What Working Out Can Teach Writers – Part IV: The Power of Intensity

What Working Out Can Teach Writers - Part IV: The Power of Intensity

Hello, inklings!

I hope your week has been full of relaxing reading sessions and productive writerly endeavors!

I’m continuing my series on what the gym has taught me about writing. Over the last few months, I’ve discussed why simply starting a project is the most important part, shared valuable keys to consistency, and encouraged you all to diligently work on your weaknesses.

This week is all about a little something called intensity.

In the CrossFit universe, intensity is “exactly equal to average power (force x distance/time). In other words, how much real work did you do and in what time period?”

One’s fitness goals can be achieved faster if performed at a high level of intensity. It seems counterintuitive, but you can actually devote less time to working out and get more out it if (big if here) you do more work within that time period.

There’s an infamous CrossFit workout by the name of Fran (to find out why certain workouts have feminine names, click here). It looks so simple on paper:

21-15-9 repetitions, alternating between thrusters (a barbell movement composed of a front squat and a push-press) and pull-ups.

The first time I did this workout, it took me about 15 minutes. Want to know what the desired time is for that workout? Answer: less than five minutes. In fact, here’s a video of an athlete doing it in 2:02. That is INTENSE!

Now, suffice it to say, I am not an elite-level CrossFit athlete. I work out to be healthy, stay energized, burn off stress, and release those amazing, feel-good hormones called endorphins. So while a two-minute Fran time may not be a realistic goal for me to set, I can still get a lot closer to such a blazing-fast time by modifying the workout to match my specific fitness level.


Start Where You Are


When I first did Fran, I used the prescribed weight for women (65 pounds) and did strict pull-ups (no momentum was used via what’s called a kip). Those two things – a load that was too heavy for me and an inefficient pull-up variation I wasn’t particularly great at – made that workout a whole lot longer than it’s intended to be. It felt more like a 5K than a sprint.

What I should have done is scaled the weight down by 20 or 30 pounds and replaced the pull-ups with a similar pulling movement, such as ring rows or assisted pull-ups with a resistance band. I would have been able to keep moving at a high intensity without stopping to catch my breath so often. I would have generated a higher power output, which would have made me fitter all the way around. I would have been improving my overall body composition, increasing my aerobic capacity, all in LESS time!

You may be wondering how this fitnessy mumbo jumbo applies to us writers. Well, when it comes to being productive and honing our craft, intensity is the name of the game. It’s not about how long we write on any given day, but what we’re able to accomplish in a given timeframe.

For example, you might have 10 hours on a Saturday to do nothing but write, but if your writing session is interrupted by Internet and iPhone distractions every three minutes and you take countless breaks for snacks and chores, are you really being efficient with your time? Is the session intense?

Probably not.

On the other hand, if you only have half an hour to write before heading to work, and you sit down, keep your phone out of sight, stay off Facebook, and write for 30 minutes straight, then your intensity is shooting through the roof. If the writing session was Fran, you’d be crushing it (Fran is an anthropomorphized workout, not a person, remember…). You would be getting as much (if not more) done in that short amount of time as you would have in the hypothetical 10-hour stretch you spent dillydallying.

If you sense that your productivity is waning, there’s a good chance it could use a jolt of intensity.

Before I go on, I want to forewarn you that intensity is uncomfortable, and it’s supposed to be. As one of my favorite CrossFit trainers Chris Spealler says, “Really, intensity is being comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

I’m not saying you have to turn the thermostat down to a crisp 55 degrees or write while sitting on a Swiss ball and balancing a glass of water on your head (though, if either of those work for you, then more power to you!). But I am saying that you need to lighten your barbell, and by barbell I mean the distractions you carry with you into your writing space: tablets, smartphones, self-doubt, comparisonitis, impostor syndrome, etc.

Whether it’s a physical or mental hang-up that will slow you down and vie for your attention, it shouldn’t accompany you to your writing sessions.


Writing quote via Diana Anderson-Tyler


If your phone is currently like another appendage to you, then on Day 1 of writing for intensity, set a timer and write phone-free for just five minutes. Then, when your timer goes off, give yourself permission to have a phone break. Same goes with using the Internet, having a cup of tea, watching YouTube, or whatever else you grow restless without after too long (but no negative mental distractions!); reserve those things for breaks only.

After a few days, you’ll find yourself being able to write for longer periods without having to stop. Your writing endurance will increase, and therefore your productivity will ramp up too!


“Your goal is not to stick to a given schedule at all costs; it’s instead to maintain, at all times, a thoughtful say in what you’re doing with your time going forward.” – Cal Newport


The moral of the story is that more is not necessarily better. More time does not always equate to better results. The goal is to make good use of the time we have, to fill every second with passion, focus, and intention.

I hope you’ve found this week’s post helpful! What’s one way you can make your writing sessions more intense? Tweet me or send me an Instagram message to let me know. I’d love to hear from you!

Oh! And if you’re an author who’d like to write a guest post or be interviewed by yours truly, please email me at contact@dianaandersontyler.com.



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