Mental Exercise

My legs are sore. Back, too, for that matter. I’ve been working on getting back in shape. I started on easy mode – even if I were inclined to join a gym, that’s not an option currently. No, I’ve been walking instead. I was invited by an old friend and my sister to join a small online accountability group, and we set goals, then try to reach those daily. With the wonders of modern technology, we can share photos of our walks, and maps. Where, you wonder, am I going with this? Well, I set a modest goal, to walk a ‘marathon’ of 26 miles in the month of May. I set my sights low, because since I switched jobs 6 months ago I have been almost inert due to stress and change of routines. I don’t like it, and I am determined to change it.

I had also stopped writing, more or less at the same time. However, I started to work on getting the writing brain back in shape at the beginning of the year, instead of waiting until spring. I’m starting to see results from that. Like the physical, the mental has been a long, slow build as I get my life battered into something resembling a useful routine. Just when I got that, the family went into lockdown and my writing time evaporated. However, I kept at it. And I saw that it was working.

I’ve been tracking my productivity daily using a spreadsheet, and that gives me something to work toward. Every night, I sit down at my laptop and fill out fields in the sheet, and if I haven’t written during the day, I flip to one of the four or five story documents I have open and ready, and write in it, then tally my wordcount. Starting in March, I made myself write fiction. Every. Single. Day. Each month I’ve set progressively more difficult – for values of difficult – goals.

As you can see from my cheerful red bars, it’s working. I’m not producing prodigious word quantities – I’ll never again have a 10K word day, I don’t believe. I don’t have the time for that. I’m doing well, most days, to hack out 30 minutes of writing time, although I might get that much more than once a day. Sitting down and having uninterrupted time? Nope. I have a job, and a family, and a husband who is home all day and SO happy to see me when I come home. Not to mention that the kids are happy to see me, and the dog, and the dishes, and…

My goal for May is to write no less than 100 words a day. Last month in April my goal was to write something, of fiction, every day. The shortest day was 21 words, and my average was almost 500 words. The problem I’m going to have, and this is more about my writing style than it is time and mental strength, is finishing anything. Especially novels. Trying to keep the plots, and threads, running in my head when I have just the time to sit down and write, not the time to capture when it comes in my head (and yes, I keep a notebook handy but the nature of my work does not always allow my hands to write even brief notes, and I refuse to stand in the lab talking to myself to dictate notes). I’m not (yet) that Mad a Scientist.

The other thing I have been doing, other than tracking wordcounts and setting small incremental goals that build into bigger goals, and so forth, is prompted writing. I’ve shared about the Odd Prompts group here before. For me, in this season, it’s very helpful as it gives me a story kernel to grow something around. Yes, I have tons of ideas. I have novels that simply must be written. I have so much… and sometimes the prompt gives me an excuse to not write under pressure. It’s just a little thing I can draw out of my brain when I’m struggling to reconnect in limited time with the novel.

Like this: 

“What is it?” 

Lin turned the small object over in her hands. It had been lying on the sidewalk and she had almost stepped on it. Her fingertips caught at an almost unseen roughness. The shine of metal had caught her eye, and the shape of it. It wasn’t a piece of trash. 

“Lin!” Her sister stamped an impatient foot. “Where did you get that?” 

Lin looked up at Kitty. Her older sister was far too old to be demanding things like a spoilt child, but Lin knew what she would say… “It’s a 3D printed spaceship,” she wasn’t going to mention she’d found it on the ground, or the next order would be to throw it away. 

“Where did you get it?” Kitty was already losing interest, Lin saw. “You’re such a nerd.” 

Lin shrugged, but Kitty had looked away, out the living room window. A car was pulling into the driveway. “Dad’s home!” 

Lin slipped the small silvery ship into her battered leather satchel. That, too, had been a rescue. She’d found it while thrifting and stuffed it into a bag of other stuff, to be bought for five bucks. Kitty had been horrified when she discovered where Lin shopped, and tried to get her sister to toss it all. Lin had shown her what the satchel would cost on the fancy online thrift store her sister said was all the rage. It hadn’t been mentioned again. Lin was just grateful Kitty was a snob, not greedy. 

Lin heard her father open and shut the front door, then Kitty’s high voice, prattling at him. Lin waited. She would talk to him later. He hated to be pounced on just as he got in from work. He wanted time to unwind. Mother… 

Lin shied away from the thoughts. She picked up the satchel and quietly headed for the back door. While Kitty was distracted, she’d get some quiet time in at the library.


Where is this going? Heck if I know. I don’t even know if this is Earth, or what. I’m not sure of the ages of the named characters. They might be teens, but then again they could be in their 20s or 30s and still living at home with Dad, which would really make this scene absurd and irritating. I could easily turn this into a SF story, or a romance, or a literary angst piece. Ok, not likely to do that last. Or… I could say I wrote 329 words yesterday, and I can link back to the prompt post, and my weekly challenge would be fulfilled as well.

Fiona Grey prompted me with “a 3d printed spaceship” and I prompted Kat Ross with “Time is relative and there are no rules. Except for this one rule. What is it?”

And that’s my exercise routine. What’s yours? How do you push your brain to more writing, with the long-term goal of better writing? Is the lockdown helping, or hurting?


  1. Speaking as a reader, I liked the snippet. It grabbed my attention. I’d like to see where you go with it.

    > I don’t even know if this is Earth, or what. I’m not sure of the ages of the named characters. They might be teens, but then again…

    Unless it’s relevant somehow, *I don’t care.*

    I’ve been reading a bunch of “classic” and pulp SF from the 1940s to mid-1960s. There are quite a few excellent stories – some of them noted classics – where we’re told almost nothing about the protagonist, their society, or what they think about things. It wasn’t relevant to the story, so the author didn’t put it in.

    I realize the modern style is to give backstory for the previous three generations… but it takes very little of that before “I don’t care” trumps any interest I might have had in the story, and I close it and try something else.

    1. I err on the side of not explaining. Sometimes, editors have pointed out to me, I err too far on the side of ‘sparse’ description. Especially when it comes to character description.

    2. Some characters won’t bloomin’ tell you anything! And if you try to suss out options, they just say, “Nope,” and march off to do story stuff, leaving the poor author behind.

    3. During the Golden Age (roughly, the 1940s) almost all SF appeared in the magazines, and not books. And Astounding paid better than any of the other markets (as well as being edited by John Campbell, who was the best editor the field has ever seen) (I’m not counting Unknown, which only ran 39 issues, but, while it was there, defined lots of modern fantasy in the way that Astounding did for SF).

      So you’ve got room for 12 issues, each of which has a novella, a novelette or two, a few short stories, maybe an article or so, and part of a serialized novel. So you’re making your money writing short fiction (there’s only room for 3-4 novels/year) — and the novels are short by current standards (the boundary between novella and novel was 40k words — except for YA, you don’t get novels that short now).

      And the 1950s brought the Ace double paperbacks. Two complete novels, bound back to back — in a paperback sized page, with a *total* of under 320 pages (often 256). So you’re fitting a novel into 160 small-size pages or fewer.

      Which meant that, if something wasn’t needed, it wasn’t there.

  2. “Time is relative and there are no rules. Except for this one rule. What is it?”

    Led me into a regular rabbit warren of research with this one. I’d protest but that’d be like Br’er Rabbit protesting being thrown into the briar patch. 😉

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