Work Your Weaknesses: What Working Out Can Teach Writers – Part III

Work Your Weaknesses - What Working Out Can Teach Writers - Part III by Diana Anderson-Tyler

 

Hi, everyone!

I hope you’ve had a wonderful week and that the #writinglife is going well!

This week, my blog series on writing lessons I’ve learned from the gym is going to focus on something many of us tend to avoid: weaknesses.

When I first started CrossFit (my husband Ben and I own CrossFit 925 here in San Antonio), I was in pretty good shape. At least, that’s what I thought. I worked out five to six days a week. I ate healthy food, drank plenty of water. You get the idea. But my first CrossFit workout quickly showed me I wasn’t as fit as I looked…

At least, that’s what I thought. I worked out five to six days a week. I ate healthy food, drank plenty of water. You get the idea. But my first CrossFit workout quickly showed me I wasn’t as fit as I looked…

I worked out five to six days a week. I ate healthy food, drank plenty of water. You get the idea. But my first CrossFit workout quickly showed me I wasn’t as fit as I looked…

I don’t remember the entire WOD (workout of the day), but I do remember there was running…and burpees. Lots and lots of burpees! Here’s a picture of me from that day:

 

What Working Out Can Teach Writers

 

 

I can’t even begin to tell you how unbearable that workout was for me. I’ve never been in that much pain. My heart rate was a million beats per minute. My lungs and limbs were burning with the fire of a thousand suns. My stomach was a roiling sea of lava. I hate CrossFit was my mantra for a solid week as my body recovered from the trauma of that first WOD.

A while later, after I could walk normally again and regained the ability to wash my own hair, I slowly began to realize that what I perhaps hated most about CrossFit was not how hard it was, but rather how humbling. It showed me that I wasn’t so fit after all. On the outside, I looked slim and strong, but my heart and lungs betrayed the healthy façade.

I had weaknesses, big fat, cardiorespiratory weaknesses. I wasn’t conditioned because, well, I despise cardio! I loved lifting weights, so that’s what I spent most of the time doing. As such, I had the stamina of a narcoleptic sloth.

Thankfully, my husband (boyfriend at the time) was a CrossFit coach, an exceptionally patient one at that. Despite my initial opposition toward CrossFit, he encouraged me to keep at it, to “work my weaknesses” until they weren’t weaknesses anymore. Over time, he promised, burpees and running would become less loathsome. (I still strongly dislike them, but the mere mention of them no longer induces a gag reflex).

We all have weaknesses, some known to us, and others unknown. It took trying something completely foreign and new for me to realize my stamina and endurance were major weak points. The reason they were weak, however, was simply because I’d neglected to train them for so long. Once I consistently began CrossFitting, they drastically improved. My mile time decreased from well over 10 minutes to just over seven. The number of burpees I could do in seven minutes shot up from around 50 to 94 (that workout is a popular benchmark WOD – give it a try!) I can run 5Ks now without stopping and seeing the Grim Reaper peering at me from behind a shrub.

My mile time decreased from well over 10 minutes to just over seven. The number of burpees I could do in seven minutes shot up from around 50 to 94 (that workout is a popular benchmark WOD – give it a try!). I can run 5Ks now without stopping and seeing the Grim Reaper peering at me from behind a shrub.

 

What Working Out Can Teach Writers

 

You probably know where I’m going with this heartwarming (burpees will warm you heart…and lungs…and legs…and arms…) story. We, as writers, have weaknesses too.

Some writers thrive on thinking up creative plots that climb and dip and are chock-full of twists and surprises. They work just fine sans outline.

Other writers excel at the art of prose, of pulling the reader into the pages through evocative descriptions and vivid imagery.

Some writers are aces when it comes to thinking up quirky, relatable, well-rounded characters.

Other writers are Einsteins with engaging, effortless dialogue.

Whatever your weakness is, I implore you…don’t neglect it like I neglected cardio. Not only will your writing fail to reach its full potential, but you’ll miss out on the character-building bliss of swallowing your pride and tackling the things that challenge you.

There’s a little something in the CrossFit world called targeting. Coaches work with interested athletes to identify their weaknesses and then design a customized program to target them.

 

What Working Out Can Teach Writers by Diana Anderson-Tyler

 

 

As I’ve mentioned, when I first started CrossFit, burpees and running – let’s face it, anything cardio related – were a serious struggle. So, I targeted those things for a few months before moving onto another weak area in my fitness, like gymnastics movements and Olympic lifts. A few days a week, I did multiple sets of burpees with little rest in between and performed sprint intervals to strengthen my running game.

Writers can target too. We can pick a weakness and create a plan of attack.

For example, if you’re not confident when it comes to structuring your story, choose a well-respected book on plotting (Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell and The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne are excellent) and carve out time to read it (and take notes!) every day. As you sit down to work on your novel, have your notes and book on hand to reference when necessary.

If dialogue isn’t your strong suit, watch a few episodes of a popular TV show, one known for its likable characters (because good characters speak good lines) and actively listen to the rhythm and pacing of their conversations. Take note of how natural the characters sound and what their hands and faces are doing as they talk. Think about how economical the writers are when writing dialogue; they don’t waste any words, but use every one for a very specific purpose.

If worldbuilding and descriptions aren’t your forte, read a novel that shines in that department. Highlight the sections that especially grab your attention and engage your senses. Give yourself a homework assignment, such as going to a park or café and writing a paragraph on the scenery, the weather, and the people there. Use smell, sound, and touch to make the scene pop off the page. Write just enough to set the scene; description should always have a purpose that serves the story, so don’t go overboard with flowery language.

Also, when it comes to writing better descriptions, it’s important to research and study. Immerse yourself in books, articles, and documentaries that will educate you on the setting and time period you’re writing about. You can’t write what you don’t know, so make sure you’re constantly learning.

Target your weaknesses long enough and I promise you’ll start to feel new writing muscles you never knew existed. The parts of writing that once intimidated you will be a pleasure to explore, an exciting challenge instead of a Herculean labor. You’ll have the positive mindset necessary to single out and target other weaknesses, not just in your writing, but your life in general.

 

I hope you’ve found this post helpful! What are your writing weaknesses and how do you plan to strengthen them? Let me know in the comments below or Tweet or Instagram me! I would love to hear from you!

 

 

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