May 23 2018
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4 workout tips to strengthen writing muscles

Feeling motivated to make some writing gains but overwhelmed and not sure where to start? Shawna Ayoub Ainslie shares some workout advice that translates easily to overcoming challenges on the page.

When you want to develop any skill, you practice it.

When I learned to play basketball, I started with dribbling and passing drills that improved my hand-eye coordination and in-game reflexes. When I learned to swim, I practiced floating. When I learned to write poetry, I practiced rhyming. Sure, not all poems need rhyme, but I started teething on poetry as a toddler, my gracious mother following me around and taking down my (no doubt adorable) dictations. When I couldn’t quite find rhyme (think “orange”), she introduced slant rhyme. I focused on that as a skill for a while.

Tightening sentences, muscling up metaphors, strengthening similes—these are all ways to give our writing a workout. Other areas to make gains include writing for longer periods or word counts (stamina) or the heavy lifting of harder subjects (strength). In this metaphor, your writing implement is your barbell/treadmill/bike. Your creativity is your muscle. And you are sculpting it through a dedicated writing practice, committing to improving your writing through active engagement on a schedule.

Here is the advice my coaches at Hoosier CrossFit gave me that made me look at my body and my writing in a new way:

Whatever you want to improve, do more of it.

Coach Shaun says, “If you want to be a better runner, what should you do more of? Running.” The same is true for writing. But Shaun adds that all skills are built of smaller (not lesser) skills. If you are consistently struggling with a technique…

...go back to the skill you could complete and perfect it before moving on. 

Coach Jenna says, “Your foundation is everything. If we move onto the next skill before we’re ready, we are at risk of practicing the movement incorrectly. This leads to injury.” The ‘movement’ in writing is your story/poem/essay. If you wonder what a writing injury looks like, it’s a blank page because there were so many edits required on your draft that you trashed it. (Please don’t do this. There is merit in everything, even if it is to show us our growth.)

Proceed with confidence.

Coach Adam says, “You’ve got this. Just take it one step at a time. Don’t give up!” There is a point just prior to the end of every CrossFit workout where an athlete thinks, “I can’t do this.” The same is true as we hurdle toward the end of a manuscript. In fact, you can finish what you started. Think of it this way: completing a draft might be the skill you need to practice.

Be consistent. 

This is me talking. Consistency is key. This doesn’t mean you have to make a large commitment. You can consistently work for five minutes a day, or set a weekly word goal. Choose a path and stick to it. The way will become clear with writing.

Can you think of other ways working out is like writing? Share them with us in the comments!

Related reading: 3 reasons not to fear your writing haunts

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