>Staying in Shape

Welcome to the New Year everyone.

Staying in Shape – OK, I’m not talking about how many push ups and jumping squats you can do.

I’ve been thinking about the elements of prose and storytelling, and wondering how you keep all of those skills sharp.

Stephen King in his book On Writing talks about carrying around the Grammar Tool Box. He uses a neat metaphor in the book for this, but I’m afraid nothing can really get me all that excited about grammar. I tend to learn it as I need it, then let myself forget it – after which point it becomes instinctive. I usually only need to research grammar once in a blue moon.

What started me off on all this was reading about competitive athletes and how they stay in peak condition. Then I was thinking, ‘What is peak writing condition?’

My first reaction was that time is the critical issue. I you asked a sprinter what he was going to do with the first hour of his available training he is going to answer ‘sprinting’ . It’s only the tenth or twentieth hour where weight training, cross training or stretching start to come into the balance.

So – assuming you do have ten or twenty hours to actually write, what would you do with part of this time to stay in condition? I guess it’s all about filling in the gaps – literary cross-training. If you are writing novels, write some short prose to hone your skill and rein in the wordiness. If you are writing third person, try first person. If you are scratching to get the words out – remove the mental barriers and give yourself permission to write anything as long as the words keep flowing, even if you are typing out the blurb on the back of a cereal box. If you are a pantster – try plotting. If you are an obsessive plotter – try letting the narrative take over.

How do you stay in Writing Shape? What else could help to increase Writing fitness, or do you just need to get the words out? Do you do any deliberate work to hone writing skills?


  1. >Hi Chris,This post really struck a chord in me. I'd been slogging through the rewrite of a novel. Over Christmas I gave myself time to try all that oppositional stuff you described. Short story. First person. Writing without planning. It was great. Trouble now is to get back to the big one.

  2. >Hi Chris – I find my little island writers group does this nicely – it forces me out of my comfort zone to write odd things – and to experiment with different styles.

  3. >Hi, Rita. I hadn't really considered that the sprinter might prefer weight-lifting:)I think if you push yourself through the initial hump you will find the other work has given you new muscles and a fresh perspective. What's the novel project about?

  4. >Hi, Dave. I hope you are pushing them to their limits at the same time? I like the idea of a historical novelist being prodded into writing about dragons:)

  5. >And reading, which isn't so much training as a constant healthy diet. The idea of deliberately doing the bits of writing I'm bad at is really interesting, thank you – I haven't consciously done that since uni.Louise Curtis

  6. >Oh, and I just realised I wrote a post this week on writing twitter tales. If you REALLY want to cut down on needless words, that's the way to do it. http://twittertales.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/102-write-a-twitter-tale/I'm considering guest tales, if anyone is brave enough – I have about 2500 followers. Stories need to be G/PG, preferably specfic, one month long or less with a maximum of three updates a day. You are most welcome to use your own fictional characters.Louise Curtis

  7. >Changing around the writing, trying short stories, gives me valuable new prespectives on writing novels, things I'm missing and seeing what isn't there.When my writing flags, it's generally because of too little sleep, too many carbs in the diet, and too little physical excercise-especially getting out and doing things.

  8. >MataPam"When my writing flags, it's generally because of too little sleep, too many carbs in the diet, and too little physical excercise-especially getting out and doing things."That pretty much sums up my entire life right there…As for writing, yeah, I aim for novels, and burn through flash to play with ideas, my biggest fail in process is not shape but follow-through…But it's a new year, write on….dingsti? What's a dingsti?

  9. >I'm at my most dingsti when short on sleep . . .My next step in writing has to be getting the characters explicit emotions onto the paper. I'm finding this problem worst in my shorts, rather than my longer fiction. Heh. Wrong thing to save words on . . . shoidest – shody shortest stories?

  10. >Great post, Chris.I think staying peak condition as a writer is all about your mind set.It doesn't matter what you are doing of where you are. Your mind is always observing people and the world and correlating these observations back to the constructs (stories) you make in your head.

  11. >Hi, Louise. Adding reading as the diet works perfectly into that analogy:) Good Writing Nutrition – a stable diet of well written work, but also some different sorts of writing to provide essential writing nutrients – ha! I love it.2500 followers – wow you are really powering. I'll have to check out that link.

  12. >Hi, Matapam. Do you write the shorts in the same universe as the novel, or do you try something completely different? Just curious as you said it gives you a different perspective on the novel, I thought you might be trying some new things in the same setting. Strangely, I have never done this – I seem to get the story and the format in the same gulp.

  13. >Hi, Daniel. Are you in a writing group? It might help to have some other writers to commit you goals to – telling someone you see on a regular basis what you plan actually spurs you on quite well. Also if you are subbing chapters – say each month – it gives you a good reason to get each one into shape.

  14. >Hi, Rowena. Nice perspective there. Mindset has to be a key component in anything.I think I operate a little differently – when I am not writing I am not consciously relating back to my current work. I always seem to be questing for the next concept, or the next mystery to unravel about the world or myself. I'm sure this all ends up in the same creative cauldron however:)

  15. >Chris,Both. I've tried a few with no connections to what else I'm writing, but since I write a bit of everything, almost any could be shoehorned into an existing universe. More often I've started with a know world and done something different. Several times a minor character from a novel insists on his own story. My "Fancy Farmer" flash fiction, available free from Naked Reader, spawned a novel.So it can go either way.I think the most fun I had was doing first person from the POV of a ditzy blonde. With a warrior-mage from another dimension as a sort of Fairy Godfather to help her get revenge on her boy-friend stealing room-mate.

  16. >My choice is to have one or more practice pieces on the go. Sometimes they're fanfic, sometimes they're just something I'm playing with as an experiment or to work out a technique or an idea that's not ready for public consumption.I don't ever have my practice pieces in an existing universe of mine – it defeats the purpose. If I'm playing with worldbuilding techniques, I don't want an existing world. If I'm trying out characterization techniques, I'll visit fanfic so I can focus on character rather than world-building.That's why they're practice pieces – I'm practicing the techniques and skills I use in my writing career. I'm not "performing" the way I am when I'm working on something I intend to try to get published.

  17. >Hi, Kate. I'm very much the same way. I tend to have a very focussed idea of what I want in any universe or story and don't want that bent out of shape.Congrats again on Vlad's appearance:) Awesome cover.

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