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Lisa / September 29, 2015

Building Muscles

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I’m going to get a little more personal today than I normally do, and talk about progress.

I have never been what anyone would call physically fit. I was one of those kids who hated gym class (thanks to gym teachers and my fellow students, but that’s a rant for another place and time), hated sports, hated getting sweaty, etc. I flirted with physical fitness in my 20s when I had a job that included walking a group of preschoolers to the park on regular basis and a hobby that included spending hours doing medieval dancing. But that’s it.

In 2012, I got a day job that allowed me to work exclusively from home for a web consulting company that had employees all over the country. I was delighted. Working in my pajamas! Surrounded by my pets! It was a great job, and I still do consulting work for that company today. But there was one thing I didn’t take into consideration: with no commute, and no need to get up and walk around an office for anything, my already-low activity levels plummeted.

By 2015, my fitness levels were so bad, walking around my house for more than five minutes left me winded. I don’t know what threw the switch that made me decide to make a change this summer, but with the encouragement of a friend, I got a Fitbit and got started. And I promptly did what probably everybody who’s starting a fitness program does: I did too much (and still have the plantar fasciitis to show for it).

Now granted, my “too much” didn’t look like much at all, and it got really hard not to compare myself to my friends who were going on runs and long hikes while I was trying to do things like vacuum my entire house without stopping. Realizing that was an eye-opener, and I started competing against my old self, not against anyone else, and not against any standard of what was “enough” exercise. And slowly, over the past twelve weeks, I’ve made progress. I can walk a half-mile now, and I can walk it at a much faster pace than I could even a month ago. I can make it through my thirty minutes of yoga without wanting to die–enjoying it even! (And yes, it’s chair yoga designed for senior citizens, but it works, and eventually when I’ve rebuilt enough strength I’ll be able to ditch the chair.) I look back at where I started in July, and where I am now is, frankly, amazing.

I was reminded of this last night when I mentioned on Twitter that I’d written 70,000 words this month. (Which is a personal best, and I’m still pretty gobsmacked.) Someone wanted to know how I did it, and the thing is, I couldn’t have when I was first starting out. It’s been said before, but writing really is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger and faster and more enduring it gets. Just like with physical exercise, someone who sets out to write that much when they’re starting out is going to get discouraged and frustrated and maybe stop, the way I always have before with exercise, when I tried to start out where I thought I should be, as opposed to where I was.

Just like with exercise, when you start where you are, and compete only with your old self, your chances of building a sustainable practice increase dramatically. My friend–the one who got me started on this path to more activity–put it best, and I think this applies to writing as well: “The right way is whatever lets you do it [again] tomorrow.”

With NaNoWriMo coming up, if you’re joining in and you don’t already have a regular writing practice, start training now. Start where you are, whether that’s two hundred words a day or a thousand. Compete against old you, do a little more each time you write than you did before. A sustainable practice in writing–or in exercise–is a marathon, not a sprint, and every day is a new opportunity for training.

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