Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Writing Muscle



Last November, I did NaNo for the first time. For those of you who haven’t done it, it’s way cool with how you punch in your word count and see your progress visually on a graph.

I’m not sure how you all faired, but for me? It was a struggle to sit down and force myself to pump out the minimum 1600 words or so each day.

And the words were crap.

Total messy gibberish that might as well have been a mesh of words that someone randomly picked from a dictionary and vomited on a page.

But it isn’t like that anymore.

Something’s happened to me in the last eight months. I’m able to sit for longer periods of time, and keep my mind alert and in the zone. The quality of writing is better, along with the amount of words I’m able to put on the page.

And I think I owe it to one thing: Work. Conditioning. Failure to let myself slack.

I’ve kept a routine, and forced myself to put in chair time even when my brain wasn’t feeling it. Or when I’d rather have been sleeping.

And I can see the results. I sound like I’m on a weight loss show…

It’s true like anything, training and discipline do get you somewhere. I remember when I was dancing, there were certain steps that were easy. Cake. And it’d be fun to do those steps because they didn’t take much effort. Sure, it was good for me to practice them, and doing them kept my skill at a consistent level, but I wasn’t improving.

The times when I was improving was when the pain set in. When the burn of my muscles ached so bad I couldn’t take it anymore. It’s in those moments you’re stretching yourself, building muscle, gaining endurance.

It’s the same with writing. And crazy how our brain really is a muscle.

What are your writing “exercises?” Have you seen a huge improvement in the last year? Or even when you first started writing? Do you have a strict routine? Or do you fit it in whenever? (No wrong answers here, the point is that we write…)

Red. Head. Out. :D

***And if you haven't signed up for the "What If?" Blogfest yet, click here!

48 comments:

  1. I am struggling like crazy to make my writer muscle not be so slack but at the moment, it is not working! I'll be checking the comments here to find out everyone's tips lol!

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  2. I did Camp NaNo this June and before that, I had never finished a novel. Not one. I was able to complete 50,000 by the end of the month (I actually finished it a few days early after starting a week late...21 days for me, yay!). And now that I have a rough draft, it's become a lot easier for me to sit down and write. (I do have to admit that I took a little break before I started editing because I just could not make myself sit down and work on it). I'm not sure I have any "exercises". I post a picture/word prompt once a week on Wednesdays (Creative Writing Wednesday) on my blog but lately I haven't even been writing my little stories for them. Everything I've been writing (except for editing of my Nano) has been random. Maybe that's my exercise. Randomness.

    Great post :) Happy writing!
    M.J. Wille, romantic sci-fi author

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  3. It gets easier to write a ton a day, but in the beginning, it feels like a chore. And now, in the revising stage, it is SOOO dreary to get through the pages to edit.

    I just need to train my writing muscle :)

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  4. I am a night-creator, which means I do all my creating at night. This includes writing, most definitely. If the sun is out odds are I'm distracted by "real life" stuff, such as running errands, enjoying the sunshine, taking care of family and chores, etc. It's not until the sun goes down and the family retires that I can sit and WRITE, damnit. (Which is why I consider my "work time" to be between 7PM and 4am...I get up at noon, ha.) I don't know what tips I could give anybody. I've been writing over a thousand words a day since I was a little kid, coming home after school and sitting my butt down at the family computer to write fan-fiction until dinner time. It seriously does just become a part of you. Of course, the hardest thing about being somebody who writes in bed and then immediately goes to sleep afterwards is that sometimes you feel like you're cutting yourself off to tend to sleep.

    So, yup. Just keep doing it. Set aside that hour or whatever a day that you do nothing but write. This includes nobody being allowed to bother you! haha. Just because Nano's over doesn't mean the writing stops. Maybe the pressure to get those words in just before midnight is, but not the actual words.

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  5. I've come to realize in the past couple of months that if I want any kind of progress in my writing I have to do it in the early morning before my kids are up. My mind is more alert and there's complete silence. I've fought this for a while, because getting up at 5 am SUCKS. But as of last week, I've decided to just do it. It's hard getting up so early right now, but I'm hoping my body will fall into the routine.

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  6. ...I really have to give NaNo a go some time. The tedious schedule is always to blame, but in the end, I simply have to make the time. A bit like working out, its all about commitment. One of these days...

    El

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  7. You're dead on about the benefits of exercising your writing brain. It truly does work. I go through huge growth spurts every time my wip is critiqued. I don't always enjoy "feeling the burn" but it's beneficial in the long run.

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  8. It took me over eight months to write the first draft of my first book. But NaNo 2010 showed me that I could get it done in two. (Same with BuNo last month.) Like anything else, the more you do it, the better you become.

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  9. I did Nano two years ago. Great experience but not one I'll repeat soon. You're so right about stretching muscles and getting into habits. With my kids so young I have a little bit of a flexible writing schedule. And that can be bad. It's so easy to say I have so much to do, or I'm so tired I'll check blogs to get my mind in the writing mindset. And before you know it the time is gone. When I am vigilant about my time and put writing first it feels so good.

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  10. It helps me to spend time imagining and thinking about the scene before I sit down to bang out some words. I may spend the day planning the scene in my head and that helps it to flow when I'm writing.

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  11. Hard work and dedication will improve any skill, but I love seeing the changes in my writing over the previous several years.

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  12. Morgan, I have not been exercising my writing muscles at all lately. But I did start back to running a few weeks ago, so I understand where you're coming from with the discipline thing. :)

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  13. cute changes to the blog...

    and yes, we need brain exercises! but they are funner than real exercising! Laura at Wavy Lines gives weekly exercises and any challenges, flashes, etc we do are helping us stay in shape!

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  14. I've been struggling to get into a rhythm with writing, but the book Bird by Bird has inspired me to focus. I'm going to try at night when the kids are in bed for a couple of hours, but my best time is in the morning. The problem is the interruptions with the kids home for summer. You are so inspiring because you do it with four!

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  15. Glad to hear discipline is working for you. At a conference last year, Tom Robbins said he goes to his study to write at the same time every day even if he isn't feeling it because that's when and where his muse knows how to find him. Unfortunately, I am at work when my brain is at its best and I go in spurts with the writing. Lately, no so good, but I did "win" Nanowrimo and I really am going to get back to writing regularly. Your post has inspired me. Thanks!

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  16. I totally need to do this. Like, schedule writing time. My brain needs some serious exercise. :)

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  17. I've learned so much over the past year. I'm catching myself on those overused words a lot more as I type. Which will cut down on editing time for sure.

    I just write when I can fit it in. Writing schedules don't work much for me with the kids around. Especially in the summer.

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  18. I have a couple books on brain exercises I need to dust off and look at again. And I'm signed up for the What If Blogfest and ready to go!

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  19. Oh this is so true. I haven't been able to write as much as I want to and that is hard for me becasue I know it's take consistency to improve. Once this baby is sleeping through the night I'm not backing down!

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  20. When I get out of the groove, it's doubly hard to get back into the swing of things (as I'm finding out now ...) There are always so many other things that need doing. Sigh.

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  21. Dancing, now that sounds painful and like total messy gibberish when I think of me performing on stage. Writing, not so much but yeah, I do feel the same way especially last November. Love what you do, M-dog!

    J. Dog. Out. :D

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  22. It's definitely true, stopping makes it harder to start up again. It was nearly two years between finishing the first draft of my first book, and starting my second one. I'll never do that again, although I did do editing and short stories in that time (sporadically). I'm a 5am writer during the holidays and I aim to finish my WIP tomorrow. I've then decided to allow myself a FEW days off to catch up on sleep and then get back into the swing of things on Monday!

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  23. I'm the same way. I'm on a 2000 word per week day regime during the school year and it always comes as a little shock after the long lazy days of summer.

    This week, with my kids out of town, I sat down and wrote 1000 words and it felt soooo hard! It's like running 5 miles after a slothful vacation ;)

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  24. My writing exercise is to comment on Morgan Shamy's blog. I've noticed that my comments are steadily becoming more well written.

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  25. I agree about the muscle. My exercises (aside from blogging) are to write what inspires me. If a story I'm working on gets dull, I stop and move to something calls to me. I guess I have ADD as a writer.

    Love the Red Head Out, BTW. LOL!

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  26. Consistency is a big help. When I'm writing regularly, everything just flows better. I also try to mull over my upcoming scenes during the course of the day, which gives me ideas to run with as soon as I sit down to write. Also, if it's time to write but I'm REALLY not feeling it, I'll listen to a song or watch a movie scene that helps me get in the mood for the scene I need to write. Just last night, I wasn't feeling great (headachey and tired) but needed to finish a battle scene. I watched a fight between Spider-Man and Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2 and it totally got me in the mood to write some butt-kicking :)

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  27. Writing really is hard work! Glad that all your exercising is paying off!
    I've never really had a writing schedule - probably because, like exercising, I know it will be a little painful. Something to think about, though, if I want to improve...

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  28. I would get a writer's muscle cramp doing Nano!! LOL. Here, I thought you would be doing the Buccaneer Blogfest. Ah, well, I guess there is just so many hours in the day, right?

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  29. I love the analogy of writing muscles. It is absolutely true. I find that when I write consistently, words and dialogue are easier to write and the editing process is more enjoyable. When life gets in the way and writing time does not happen, it is so much harder to pick it up and start writing again. I would love to learn what your scheduled writing time is like :) I have a hard time finding that perfect time to consistently write... does it actually exist with small kids at home? Tell me your secrets :)

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  30. I like this analogy. You're right, to see improvement we have to keep pushing ourselves and trying new things. Doing what doesn't come easiest. I've been stretching myself a lot in the past year - going from short story writer to writing novels. It really is a whole different animal.
    This week my agent asked me to come up with more of a hook for my novel. My brain actually hurts from thinking about this so much. But I'm working through it and I know that eventually, I'll be able to wrap my brain around this too.
    Glad to hear that your hard work and consistency is paying off. Keep up the good work =D

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  31. My writing muscle is willing and able, I just have a hard time finding the time it really needs to see the kind of improvements your talking about. Don't get me wrong, I put in the time and churn out the words, it just isn't as much as I would ideally like to see. :)

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  32. I really needed this reminder. When I get in limbo periods in real life, my writing schedule starts to slack and I can't let that happen. The importance is to keep going and trying new things and stretching yourself. Thanks for a great post :)

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

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  33. My goals are set to a weekly schedule, so that I can be more flexible with my other activities. It works great for me and I make oodles more progress than I did when I had my goals set to a daily schedule. It is definitely all about what works for you.

    Way to go on limbering up that brain muscle! I bet I'd see yours and mine doing all kinds of happy dance routines if I CAT scanned them! *grin*

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  34. He he. My writing exercise involves me running. And now I read some poetry (more specifically, anything by Ellen Hopkins) before I start writing and when I need a little break. I'm not writing a novel in verse, but it has changed the way I write. At least I hope it has.

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  35. Agh, if my brain were a contestant on Biggest Loser, it would so be the one falling off the treadmill right about now. I'm with ya - when there's a routine to it, I write higher quality at a higher volume. When I lose my footing, I'm all over the place. I hope to get back in shape this week! Two days set aside to jumpstart my training! Hooah!

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  36. That is such a great point. I love the mantra: when you can't, you must. when I don't feel like writing I get my butt in the chair and write. It doesn't matter if it's crap and it doesn't matter if I can't think of anything in the moment. It's building that muscle like you said. I wish it was getting easier, but at least I've been productive. Great post!

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  37. I was in a big dry spell from May-June. Lots of traveling for the day job. But I forced myself to get to the computer and write something. Anything! I did about 3500 words on Sunday, so I hope I'm out of my funk.

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  38. I needed to read this post. I took a time out from blogging so that I could focus on writing but it was an epic fail because it didn't turn out as I planned. Now, I'm regrouping and hopefully I'll get back on track.

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  39. Yeah, what you said :)
    Excellent and spot on.

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  40. Last year was my first try with NaNo. Made it by about 2K. Almost done with the first draft of that same story. Had to take a break for a while, and life got in the way a bit. But it's almost there.

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  41. I'm making up my own Nano month--July :) I never thought I could do this, but I'm insanely obsessed with my character's world and am flying through her story. So fun! But the coolest part is how my writing muscles have improved making it so half the junk I would have needed to edit out before doesn't even show up anymore. Looking forward to the blogfest!

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  42. Morg! How is it that I fell in with someone so brilliant? Honestly - you've got things figured out. I love it. And this is so true. I didn't do NaNo, but I have noticed changes in my ability to sit for longer periods and write. AND the writing is improving! No more word vomit! Wahoo!

    Love ya girl!

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  43. Hey Morg,

    PS... love the new look of the Blog, but today's pic doesn't give any Red. Head.

    Just. Sayin.'

    PPS... if it wasn't for you, Leibby and Caroline, I'd be toast

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  44. That's so brilliant to hear. I've worked that writing muscle as well, but I usually work best during NaNo. It's such an intense month!!

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  45. Congrats on being a finalist in Xmas in July!!

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  46. This really is the best thing to do! I have been a total slacker this summer, but I think you've motivated me:)

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  47. Inspiring. Really makes me want to refocus, but until the kiddos (12, 10 & 7) go back to school, it would be a bit crazy. Congrats on the Christmas in July.

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  48. I haven't done NaNo. I'd like to do it one day. My writing muscles have improved considerably in the past few years. I journal in a character's voice whenever I'm stuck or not in the mood to work on a mansucript.

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