The “Perfect” writing schedule


A couple months ago I bought the “Perfect Pushup” and, for those two months, I’ve been doing pushups. That may sound like the sort of obvious thing you’ve come to expect from this blog, but it’s really quite significant.

It’s not like I haven’t known how to do push ups or haven’t understood their benefits. I just haven’t done any. So what’s so special about these $25 future-garage-sale trinkets? For one thing, the Perfect Pushup is a clever little device and I, like most Gen-Xers, like clever little devices. Maybe it’s that those swivels make pushups more comfortable. That’s probably part of it.

The difference is, I think, that those handled circles come with a little glossy foldout with a schedule. That schedule is impossibly flexible and forgiving. It doesn’t want me to do pushups every day and it doesn’t want me to kill myself when I’m doing them. Instead, I just follow an every-other-day pace with a manageable quantity and, before I know it, I’ve done pushups. I’m still suspicious I’m doing something wrong.

So, I’ve applied that principle to a couple other things: running and writing. I hate running. Always have. Always will. But it’s good for me and it helps keep me lean(-ish) and every year or so, I convince myself to start running again. And every year or so, I get the sniffles or stay up too late and lose the momentum to run.

This year, I’ve done something ridiculously simple and whether or not it will remain effective, I don’t know. I run three days a week for ten minutes each of those days. That’s nothing, right? No. Not running is nothing. Three days a week for ten minutes a day is something. And so, I’m doing pushups and I’m running and it seems to be a pace that I can live with. At that rate, I’ll never run a marathon, but who cares? At the other rate — the rate of nothing — I wasn’t going to run one either.

How does this fit into writing? I know that to be a great writer, I have to write everyday. I have to wake at 5 a.m. and pound, pound, pound it out until I make the NY Times Bestseller list. But, that isn’t sustainable. It’s just like running and I know myself and I know the busy-ness of my life enough to know I’ll start, trip up, and never finish. Eventually, I’m back to writing nothing.

I’ve just started a novel, and I wish I could win the lottery and be independently wealthy or have a button that pauses time when I’m ready to write. But I have neither of those things (do you?). What I do have, is a little time in the mornings. Not much, but something. So, I get up everyday and write 1,000 words. That’s it. I don’t try to push much past that. I don’t come back later in the day and write another 1,000 or edit the few that I’ve written. I just write my 1,000 (usually between 1,000-1,300) and stop shortly thereafter. Sometimes I leave notes for myself, letting me know where to pick up the next day. Tomorrow, I’ll review today’s writing and then pump out another 1,000 words.

That’s nothing, right? No, it’s something. And, if I keep it up for three months — most of us can do anything for three months — that batch of not-nothing is a 90,000 word novel. It will need polish, improvement, and serious editing, but it will be 90,000 words that I wouldn’t have written waiting around for the lotto and a wormhole. And so, I may not be getting bulked up or creating any great example of commitment, but I am exercising and I am writing. That’s something.

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