The necessary exercise in writing

06 Aug 2020 • 2 min read

I was talking to a close friend recently, someone who I think is a very good writer, who helps edit my excessive use of commas in sentences (he didn’t have time for this post), when he said he’s started to think of writing like exercise. A process that feels arduous and unpleasant, but once it’s all done, you just feel better for having done it. Another run under your belt. Another post out in the world.

It was funny because to me his writing seems effortless. Clever and witty opinions on a wide range of interesting topics. He’s got a nice balance of long and short posts, and for him, doing this on an increasingly regularly cadence is what’s keeping his writing skills in shape.

My own writing, personal or published, happens very rarely. My personal best is I think is maybe 5 posts in a single year. My signature style is to find a topic I initially find interesting, hash out a first draft, then let it wither and decay in my drafts over the course of several months. Like a neglectful plant owner, apologetically watering a dry twig in a pot once a month, at the same time wondering why it’s not in full bloom.

Thankfully for my health, I do manage to do slightly more exercise in a year. Current habit is a few runs a week, but a habit I’m happy to break, because as you’ll know if you’ve ever tried it — running is awful. Aside from listening to Off Menu during it, to convince myself through association running is fun, the only thing that has helped it be slightly less awful is varying the types of runs I do in the week. A mix of short runs, long runs and intervals.

Mondays are my short run days. Running loops around the local oval, it’s a bumbling 5k to ease me into the week. Purely and horribly pragmatic, this morning run is really just for two things. To signal to my weekend brain that it’s time is up, and to condition myself for the longer, more challenging run on Friday. The small joy of this shorter Monday run is I don’t need to think about it. No excessive stretching, no prep, just put my gear on and head out the door.

My writing never gets these short runs, and it shows. When I’m stumbling through a frustrated attempt at a longer post, it’s not reading about how to be a better writer that’ll help, or give me the stamina to finish it. It’s the habit of getting a few miles on the clock here and there. Small opportunities to get a post out, however long, to break the cycle and release the pressure of finishing something.

I enjoy writing, so much more than I’ll ever enjoy running, so I’m wary of putting too much structure around it as a habit. Thinking of it like exercise though is the perfect way to quiet the thinking that every post has to attempt to break some personal PB, or be the best exercise I can get. Sometimes a brisk morning 5k is just enough to feel content.

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The necessary exercise in writing

I was talking to a close friend recently, someone who I think is a very good writer, who helps edit my excessive use of commas in sentences (he didn’t have...