The Importance of Writers Warming Up by Faith Van Horne
I met Faith last fall when she commented on one of my Healthy Writers Club posts. I was fascinated when she mentioned how karate has helped her improve her writing and vice versa, so I asked her to write monthly posts about writing and exercise for us! Enjoy her insights this month on writers warming up. And share you own in the comments!
We all know that we need to warm up before engaging in strenuous physical activity, since people are more likely to injure tight, unprepared muscles. But the way we warm up is also important. Some new research has come to light that re-examines the way we get ready to exercise. (Bear with me for a couple of paragraphs here. The first portion of this post is going to stick to fitness, but it does tie in to writing later, I promise.)
When most people get ready for strenuous physical exertion, they prepare with some light movement, usually followed by static stretching. That is, stretching where the body stays stationary and the muscle fibers are lengthened. But static stretching may actually hinder workout potential. In a recent study, static stretching was shown to lessen the amount of energy exercisers put into their workouts. For example, it made weightlifters feel weaker during their workouts.
So what’s the solution? A dynamic warm up. Instead of keeping the body still, use movements similar to the ones you’ll be using for the workout itself. So, if you’re going to be running, warm up with some walking in place, or bringing your knees to your chest. Lengthen the hamstrings by moving forward, kicking your legs up straight in front of you. Get the quads ready by raising your heels to your buttocks while lifting your arms above your head to warm up your shoulders and get blood moving.
Likewise with writing, I find I have an easier time when I warm up before trying to dive into a scene. If I just stand in front of a page full of words I wrote yesterday, it’s immensely difficult to start that momentum going again. And I like the idea of starting with a “dynamic” writing warm up. In this context, that would mean writing words related to the scene I’m about to start on, without actually writing that scene.
So, for example, I probably have an idea for how the next part of the story is going to play out in general terms. I know the characters involved, how the scene starts, and how I want the story to have changed in a forward-moving direction at the end of it. And if I don’t know, I can use this dynamic warm up time to figure that out.
Now what’s missing is the details. So I can use this warm up time to prepare my writing muscles by working out those particulars. Let’s say my characters need to have a conversation. What’s the most effective setting for that conversation? Does one of them have a mundane task they need to accomplish that can also be tackled in this scene? That way, I can move forward in two directions, dealing with a character’s immediate need while also pushing the story forward.
Warming up for writing in this fashion also takes some of the stress off. I can sort of write my scene, while not being hindered by the pressure I sometimes feel to “get it right” the first time. After all, I’m just warming up.
Have you tried warming up before writing? When you exercise, what kind of warm up have you found effective?
Faith Van Horne is the author of the young adult fantasy novel Slideways. Her collection of offbeat horror stories, Super Sargasso, is now available. She is currently working on another novel. In her free time, she practices karate, and even helps teach it a little. She also blogs at Scribatious (faithvanhorne.