Building Writing Muscle

Some years ago the doctor was considering surgery on my elbow. Why? Because I had damaged the joint with a weights routine that was too heavy…way too heavy.

I thought I’d make up for a late start and build up my skinny arms overnight. Instead, for a while I couldn’t lift anything as heavy as a coffee cup without pain, and there was no weight lifting for many months.

Why do we do this to ourselves? I do this in my writing too–and I’ll bet you do as well. We get behind, and then set huge goals. We’ll write five hours a day or send out a query a day. And we burn out so that we don’t want to write at all.

A Solution

Building writing muscle isn’t much different than trying to build body muscle. Rather than going gung-ho at a massive goal, start small. Give yourself doable short goals where you can succeed. Success breeds success. Trying to do too much too soon breeds failure.

In Karen Scalf Linamen’s book Only Nuns Change Habits Overnight, she suggested “making up small, attainable goals just so we could practice the art of turning a goal into reality. What if we made the decision to give up coffee for three days? Or stick with a vegetarian diet for twenty-four hours? Or walk around the block every morning for a week?…Pretty soon, all these smaller victories will give us greater confidence, stamina, and experience. Then when we attempt the bigger decisions–we’ve got muscle. We’ve been practicing. We can do it.”

Apply It to Writing

Instead of promising yourself you’ll write two hours every day, blog five times a week, and send out ten queries each month, start small. Set a goal that virtually insures success. That’s how we build momentum–with a series of successful goals.

How about:

  • write for ten minutes every morning for a week
  • read one chapter per day of a current children’s book
  • read email one hour later, three days in a row
  • check out three writing conferences online

Whatever goals you have–or habits you would like to build–give yourself permission to start smaller. Stretch yourself a tiny bit today. Then set a goal to stretch yourself that little bit three days in a row–then reward yourself for that success.

Like the title of the book says, only nuns change their habits overnight. So take things in smaller bites. Build momentum with smaller successes. Develop the writing habits, slowly but surely. You’ll be flexing those muscles in no time!

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One Response to Building Writing Muscle

  1. Vijaya says:

    I esp. like the idea of checking email one hour later. Thanks for the tip!

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