Writing is a Muscle, Flex it

    Sometimes I have to remind myself I’m not Ernest Hemingway, allowed to take hours at a time sipping aperitifs and people watching in Paris before I muster the requisite inspiration to sit down and write something. My goodness, if I did that and my husband subsequently found out, he’d feverishly protest the abundance of chicken nugget nights that seem to bottleneck when I get close to a deadline.

On the first manuscript I completed, however, I remember only writing when I felt like it. It took me two years to finish. And when it was summarily dubbed “Good, but not quite there,” I responded in a few ways. First, there was the shaking of my fists in the air. Second, there was the stint of self-loathing. (Which as a writer, I feel I have a natural right to exhibit, prancing back and forth, moaning, as if I’m original in my pain.) And third, an issuance of a new battle cry: I will never waste that much time again.

Two years of my life back then was the difference between a head of my own black hair, and a bottle of L’oreal Black Midnight to cover the greys that had suddenly popped up. When I began working on my next manuscript, I forced myself to work every day, for a set amount of time, or a set amount of words.

In my day job as an attorney, I have no problem writing piles and piles of drivel . . . I mean, well thought, and well-argued points of law . . . in a quick, methodic manner. Shouldn’t I be applying the same work ethic to a manuscript? And when I did, I wrote 120,000 words in just over two months. Of course, I have to give some credit to the story being an easy tell, but I give more credit to the fact I determined to make it a work task rather than a pipe dream.

I wanted to develop a rhythm with my writing, a habit if you will, that would self-execute even when—get this—I didn’t feel like it. And sure, sometimes I had whole pages that looked as presentable and appetizing as the floor of a gas station bathroom, but that has happened on occasion when I was trying my best.

When you train a muscle to work, when you exercise it daily and watch it tone and tighten, there’s this mental assurance that the next big set of weights—the next writing task ahead—is within your range. Further, if you work those muscles hard enough, they’ll keep working for you, burning for you, long after you put the weights down. They’ll even keep you going on days when you don’t feel like working at all.

Bottom line is that writing doesn’t come and go in these magical, muse-driven spurts, as if some wayfaring pixie is sprinkling special dust and making you transcend. It’s a muscle begging its owner to use and improve upon it. Getting it to its optimum is going to take you gritting your teeth. You may even have to pop out a neck vein here and there.

And once that’s done, you can pull out the Hemingway routine during your next vacation or when you’re trying to be aloof for your friends. That’s always a fun gig.

41 Replies to “Writing is a Muscle, Flex it”

  1. I am impressed, 120,000 words in two months. Wow. I set weekly word/page count goals. If I miss a day, I don’t beat myself up, I just know I have to make it up the next day to meet my weekly goal.

    1. I’m doing the second book now . . . I think the 120K may have been beginner’s luck. That, or there are more entertaining shows on TV now. 🙂

      1. lol, yes sometimes I have to turn off the T.V. Writing while watching isn’t always the most productive thing, says the girl watching Desperate Housewives.

  2. Totally agree with you on this, which is why I do a prompt a day (between 200 and 1000 words) every single day. It’s been hard, but so rewarding 🙂

    Good luck flexing that muscle 😉


    1. Yes, rewarding! That’s the right word. I know there’s a million other things I could be doing, and may even feel like doing, but the pay off is sheer fulfillment.

  3. I’m with Vickie in that I also write from a word prompt almost every day. It has it’s downside in that it distracts me from my manuscript, though! Even with that, you are so right: writing every day keeps the block away.

    Thanks for the post!

  4. Great post. One other benefit to writing every day is you keep the story fresh and interesting in your mind. All of us have so many stories that we never finished, but it seems to me that if you work on your story every day, it’s easier to stay excited about it and actually finish it.

    1. YES! As another poster has commented, I used to take weekends off. But then Monday rolls around and I’d rather stick my head in the sand then try to “refresh” myself.

  5. I’ve been taking weekends off from my writing, but I’m learning that Monday becomes a catch-up, get back in the groove kind of day – which means I’m left with only four real writing days a week. Thanks for the inspiration to push a little harder!

    1. Agreed! This is why I know roll through, working all the way, the weekends. Couldn’t have said it better myself: catch-up Mondays make for a four day work week, not a five.

  6. This is a great article, and a much needed reminder at precisely the right time. I manage a large river resort by day, and just landed my first book contract. Going into our busiest time of year, while I knock out nine more non-fiction chapters will be a challenge, so I’ll write every moment I can.

    Setting word count goals will keep me on track. Training myself prior to this big event means my writing muscles are in top form. Keeping things organized will be key to efficiency. But I’ll also need continuous coaching from my Mentor. Without God guiding, the Holy Spirit’s energizing inspiration, and the grace of Jesus, my muscles will atrophy, and I’ll stumble and fall. Thank you for being His assistant with a timely word today.

    1. You’re welcome and thanks for the kind words! I needed it myself, actually, so I guess we’re both being big old procrastinators. 🙂 Lately, I’ve been finding that the set aside time is more productive than the word count goal. If the word count goal was met in the first hour, then I’d pop on over to Facebook and meander for the rest of my “writing time.” When I told myself that I’d write for two hours straight, no matter what, then I actually exceeded the word count and get the project done faster.

    1. So true! I’m finding that in all aspects of my life. It’s come together at the same time: writing, raising young kids, and the dreaded gym. All needing serious discipline.

  7. Great post. It really is a case of trying to set a target for each day/week/month.

    1. Thanks! I’ve found on this new project I’m working on, the only set time that works is at night, when I’d otherwise be trying to obliterate my friends on Words With Friends on Facebook. 🙂 However, I wrote the last project all between 10am to 12pm. Can’t say what the sudden difference is, but the link is that a target was set for both. We need those goals.

      1. I totally agree. I used to be a night owl as well but with three children I now find myself fit for nothing by about 10pm so my best writing slot is early morning or immediately after the school run. We have to adapt to suit each project, I guess.

  8. Well, I was going to spend the next hour or so reading e-mails and finding semi-productive ways to twiddle my thumbs until my plans for the evening, but you know what? New plan. This shall be a writing hour1 My latest novel in progress won’t complete itself! Let’s see if I can crank out a chapter or two before that evening engagement… Thanks for the nudge, Heather. (:

  9. I just happened to read this article this morning, as I’m preparing to go get ready to leave for the office for my day job – as a lawyer. I appreciated very much the thoughts you shared here. With a full time law practice, I am struggling still to find/make the time to write daily and find a rhythm as I pursue a lifelong dream of writing my first novel. I am finding that, for me, the hardest part of the process is just opening Scrivener. Once I do that, and find (or create) the scene card that’s a place to start, somehow I can get a few hundred words written. Much of it is drivel, but at least I can edit drivel (later). Just getting those words on a page, no matter how bad they are, is a triumph for me.

    Thanks again for sharing. Really encouraged me this morning. Now to work. . . .

    1. I’m glad it helped! It is a challenge to squeeze EXTRA writing and proofing in after a full day of a lawyer’s job, but I find them so different (my fiction and civil litigation work), that my brain calls it: Monday morning and Friday night. Even on a Wednesday. 🙂

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