Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Stretch Your Writing Muscles!

Yesterday, I went to my first Barre class. If you don't know what Barre is, imagine twisting your body into a pretzel shape, then doing 247 planks, and then rolling out an open window.

I'm going to give you all the whole, unflattering version of this story because I know you all will appreciate it. So, I show up in my typical Zumba wear, excited for what I read online was a "combination of ballet, pilates, and yoga." I haven't really done any ballet, but I love pilates and yoga, so I figured this would be right up my alley. I mean, let's not have any misunderstandings here-- my fitness level is far from Cheryl Burke. But I do have decent flexibility, balance, and above-average rhythm. I took a pilates class while in college, so I figured, how different can it be?

Uh, pretty different.

So I walk in, and there are about ten other women in the room. Already, this is a bad sign, because it's becoming clear to me if I do need to bail, I'm not going to be able to do so without the rest of the class watching me. And because I'm only one minute early, guess where I get to put my mat? Yep, right in front of the entire class.

For our first warm-up type exercise, we do planks. I'm thinking, "Oh good. I do a few planks a week, so I shouldn't embarrass myself too badly with this one." Right? Wrong. We hold a regular plank for something like thirty or forty-five seconds before the instructor starts calling out all these variations for what felt like hours. Again, I'm in the front, so I push myself way beyond the realm of what I'm comfortable doing so as not to humiliate myself. Finally, I all-but-collapsed in exhaustion. And this went on for the next... oh, approximately forty-seven minutes... as every other muscle in my body reached fatigue, and being out of shape didn't seem like such a big deal anymore-- that is, if the alternative was feeling like I was about to stop breathing.

The strategy with barre is to work each muscle beyond the point of twitching or shaking, until it actually reaches fatigue. My muscles felt things I never knew they were capable of feeling.

But then something happened to me about halfway through the class. After a couple scares where I really thought I might pass out, I felt strangely empowered.

See, I'd never known my body was capable of plie-ing seven-hundred times while lifting my feet in every direction possible. And if I hadn't been in that class with those ten people and that really tough instructor, believe me, I would've given up. Looooooong before I finished.

You see where I'm going with this, don't you? This same concept applies to our writing.

We have this tendency to write the same things in the same way once we find a groove. It's almost like a particular kind of dance that we get comfortable doing. You know, that go-to wedding dance move you always pull out whenever you need it. We find our confidence with certain narrative "moves" (see what I did there?) that always seem to work well for us. And before we know it, we stop pushing ourselves.

But imagine the growth that could happen if you spent even five minutes a day stretching those writing muscles. Where could you be in three months? And when you begin to push yourself, don't give up.

Maybe you have found a writing niche that works well for you. That's great! But think about this. If you don't push yourself to learn more about the craft, deepen your POV, and try new storytelling techniques, where you are now is as far as you'll ever be. Yes, learning and stretching sometimes makes us feel awkward. We may even look awkward to other people. Sometimes we want to pick up our yoga mat and high-tail it back to our comfort zones. But we'll never know how far we can go if we don't try. And we'll never know how far we can run if we don't fall down and make a fool of ourselves. :)

I want to encourage you to push yourself in your writing this week. Maybe consider brainstorming for a character you don't think would ever fit into your typical stories. Or write a poem. There's no limit to what you could come up with! But whatever it is, take a few minutes on a regular basis to stretch those writing muscles and gain a whole new range of flexibility. You'll be amazed how far you'll come.

Your turn! Do you have a writing rut you tend to fall into? For me, it's comedy. I love writing humor in my stories, and I think it's one of my story-writing strengths, but sometimes I rely on it a little too much instead of delving deeply into character emotion, which is something I'm working on. I'd love to hear from you all!


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blogFacebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


Julia M. Reffner said...

I LOVE this! What a great analogy, as someone who's recently stretching myself with fitness I can relate. I didn't think I would bike 15 miles at a time, but now I'm trying for 25, then 40. I definitely need to apply this to my writing life. I think this is by writing about a topic that's been close to my heart for years (WWII). Since I got home I've been starting to brainstorm it. I think this is my stretching story, emotionally, taking me places I'm a bit nervous to go.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Good for you, Ashley! You made me laugh out loud. In Panera. At least it's loud in here this morning so I didn't embarrass myself too much. :)

I loved your post and your challenge to stretch yourself. I'm doing this by beginning a book in a new genre (for me). I'm beginning writing today. And I'm excited, nervous, scared that I won't be able to do it. But I'm getting out of my women's fiction comfort zone and working on this. I'm excited and in prayer that I can do it. :)

Ashley Clark said...

I love that, Julia! Can't wait to hear more about your story!

Ashley Clark said...

Jeanne, that sounds awesome! I think writing a new genre is a GREAT way to do some writing stretching and extend our writing skills beyond what we're familiar doing. Let us know how it goes!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Love reading this! You go girl!!!

Ashley Clark said...

I thought of you, little runner, and it made me inspired! ;)