Monday, January 14, 2013

A Writing Workout

By Adam Gulla

I think of writing as a workout. Eventually, I'd like to get to this point (minus some of the veins).
               Like anything in life, as we’re all aware, practice makes perfect. Learning a foreign language requires its employment every day. To keep our bodies fresh and toned, we must set aside time for exercise. As we know, the same holds true for writing. This knowledge however, does not make the process any easier. Let’s face it, there are times (maybe even a lot of times) we don’t feel like writing. We’ve got work, we’ve got homework, we’ve got relationships to manage, there’s a perfectly good TV show on to watch, or that video game we haven’t beaten. Sometimes, things just don’t click when we try to write. We want to spill our hearts out on the page, but all the words and their arrangements are too clunky, too stupid, too off the mark to be written. 

I struggle with this. 

               When inspiration isn’t battering my door down, I feel, dare I say, anxious to write. And so I’ll sit at my desk, ripping hair out between my fingers, trying to muster what spirits I can to take that bold leap and simply write.

                It’s fear that shackles me in gridlock. Fear that keeps the pen from paper or fingers from the keys. I’m so terrified of writing poor material that it oftentimes keeps me from acting.

“No more,” I finally spat in fear’s ugly face.
                To me, writing is like a workout. There are times I’m primed, motivated, ready to push the weight and make myself stronger (maybe more attractive). And there are others, where lack of mood, anxiety, and distractions make me dread going to the gym for fear of failure. What it all comes down to (inspiration pulsing through your veins or not) is simply writing. I found that if I stifle my fear and let the words fly, the resulting inscriptions are not as terrible as I thought they’d be. Of course, there are many that need immense revisions, but that’s where the fun lies.

                And here’s the thing: writing, like working out, is a matter of persistence. The very first time you start lifting weights, your strength and fitness are not their best. You don’t just start benching 500 pounds your first try (unless you’re the Hulk) or run the 100 meter dash in 9.58 seconds (unless you’re the Flash). The same holds true for writing. The more we work at it, the more we push ourselves, the better we become.

My writing workout routine:

                I try to write every single day, any opening that I get. Lately, the way my classes are arranged, I’m able to get up in the morning (8:30AM) and write an hour before I have to go to school. At this stage in my life, homework (unfortunately) has to come first, but as soon as I get that out of the way, finish the household chores, and hang out with my girlfriend, it’s back to writing. This second opportunity to write usually comes very late in the evening (11PM). This present semester I aim for 1000 words each day. There are times when I just can’t reach that. At those moments I try to squeeze out as much as I can.

                During weekends I write more vigorously if my schedule permits it. Again, homework comes first, but once it’s taken care of, I write in 1 hour to 2 hour stretches at a time, with breaks in between. I try to push a little more words over the weekend, but during that time, I tend to write slower. On a good weekend I’ll claim a word count of around 2,500.

                As for my writing pace, I have always been SLOW and METICULOUS. Think snail’s pace. No, worse—a crippled snail on the verge of passing out. I can spend up to 8 minutes deciding on ONE word. I’ll tinker with a paragraph of four lines for 20 minutes. It could take me as much as an hour and a half to write a single page. This gets to be frustrating when you look at the clock and see you’ve spent most of your day arranging what amounts to 1/8 of a short story.

                I’m trying to change this. I realize that first drafts (even 2nd and 3rd drafts) are the working grounds of a piece. I suppose my fear plays a part in all this OCD. This semester, I intend to let the words fly to the page without restraint for the first few drafts. I’ll take my time revising it after that.

                I have a little corner in my apartment with a desk, printer, bookshelf, and “The Board” on the wall in front of my face. “The Board” is a giant cork board I’ve divided into separate sections (Act #1, Act #2, Act #3). On these sections, I place designated note cards with scenes. “The Board” is reserved for my biggest projects. That is my writing space. When I sit down in my chair and turn on the lamp, it’s like I’m trading minds—the stressed college student becomes the stressed (but hopeful) writer. And when I make that switch I get lost in the craft until I reach the goals I’ve set for the day, or I look up and realize hours have passed and my back’s killing me.

                When I write, I always have the internet pulled up, Google on one tab, Merriam-Webster Dictionary on another. I also have at least one notebook on hand. I use all these resources frequently. Google to look up facts/info, Merriam-Webster for words, the notebook to scrawl, well, notes.

                I do all my pre-writing work on paper only—outlines, plot details, character sketches. I find this liberating for my mind: it feels less set in stone for me to organize it all on paper. Once all the pre-writing work is done, I move to the computer, where I crank out the words and spend endless amounts of time revising. I subscribe to the notion that a work never reaches perfection, it’s only abandoned. Still, I try to make my pieces the best I can (and get frustrated when they’re not up to my standards).

                As I mentioned, there are times when the thought of writing makes me grit my teeth and clench my fists.  The anxieties swell in my mind: This story sucks; Your writing’s terrible; Why do you waste your time? The inner critic is like a Nazi inside my head, pelting me with bullets. But with an established writing workout routine, I discipline myself to confront these grievances and write every day. This is a tremendous aid to keeping me in line. Instead of pouting on the couch, it forces me to take charge and responsibility. Frustrated as I tend to get, anxious as I may be, at least I get the writing accomplished. And in the process, add a little more weight to the bar.

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