Lessons From the Treadmill

TreadmillWe have a new exercise device at home, joining the stationary bike and a few free weights. I’ve been using the treadmill to walk for 30 minutes a day, five days a week for a couple of months now. And as I push to the end of a first draft at Camp NaNoWriMo, I realize how much overlap there is between the two activities.

They are very different as well, of course. Writing is mostly mental, with little physical activity at all; walking is pretty much all physical. Writing is about connections with other people; walking is (for me, at least), solitary. Writing is work, but also pleasurable (well, mostly–see below); walking (for me, at least) is NO FUN AT ALL.

But I’m going to make it to 50,000 words by the end of the month, winning Camp. I’m going to keep going for a week or two past that point to get the whole draft down (estimated at 60,000-80,000 words). I’ve never before finished such a big project all on my own in such a short time. And yesterday, as I huffed and puffed through my exercise, I realized one thing about how I did it.

I am a planner. I’m such a planner I plan my planning. I know it’s not for everyone, but for me, it works. Before I July 1 I already had a spreadsheet for calculating my daily word count and my cumulative word count, and comparing those numbers with what I needed to meet the goal of 50,000 words by July 31. Each morning I sat down knowing that I needed to write 1,613 words that day. Some days it went fairly smoothly (my highest daily word count was 2,861 words, on July 8 – I told you I’m compulsive about keeping track). Other days it was much more difficult, and I realized there were two different kinds of difficult days.

Some days there was just too much else going on to devote the kind of time I needed to reach my word goal. For example, my lowest day was only 685 words, and that was a day that involved 4 hours of travel and unpacking when we got home. This, I realized, was like those logistically complicated days when I just never got onto the treadmill at all. Some days that happens. You just have to allow for them and keep going. All told, there have been six days so far in July when I missed my goal by more than a few dozen words.

Other days, though, it’s just plain hard. I’m facing a scene that I haven’t fully imagined yet. I struggle to figure out what’s going on. People start out over here,doing this, and suddenly I realize they need to be over there doing that. I type, I erase, I copy text and move it around to new places. I switch dialogue and actions from one person to another, which means it has to be rewritten to fit the new character. I’ve been at it for an hour and I’ve added 78 words to my total. I hate it. The book stinks. What made me think I can do this? I want to stop.

That is exactly what my time on the treadmill is like every single day. I am not the kind of person who enjoys physical activity. If they invent a pill that keeps people healthy without exercise I will never move again. But based on several consistent research studies, I’ve set myself a goal of 30 minutes of fairly brisk walking five days a week, and once I get on the machine I do not stop until my 30 minutes are up. I’m still compulsive about numbers (I’m at 19:30 – that’s 65% done!) and the mantra “I hate this, I hate this” keeps running through my head, but until 30 minutes are up I don’t stop.

So on some of my most painful days, I just keep checking my word count and I just don’t stop. I can break it up, allowing myself to take a breather when I hit 600 words, then again at 1,200 words, and then it’s an “easy” 413 before I can quit. But when I find the litany playing in my head, I just think of the treadmill and just keep going.

And like the old joke about hitting yourself on the head with a hammer–it feels really good when I’m done.

Do you ever have days like that? What do you do to keep yourself motivated and moving forward to your goal, whether it’s word count or something else? Share your experiences.

4 thoughts on “Lessons From the Treadmill

    • A coworker who is a runner (she does the Boston Marathon every year) says that she does a lot of her thinking and planning while running. I wish that would work for me. I’d be a much healthier person! Sadly, it’s not in my nature.

      Liked by 1 person

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