“Is he writing?” I asked. My son didn’t know.
I explained what I do as a process coach so he could pass it on to his friend. I also asked for clarification. Does he want to write a story or does he want to be a writer?
They aren’t always the same thing.
I tend to view “wants to be a writer” the same way I view “wants to get into shape.” It’s a nice thought, a passing idea, but if you aren’t going to the gym or walking or swimming, it’s just that.
Writing isn’t that different from getting fit. You have to make time in your schedule, you have to do the work, you have to build strength and you have to build stamina. The key is commitment: commitment to the process, commitment to the goals, and commitment to the time it takes to establish one and attain the other.
You can’t get into shape without moving your body. You can’t build your writing muscle if you aren’t writing. For your body you need an exercise routine. For your writing muscle, you need a writing practice. There are no short cuts, no magic pills, and no fairy godmother. Getting into shape takes time and effort.
The writing muscle gets flabby quickly. It’s resistant. It doesn’t like to start work and would much rather hit the “snooze” button. You need to train it to get it strong and flexible and able to perform when you need it to perform. Inspiration is a sprint. It might take you 50 meters down the track but no further. A writing practice is long-distance. It will take you wherever you want to go. Long distance runners are capable of sprinting. I don’t know a lot of sprinters who can put in the miles.
Just as with your body, exercises help you get into writing shape. Start with warming up: a journaling session, a writing prompt, morning pages, or mind dump. Then work on your writing endurance by setting (and meeting) daily word count goals that are in line with your current state of fitness. Increase them over time. Work on your core strength by reading, learning aspects of craft, and practicing them.
The more you write, the stronger, more flexible, and responsive your writing muscle becomes.
The best part about writing workouts is that competition is optional, and then we are primarily in competition with ourselves. We do it for the love of it or because we are cranky and fractious without it or because it has become our form of meditation (especially true for journaling). Whether we seek to publish or not, the writing practice is key.
I sent my son back to his friend with a simple goal. Write 2000 words a week for four weeks straight. If he can do that–if he WILL do that–he’s become a writer. If not, talking to me will be nothing more than a pleasant conversation on how nice it would be to get into shape.
How are you building YOUR writing muscle?