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    Fit to Write

    How's your writing muscle? Is it the lean kind, the sort that brings stamina for the long, detailed work? Is the the bulging, powerful kind, well-suited for splitting the pile of issues that the essayist loves to confront?

    Or is your writing muscle the 98-pound weakling of the scribbler's set?

    When you find yourself having trouble sticking with a piece, sometimes the reason is that the writing muscle isn't strong enough for the task. That's not necessarily the only reason, of course -- it might simply be that you aren't interested in the subject -- but often the challenge of a new article, manual, or book feels as though it's too much to handle.

    That's when we take a little exercise to benefit our writing muscle. Writing muscle exercise prepares us for the deep, challenging work, and helps us write through the anxieties and fears that we as writers face from time to time.

    Here's a four-point writing exercise plan that will keep your writing muscle ready for whatever comes its way.


    1. The Long-Distance Reader

      You've heard this advice, what, a thousand times? Read to write. But how many of us really make the time to read? I mean read widely, every day, not only in your primary field but sampling from the writing food groups: novels, short fiction, essays, nonfiction books, poetry, and newspapers. There are, no doubt, days that demand our full attention to writing, but we usually have ample time in which to read a little.

      Reading is probably the best way to improve your writing muscle tone. It exposes us to other styles, techniques, and presentations that infuse our own work with freshness and vigor. Reading expands our points-of-view and broadens perspective.

      Oh, yes, it's entertaining, too.


    2. Daily Writing Practice

      For those of us who write daily, It's easy to question the need for writing practice. "I write every day," you might say. "I'm practicing all the time." But I distinguish work-writing from writing practice. Work-writing has a certain focus and mindset to it -- a certain blinding sameness that we do not often recognize. Writing practice, on the other hand, is more about the act of writing itself. The subject matter is secondary.

      You are its only audience.

      My daily writing practice takes the form of journaling. I generally being with my emotions and wind my way down whatever road congeals out of the morning fog. I like the feeling of freedom that writing practice gives, and I like being able to explore without a particular goal.

      Daily writing practice is a great source of ideas, too. This article arose during writing practice, and I've worked through many a thorny problem simply by setting my pen onto paper and watching what happens.

      The best byproduct of writing practice: You build the stamina needed for the longer pieces.


    3. Writing Stretch

      There's nothing that stretches your writing muscle like writing on unfamiliar subjects or in an unfamiliar style. That feeling of tension you get when you approach the foreign idea is the signal that says, "Ah, you need this." As one of my yoga teachers once told me, "Achy, no breaky." She meant that the ache I feel in new positions isn't a bad thing. It is a signal that the area needs more attention.

      The writing stretch produces elasticity of the mind and often opens new territory for the frustrated writer. Try writing a little poetry -- a sonnet gives you a great stretch, as do limericks. Or put your hand to an op-ed piece, an essay, or short story.

      Stretch your writing muscle frequently. And don't be surprised if you discover a whole new field that's been waiting for someone just like you.


    4. Weight Training

      The heavy lifting. White papers, sociopolitical studies, memoirs, book reviews. Even humor can be heavy lifting for some of us. Your writing muscle needs the exertion required by a heavy piece from time to time.

      Heaviness in writing terms is subjective: What heavy lifting is for one writing might be trivial for another. Find the material that challenges your writing muscle, that makes you sweat just to think of it, and work out with it. Too few writers tackle the heavy stuff, but those that do come away with a new confidence in themselves. There's nothing quite like finishing a particularly difficult bit of work and enjoying the feeling of triumph.

      Triumph in this sense has nothing to do with how the audience perceives your work. It's like finishing the first draft of a novel, something that few have done. Even if no one ever reads it, you come in contact with an inner strength that you didn't know you had.

      It is that strength that helps us write and succeed where others fail.

    So, the next time you feel a little stale in the writing muscle, try a four-point writing exercise plan. And watch your writing get fit.

    Copyright © 2003 Michael Knowles

    Michael Knowles is an author, business communications coach, and marketing specialist who helps small businesses and professionals increase profits and better serve their customers and clients. Michael publishes WriteThinking (http://www.WriteThinking.net/) and is author of the soon-to-be-released 101 Creativity Exercises for Writers. Contact him at mike@mwknowles.com.

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ



    WEEKLY WRITES: 52 Weeks of Writing Bliss! Kick start your imagination, ignite your creativity, and begin your journey towards becoming an outstanding writer.

    Grab a copy of WEEKLY WRITES: 52 Weeks of Writing Bliss! from Amazon.com and receive 2 free e-books to encourage and nurture the writer in you. You'll also receive Write Memories, a journaling workbook available for free only to WEEKLY WRITES book owners. And finally, as a WEEKLY WRITES book owner, you'll have free access to e-mail courses such as JOYFUL WRITES: Celebrate Your Life through Writing

    For excerpts, reviews and what you need to do to receive the 2 free e-books, Write Memories and sign up for free e-mail courses, just head on to the Weekly Writes Book Official Site. (Clicking on the link will open a new window.)

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