Sunday, February 10, 2013

Why Writing is Like Running

I've struggled and struggled so much with getting my writing done (and you probably can relate). Today I stumbled across an awesome article about rest called Relax! You'll Be More Productive

The article talks about how "working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity." In a study of musicians, athletes, actors and--best of all--chess players, it seemed that maximal productivity was achieved while working in intervals of 90 minutes or less and taking breaks between each work session. Another key is to "rarely work more than four and a half hours in any given day." 

This idea sounds so phenomenal to me. And yet, it's so simple that I think, "Duh! Of course this makes sense!" Society today seems to be trapped in a mind-set of GO GO GO! DO DO DO!! NOW NOW NOW! To be successful means to dedicate all our time and talent to a career. It means sacrificing personal time and family time and date nights. 

When I had a desk job (and a 1hour commute each way) I worked anywhere between 8 and 10 hours, using my 30 minute lunch break to squeeze in a work-out. I ate lunch at my desk as I read through cases or created official documents. Often it turned into a 12 hour day of not having any real breaks or down time. It definitely took a toll on my emotional, mental, spiritual, and, of course, my physical well being. 

Right now I have all the time in the world. But, sometimes I feel like if I'm going to treat my writing as a "job" then I have to make it a typical 40 hour week sort of thing. When I really think about it this way of looking at my writing is pretty stupid--but I think it's easy to get lost in that trap of GO GO GO! until there's no energy or motivation left. 

The brilliant thing about writing is that it doesn't have to be full time. Going back to that Relax! You'll Be More Productive article, Tony Schwartz says, "Writing just four and half hours a day, I completed [two] books in less than six months and spent my afternoons on less demanding work."

A great thing about this concept is that the "less demanding work" Schwartz mentions could be anything for me. It could mean practicing on the bass, going to the gym, writing a blog post ;), making a movie, or doing house chores. 

One of the things I've been thinking about lately is physical exercise. For any exercise program--whether you want to build muscle, lose weight, look glossy, feel more rejuvenated, or run a marathon--the key is rest and recuperation. Someone training for a marathon will never run every day. At least one full rest day is absolutely necessary.  To get optimal performance, a runner will throw in a day or two of cross training--swimming, biking, elliptical-ing, zumba, yoga. The regime will be varied with "hard" days of tempos, hills, or long runs, and "easy" days of slow pace, flats, or short runs. Mixing it up in exercise regimes is about giving your different muscles a chance to rest and recuperate so they can grow stronger. Rest and the right kinds (and amounts) of food are what will help optimize a well-planned fitness program. 

I think the same thing applies to writing, although the "rest" and "food" might be somewhat different. Maybe variety means working on different projects--poetry one day, novel another day, story-in-the-back-of-your-head the next day... Or it might mean switching up the venue--the kitchen table in the afternoon, in bed with the lamp on at night, coffee shop in the morning...
We may not need extra protein after a full 90 minute writing session the way a body builder needs it, but a snack every once in a while is a really good idea. Little breaks between writing sessions could mean reading a chapter or two in a book, watching an episode of Gilmore Girls or Glee (or your choice of tv show), doing a little yoga or meditation, taking a nap, walking the dog (or rat as my crazy dreams may have it), pursuing another passion like painting, singing, furniture building, or welding. 

Clyde and I know how to rest! (after hiking into Grand Canyon)
I don't intend for all this to sound overwhelming. I'm not saying that to take a rest from writing really means to DO DO DO all these other things. I just mean that maybe for some it's relaxing to play the piano for a little while, or do something more with their hands (like knitting!) rather than overworking their minds. Use the rest as actual rest--naps, meditation, staring out the window watching the snow fall. The key is to let yourself relax so during the times you are focused and working, you'll get the most out of it. 

Now, let's see how it works for me this week. 

Write on!

1 comment:

  1. I like the 90 minute idea. One normal sleep cycle is 90 minutes, though we usually try to get more than one in during the night. Something I read today about writing was to leave off with a note for the next scene, that way when you come back, you already have a start. Seems like I read that Steven King didn't set hours as goals but words per day. His was outrageously high, like 12,000 to 15,000 words per day. I couldn't do that many, but I can set a goal and work from there.