First Steps are Worth the Anguish

I went to the gym today. I know, that’s not a big deal – except it is.

I used to work out religiously. I’ve run nine marathons, competed in sprint-distance triathlons and taught aerobics for years. Then, I got hurt. The injury forced me to cut out workouts for a while. A while became months, then a year, then two years. Oh, I could have gone back to the gym after four to six weeks, but I didn’t. By then my routine was broken and my mind was filled with excuses:

What if they’ve switched up the class routine or music?

What if new people have joined and my work out buddies like them better?

I can’t do a hard workout today because I don’t want to be stiff and sore before this weekend’s trip.

Better not swim today, I don’t want “goggle eyes” in my afternoon meeting.

What if I re-injure myself?

I had been googling class times for weeks, always coming up with a reason that I couldn’t make it to a spin class or yoga session. But today I did it. Finally. And it wasn’t awful.

So, why am I sharing this exercise saga on a blog devoted to writers? Because it’s all pretty much the same.

Writers who get out of the routine of writing often face the same sort of anxiety when they try to get back to it. Instead of a weight room packed with muscle-bound humans, writers face blank pages and blinking cursors. For those who haven’t written in a while, the anxiety can be very real:

What will I write about?

What if the words won’t come?

What if my writing isn’t any good?

Those worries can fester and multiply until, well, it’s easier to run errands or clean the bathroom – pretty much anything but write. Put off starting for a day and pretty soon you will have delayed a week, then a month, then six months.

Haven’t written since high school or college? Yes, writing may feel awkward when you begin again. Sentences may be forced, ideas may be stale. Keep at it. Like a first day back in the gym, the first day writing again is just that – a first day, a first step. Stick with it. Start with 10 minutes every other day. As writing becomes more natural, you’ll be able to stretch yourself to 20- or 30-minute sessions.

Every time I’ve ever stopped exercising for a while, I’ve sworn I’ll never do it again – getting back into shape, getting back to a routine is so hard. It’s the same with writing. But it’s worth it.

So, tune out the negative self-talk that’s keeping you from starting whatever you’ve been meaning to start: running, yoga, writing, painting, learning a language. Taking the first step is never easy, but without it, change is impossible.

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