an article. Or at least a first draft.


3. I focus. I don’t take my work laptop to the gym. I don’t try to respond to work emails at half time during a game of football. When I work out, I focus on exercise. When I write, I focus on making words appear on the screen in front of me.


Switching off notifications helps a lot. Having a quiet space is also useful. No TV, no online games, no nothing but me and the keyboard means I’m fully focused on writing. Try it. It’s also more satisfying than trying to work with distractions.


4. I’m realistic. I don’t expect to compete with Eliud Kipchoge’s times when I go for a run. Nor do I expect to write like Fyodor Dostoevsky or Ernest Hemingway or James Joyce. I don’t need to be like them. People hire me for what I can do. I can follow a brief and write a pretty good blog or article or press pack. I couldn’t write Ulysses. If you’ve ever attempted to read Ulysses you’ll probably be pleased to know I don’t try to replicate Joyce’s style. Being realistic means I’ll meet an agreed deadline. (Please note that Joyce took seven years to complete Ulysses.)


5. I accept it when I hit a wall. An injury will obviously stop me in my tracks. But, sometimes the weather is so miserable I don’t feel like running on the hills. When certain muscles are aching badly, I may need a day away from the gym. Sometimes, I just need to do something else. Athletes call it listening to your body. I call it having an off day.


When I hit a writing wall (when I feel like I’m suffering from writers’ block) I do something else for a while. Try it. Go for a walk. Talk to someone on the phone. Go for a run in miserable weather. Shifting your mind from what you should be doing helps you recalibrate. This invariably has a good effect on your writing when you return to it.


These are just five ways in which writing is similar to working out. Being able to see the similarities helps me get through difficult times. Times when I’m running up a steep hill. Or straining to find the words to make my writing ripple and pulse.


Can you compare writing to what you do away from work? I’d love to know your thoughts.


Thanks for reading.


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