All too often, I find myself falling into a rut when I’m trying to write. I’ll be pumping out pages, feeling like the most awesome writer in the world, and then it’ll stop. The motivation just seeps out of me and I feel a bit hollow. Anyone else experience that? Well, today I want to address some ways to help you get back in the game. And surprisingly, most of this will be focusing on things that you can do outside of writing.
Yes, the dreaded ‘E’ word. At least for me. I’m very much a hermit and enjoy spending most of my time in a sedentary position. Poo on me, right? Well, exercise has some great benefits, besides the obvious. Who’da thunk?
On cdc.gov, there’s a whole list of benefits, as seen below:
Control your weight
Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
Reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
Reduce your risk of some cancers
Strengthen your bones and muscles
Improve your mental health and mood
Improve your ability to do daily activities and prevent falls, if you're an older adult
Increase your chances of living longer (1)
One point in particular that I’d like to focus on is, “improve your mental health and mood”. Personally I deal with depression/anxiety on and off, which definitely disrupts my writing. I know I’m not the only one. In fact, most writers I know deal with these same issues. If exercise can help with that, then why not do it?
An article by Gretchen Reynolds on the New York Times website explores the mental health benefits of exercise. She sites that a group of global health researchers drew information from several different studies, amounting to over one million adults being studied. Their conclusion:
Among these million-plus people, the links between fitness and mental health turned out to be considerable. When the researchers divided the group into thirds, based on how aerobically fit they were, those men and women with the lowest fitness were about 75 percent more likely to have been given diagnoses of depression than the people with the greatest fitness. The men and women in the middle third were almost 25 percent more likely to develop depression than those who were the most fit (2).
Many similar studies have been done, with similar conclusions. Why do I make this point? When you’re happy, you are more able to accomplish the tasks or goals you’ve set for yourself, aka: writing. I personally attest to the fact that being happy makes it easier to write.
Strengthen Your Mind
I’m going to now address a studying technique that can be applied to writing. On this interesting site called, artofmanliness.com, there is an article addressing some great ways to strengthen your mind. Brett and Kate McKay, the authors of said article, draw a great parallel between our “physical” muscles and our “mental” muscles. They said that both of these “have a limited amount of strength at any given time, their stamina and power can either atrophy from inactivity or strengthen from vigorous, purposeful exercise, and they require rest and recovery after they’ve been intensely exerted.” (3)
In this article they go on to discuss eleven different exercises to help improve your attention, and thus your overall ability to focus and complete a task. I will outline some of my favorite exercises below for your benefit, and a link to the rest of the article will be added to the bottom of the page.
1- The “Pomodoro” method: This is a method of studying (or attacking any task, really) that helps you build up your stamina. They suggest working for about 45 minutes and then taking a 15 minute break. Doing this type of interval training will help you accomplish your goals much more quickly than if you tried to complete it all in one sitting. If this seems to be a bit much, try to cut it down to 20 minutes of writing and about 5 minutes to break.
2- Take time to read: Hopefully as writers we all take time to read, but they make a good point in this article to suggest reading longer things (articles, books, etc) more slowly. It helps you strengthen your ability to focus if you slow down and really try to comprehend what you’re reading. In the article they mention a study from 2007 said that 25 percent of adults did not read a single novel that whole year. Isn’t that sad? In today’s society it is so easy to just skim-read or to jump to a summary of whatever you’re reading. When you get used to jumping from tab to tab on your computer, you’re hurting your ability to focus. Try to avoid this! It won’t help you strengthen your mind, and you’ll find it harder to concentrate on writing in the long run.
3- Meditation: I’ve mentioned meditation in past blogs, but I’m going to say it AGAIN because this article mentions it. Kind of like the “Pomodoro” method, meditation should start of small and grow as you are able to handle more. A study mentioned in this article stated that even 10-20 minutes of meditation a day can help strengthen your ability to stay attentive. I suggest that as a writer this is very useful, as some great ideas or fixes for your writing may come to you in a moment of inspired meditation. It has worked for me in the past. I suggest you try it!
I hope that some of the points I’ve made in today’s blog stick with you as you go forward. It can be very hard to write at times, but taking care of yourself can help eliminate some of those roadblocks you may encounter. I personally have seen improvement in my writing when I’ve tried these different methods in the past. I hate exercising, but I always feel happier afterwards. And when I’m happy, I’m able to write more. When I try different ways to strengthen my mind, I am able to focus for longer periods of time and see that pay off with more writing under my belt. I challenge each of you to pick one of these things, whether it be meditation or more exercise, and see how it helps your writing.