Weighing your words

Some of you may know, after being unfortunate enough to have to have sat through my conversations on the subject, a while back I lost about 20kg. It was a very interesting experience, not without its struggles as I battled my natural inclinations towards laziness and gluttony. While I have taken a few backward steps I am very much back on the fitness trail and working hard.

While writers and exercise may not seem the most natural combination, it’s interesting that some of the lessons I learned during the massive lifestyle change I underwent when I started trying to get fit, and many of the things I found helped or hindered me, could just as easily be applied to my writing.

You need to set yourself measurable, and realistic, goals

When I first started trying to get fit, I had some unrealistic expectations about how much weight I could lose a week or that I could go from doing very little to suddenly running a marathon. A few months of the new regime disabused me of that and I started setting more realistic goals, more about the things I could control such as how many exercise sessions I would do in a week, rather than uncontrollable likes specific weight loss amounts.

It’s the same with my writing. I can’t really control how many sales I make or awards I win, all I can do is set goals of how many words I want to write in a given week or specific markets that I want to target. Those are the goals that I can set for myself, that don’t depend on other people. If I fall short there is no one else to blame but myself.

Track your stats

The biggest factor in my weight loss was almost obsessive calorie counting. I tracked what I ate and how many calories that added up to, and I tracked how many calories I burnt with exercise. It was a simple equation, if I burnt more calories than I took in, I would lose weight. I also tracked what I was doing in regards to exercise, how many hours a week, how many kilometres I ran or weights I lifted. That way I could plan to get better.

With my writing I do something similar. I track how many words I write and how many submissions I am making. This allows me to keep track of how I am going. Am I making progress? Am I letting my writing slide? It is a hugely beneficial practice. I am not a naturally organised person so I do struggle at times, but there are lots of tools out there to help (forgive the plus, but here is a great word count tracking tool that I helped design).

You need to measure your progress

There is only one way to know if you are getting anywhere and that is to track your progress. I would weigh myself every week at the same time, so I could see how I compared to previous weeks. I would see if I was running further and faster, whether I felt fitter. As long as there was a general improvement I was happy.

It’s the same with my writing. Am I writing more words, or sending out more submissions? I keep track of acceptances and rejections, and keep an eye whether I am moving up the ladder of markets. That way I can see that, yes, I am making progress.

There is always a reason not to exercise, or to write

Whenever I thought about going to the gym or going for a run, there was always a reason not to. I was tired, I was unwell, I’d had a hard day at work, there was something else I had to get done, I was sore, it was raining outside. And so on. There was always an excuse not to exercise. The same with eating, there was always a reason why today was okay to over indulge.

The same thing happens with my writing. There is always something else I could be doing. There is always another link to click in Wikipedia, another funny video of a cat in sunglasses to watch, another Twitter conversation be had. But, if writing is important to you, if you are serious about it, you will find the time to do it.

Getting started is the hard part

I can’t even begin to count how many times I have sat around knowing I should be going to the gym or heading out for run, putting it off as long as I can, only to find that once I got started it really wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. It was that initial need to find the motivation that I struggled with, not that actual doing.

For me, it is the same with writing. I can spend literally hours getting started on that first sentence, but once I get going I never have any trouble going on. And there is the same feeling of achievement at the end, whether it is completing a session at the gym or hitting “save” on a short story, knowing that you pushed through that initial roadblock – or the feeling of disappointment in yourself if you failed to get motivated enough to start.

Being accountable to others will help keep you on track

Looking back, the most successful and ongoing exercises habits I have made have been ones where other people are involved. Whether it is running with a partner, working with a personal trainer or even playing basketball, I find that having other people around makes me step up. When I am running by myself it is much easier to slow down because no one sees that, while when running with a partner means that I want to look good. Pride is a great motivator! And when i play cricket I don’t want to be the weak link in the team, so I push myself to do better each game.

With my writing, I have a group of people who I tell what markets I am planning on subbing to, so when I don’t I know that I will have explain why I didn’t. It means that I can’t just decide I can’t be bothered to do so. I’ve also been fortunate enough to gain a great mentor through the AHWA who I don’t want to let down. And, I am a member of a few writers groups, people who get to see my writing and I don’t want to be submitting pieces of a substandard quality to them. All these things make me try even harder than I would on my own.

Surround yourself with others on the same journey

As I got serious about getting fit I discovered that there were other people around me, and at work, who were doing the same thing. We were able to talk about the high and lows of the journey, give each other tips and just generally encourage one another to keep persevering. They spoke the same language, of calorie burns and carbs and, most importantly, I could talk to them without boring them silly. Talking with them left me more motivated to keep going on.

It’s the same with writing. All my friends are very supportive of my writing, but I avoid going on about it too much (honestly, I try!) because they aren’t on the same journey and I don’t want to bore them. I love being around other writers, people who speak the same language and understand the highs and lows and the struggles and striving that go into writing. I can get tips on how to do better and talk about the things do and don’t work. And, I go away refreshed and motivated to keep on achieving.

When you do fall short it isn’t the end of the world

It is easy to get discouraged when you are trying to lose weight or get fit. When you do your weekly weigh in and the scale goes up, or when you go way over your calorie limit for the day it can be rather depressing. And, if I don’t exercise for too long or slack off when I do, I can get down on myself. But, really in the scheme of things it isn’t that big a deal. There is always a chance to do better next time.

It’s the same with my writing. When I miss a deadline, or get a rejection, or have a story ripped to shreds by my writers group of course there is a little bit of feeling sorry for myself. But, I try and shrug it off and move on as soon as I can, resolving to learn from experience and not make the same mistakes as I did last time. I know that if I keep learning I will keep getting better.

In the end, you have to be doing it for yourself, and for the right reasons

When I was on my fitness kick I realised that I had to be doing it for myself. Not for what other people thought, or to compete with others. There was always going to be someone fitter or faster or with washboard abs. If other people were the measure of my success I was always going to fall short. Instead I set my own goals. I wanted to be able to wear all the clothes that were sitting in my wardrobe feeding moths. I wanted to be able to get through a game of basketball without feeling like I was going to die. I was doing it for my sake, not for others.

It’s the same with my writing. I can’t use other people as my goal posts, there will be other writers who make more sales than me, or less. I can’t make editors or publishers buy my stories, and I can’t pin my hopes on awards. All I can do is make sure that I am making the most of what ability I have, that I keep producing words and that everything I send out I am proud of. I know if I keep doing that, then I will feel good about my writing. Everything else that happens will be a bonus.

8 thoughts on “Weighing your words

  1. Gwen Hernandez

    Great lessons, David, not just for writing and fitness, but for anything in life. The last one is especially important, I think.

    Congratulations on your newfound healthy lifestyle and your progress!

  2. David Post author

    Thanks, Gwen! Sadly I had to practise what I preach and not get down about the rejection that came approx 2 min after posting this. It was a ncie rejection though 🙂

    How’s things with you?

  3. Gwen Hernandez

    Oh no, David. Rejection is the hardest thing about being a writer, but I definitely prefer the nice ones. Those mean you’re heading in the right direction.

    Things are good here. Outlining a new novel and gearing up for the holidays. Thanks!

  4. David Post author

    I made the shortlist, anyway, so I am not crushed – you’re right, it’s a sign I’m heading in the right direction.

    Ooh nice – keep us posted! And, Happy Holidays!

  5. T.B. McKenzie

    Love this post David. Last week I finished a ‘couch to 5k’ program. I’ve always put off exercise, believing that my daily ride-to-work would balance my indulgences. I was wrong. Now I can happily run for 5k, and i’ve even taken up a martial art (more of that in a future blog post — not enough room here to talk about swords and armour) The point is that I have come to the exact same conclusion as you: I have learned to treat my writing like fitness.

    The problem I have is that statistics depress me. The ‘couch to 5k’ app worked, not because it gave me measurable data, but because I could see real improvement within the span of a week. I was running further, easier. And more importantly, I was learning to enjoy it, knowing that soon enough, I will become Chuck Norris.

    I have the same problem with writing. Every time I start to set myself micro goals — word counts, or chapters edited — I start to hate the process. Yet if I can trick myself into measuring progress on a bigger scale, then suddenly the enjoyment returns.

    I think the reason I love computer games explains it better. I will spend the vast majority of a game completing side quests, dungeon crawling, rat killing, not because I enjoy those things, but because I want to lay down holy vengeance on the big-bad-bosses.

    Geting slim enough to wear nothing but a black t-shirt and jeans and finishing my novel are my real world bosses — I just wish the gameplay was more interesting on all these exercise and editing levels. The frame rate alone is enough to drive a man to a box of krispy kremes.

    Keep it up David, and please tell me what the plan is once the bosses are all killed. That worries me.

  6. David Post author

    Thanks, Travis, and congratulations on the 5k achievement. Until I started exercising I didn’t realise how hard it was to actually run 5km. I read a lot of zombie novels where people go from sitting in front of their PC all day to suddenly running away from zombies for km’s – and it makes me chuckle! I’m up to 10km+ runs now – but I am trying to get to well below an hour to 10km and it is a struggle.

    I will be interested to hear more about your martial art, too. I think it;s not a bad thing for a writer to do, btw, it certainly helps when writing action scenes.

    As for the plan after the bosses are killed? Well, they respawn bigger and badder than ever and you start the smackdown all over again!

  7. Holly Kench

    Congratulations on your writing AND fitness achievements, David.

    I would like to add one more positive similarity which is the addiction factor. When I was 18 I put on 25kgs in 3 months. Getting back to a healthy weight was a real effort (as you would know!), especially to start with, learning how to do it, where to begin, etc. But 10 years later I am quite an exercise addict. Sometimes if I stop for a while it takes me a while to get back into a routine, but when I do I hate stopping. I love the endorphin rush. The same goes for writing. When I first started to write fiction I had no idea where to begin and spent a lot of time staring at a blank screen, but now I’m addicted. Again, if I don’t write for a while for whatever reason, it can take a push to start again, but most of the time I can’t stop my fingers from typing, my brain from plotting and creating, etc etc.
    On a day when I haven’t written or done any exercise, I feel lost.

  8. David Post author

    Thanks, Holly!

    I’ve never got to the point where I would say that I am addicted to exercise, but I certainly start to feel a bit antsy if I go too long without exercising – so maybe that is a sign of addiction?

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