Writing and Staying Fit Simultaneously

“Develop good habits and make them your masters.”   —Brian Tracy

Whatever your most important goal is, work on it first thing each day.

It’s sage advice that I always tried to follow. In practice, it’s meant one of two things: Either waking up each morning and writing, or waking up each morning and working out. The result is that I’ve regularly accumulated pages on my manuscript or regularly reduced inches on my waistline, but never both.

This year I resolved to change all that. What follows documents my efforts to exercise and write every morning before my “day job,” what obstacles I faced, and how I overcame them.

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First came choosing a workout program. It had to be short while simultaneously using the time effectively. I chose P90X3 from BeachBody.com, which crams a ton of activity into a sustainable thirty-minute workout. I’d done P90X and P90X2 before, so felt I could handle it.

Next, preparation. I knew mornings would be short on time, so I’d do everything I could to streamline the next morning’s activities in advance. The night before I load up my water bottle and set out the clothes I plan to wear for the next day. I also decided to sleep in as much of my workout clothes as practical. The rest I keep at my bedside. It’s important to keep superfluous wandering-around-in-the-morning time to an absolute minimum.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome was waking every workday morning at five-o’clock. This has meant going to bed early enough to ensure at least seven hours of sleep each I night. It’s also meant doing everything I can to make the process of physically getting out of bed as easy as possible. There’s nothing harder than getting out of bed on cold, dark Seattle mornings when you’re listening to the rain pattering on the roof.

I tackled the cold first by setting my thermostat to fire up auotmatically each morning twenty minutes before I plan to get up. This doesn’t make the air warm when I get out of bed, but it helps make the transition as easy as possible.

I conquered waking up on time by getting a FitBit Force, a watch/wrist band that comes with a vibrating alarm. This insures I don’t disturb my wife when it goes off or that I lie awake each morning trying to anticipate the alarm before it sounds. The FitBit also has the advantage of keeping track of activities such as steps walked, stair flights climbed, sleep, active minutes, etc. You can even use it to count water intake, calories consumed, & etc., through FitBit.com’s robust website and/or smartphone app.

I’ve made it a habit not to linger in bed after my wristband alerts me that it’s time to wake up. This is key to making it work. I had to use discipline and willpower. What it came down to for me is asking this question: How important is working out and writing? I imagined how much better I would feel about life if I went to work each morning having had a good workout and having written a few pages. I imagined how much satisfaction I get by feeling healthy and productive. For me, this is the cake of life. Everything else is frosting. The first morning I woke up early was surprisingly easy. The second morning was harder, but I shortly became habituated to it, like acclimating to a new time zone.

Each morning I get up, throw on sweat clothes, feed the cats, then head down to the basement for my workout. This practically takes forty-five minutes to accomplish. Afterward I shower, throw on the clothes that I laid out ahead of time, then head upstairs for my writing session. That leaves anywhere from seventy-five to ninety minutes to write.

The last hurdle was making sure the writing session itself is productive. Computers are great tools, but they’re full of distractions: email, Internet, and dozens of other activities that can suck time away from your daily dance with the muse.

I treat that first moment at the computer as a sprint. Okay, I say mentally, go! and then write as much, as fast and as focused as I can until my wrist alarm goes off at 7:45. I ignore email, ignore the urge to browse the web or take care of even tiny computer-related to dos. I use Scrivener as my word processor, which comes with a full-screen mode that shuts out all other distractions. From then on I make it my primary goal to stay as committed as I can for the entire writing session.

Having worked out, my blood is flowing. I’m sharp and alert and can get an amazing amount accomplished. Each morning it gets easier as mind and body learn what to expect.

This has been my routine so far this year and it’s been immensely rewarding and productive. I feel healthier and happier. Having written and worked out every morning, the rest of my waking hours are guilt free.

What is your most important goal? What are the hurdles getting in your way? How can you remove those obstacles? I’ve found a routine that works for me. You can find one, too.

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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Mindset

Getting your writing published is largely a matter of practice, patience, and planting seeds. More often than not, high hopes are followed by broken dreams when reality fails to meet expectations. After a while is can seem like that classic Peanuts comic strip where Lucy holds the football so Charlie Brown can kick it, only for her to pull the ball away at the last second.

After reading the many, many versions of that comic strip, how can anyone fail to ask, Charlie Brown, why do you bother? She is never going to let you really kick that football, no matter how much it seems that she will.

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Yet when we’re in Charlie Brown’s shoes, we assume the same attitude as he does. Something promising happens and we think, This time, this time, it’s going to happen. I’m going to kick that ball out of the park! 

Last year, the week before Thanksgiving, my agent forwarded me an email from an editor who’d written two pages gushing over my supernatural YA novel, Aftersight. It was one of those emails that every writer dreams about getting, full of ardor and superlatives.

If you’ve read my previous blog entries, you’ll know that I originally wrote Aftersight in third person and rewrote it in first person on advice from my agent.  This editor’s email, while full of praise, had one admonition: “While I loved the story, I thought it would be better written from a third-person perspective. Would the author mind rewriting it in third person?”

After reading that, most would have collapsed in a chair and cried, “Are you kidding me?” (Luckily, I was sitting down.) Instead I thought, Well, I happened to have a third-person version available.

There were some tweaks I’d made to the first-person version that weren’t in the third-person one, but it only took a week to get them in place and then it was off to the editor, exactly two days before Thanksgiving.

Now, the waiting.

For years I’d been baffled by the best mindset to have when you’re in such a position. Do you keep expectations low, so you won’t be disappointed? Do you try to distract yourself with other projects? Do you stay confident and visualize success?

Thoughts aren’t just what is happening inside your head, no mere signals flitting through your brain. Your thoughts are where you’re putting your energy. So, no, keeping expectations low isn’t the answer. That’s not what you want to put out there into The Universe.

Yes, you can try to distract yourself with other projects. If you have the discipline to work on new projects and completely forget an amazing two-page email from an editor like that, you are a Jedi. But likely, even if you try, you’re only burying it inside yourself. Your expectations linger, even if they’re not in your waking consciousness.

For me, I chose to visualize success. Okay, I felt success to the core of my being. This time, I thought, I’m going to kick that football into the end zone.

A week passed, two weeks, three.  Too much time had gone by. By the week before Christmas, whenever I thought of my third-person manuscript in the hands of that editor, I felt ill. Was I putting bad things out in The Universe or was I sensing what seemed to be increasingly apparent: My third person effort failed to meet the editor’s expectations.

In the end, I’ll never know. Two days before I left work for Christmas vacation, I got the news: the editor was passing. No explanation given, even at the persistent prodding of my agent.

Merry Christmas to me.

So what is the answer? What is the proper mindset to have when one is in a position like this, when one is waiting?

I discovered the remedy a few weeks later, once there’d been time for my own expectations and hopes to equalize with reality. The technique I’m about to describe doesn’t just apply to getting published but for anything that you desire to the depths of your soul. Start practicing the technique now, so when The Universe sets a football down in front of you, ready for you to kick, you’ll know what to do.

There are two components to this technique. First, right now, this very moment, decide that what you want is going to happen, whether that’s getting published or whatever it is your heart craves. Take the “if” out of the equation. It is going to happen. Expect it. Know it. Doubt is simply your consciousness’s defense mechanism for coping with disappointment that hasn’t happened yet.

Next, throw out the How and When. You likely already have a mental timeline for when you expect your success to unfold. That timeline might be longer than necessary, in which case you’re undervaluing your abilities. It might be shorter, in which case you’ll grow frustrated if it doesn’t manifest as soon as you expect.

When you visualize success, you’ll often want to insert the How. When something good happens, like my letter from that editor, you’ll think you have the answer: This is how! Forget the How, simply trust. Somewhere, somewhen, somehow, it’s happened,  your consciousness–with its limited three-dimensional perspective–just hasn’t caught up with that success yet. This might be the way it happens, or it might not. But it’s coming. It’s happened. Be patient. Trust. Let it come to you.

The Universe knows the best timing. The Universe knows the best way. In the meantime, it’s feeding you the tools and the talent, so that when it does happen, you’ll be prepared to take that achievement and carry it forward to something far better than you’d ever imagined.

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine‘s Author Blog.

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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Just Write It!

It was time to write the next novel. I sent my agent a half-dozen story ideas, she picked one (fortunately the story behind which I had the most energy), and asked me to write the first fifty pages.

The seed of the story originally came to me in high school. I had been tinkering with the idea for years. I’d even gone as far as writing the first few pages. When my agent asked for the first fifty pages, it didn’t take me long to get momentum behind it. Even after I turned in the first fifty pages, I kept going. Ideas were spouting in my head like mushrooms after a rainstorm and I couldn’t wait to commit them to paper. The creative process had begun.

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Then my agent sent me her feedback. She liked the story, but thought the very first chapter should be moved to later in the story.  Maybe I could start the novel at the current Chapter Three.

Hmmm. Okay, then. I understood what she wanted: Start the story closer to what Joseph Campbell called The Call to Adventure.

I revised chapter one. Again. And again. And again. I handed the results to my test readers, all of whom read the revisions and just shook their heads. What was wrong with the original opening? They loved that opening. That’s what made them fall in love with the characters. True, the new Chapter Ones started closer to the “action,” but these chapters were less impactful because my readers didn’t really care about the characters.

Weeks went by. I wrote outlines and character profiles. I researched my setting. I read books on story structure. I worked on the edits for my then soon-to-be-published novel, Aftersight.  I made more sorties revising Chapter One. My story just wouldn’t get off the ground. It was like those stuttery black-and-white films of early flying machines, where the wings fall off after takeoff, or the aircraft plunges straight off the cliff and into the rocks below. Months went by and I had very little actual material to show for my efforts.

Finally, I decided that I just had to write the thing. Maybe I really had started the story where it was supposed to start, I just hadn’t written it in a way that was impactful enough. Just do it! I thought, quoting the old Nike tag line from the 1980s. That line was always so full of punch: Stop thinking. Stop the excuses. Just do it. Just write it!

The moment I made that decision, the story took off again, better now than ever. I am still in the middle of it, still driving through the night, my headlights only showing the landscape just ahead of me,but I know my destination is out there, somewhere, in the dark.

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine‘s Author Blog.

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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