Give Your Writing Some Physical Therapy

Welcome to Techie Tuesday here at More Cowbell! Tuesdays are usually about a nifty piece of software or a technical aspect of writing.

You can thank Dear Hubby for this week’s post. He’s in the middle of another round of physical therapy and he got me wound up on the subject other day.

What’s up with all the PT, you might ask? My gentle giant is fine, I swear. But the wear and tear of fifteen years of football is finally taking its toll. Then there’s Baby Girl…our whirling dervish of a toddler is enough to knock anyone out of alignment! I’m going in as soon as he’s done. 🙂

He’s been with the physical therapists twice so far this year and they work wonders. Rather than the knee replacements and long rehabs we feared, these magical PT’s worked on strengthening key muscle groups until he was back in balance and good as new, in eight weeks or less.

How do they achieve this magic?? You know I asked the dude about this! So he brought me home a brochure. WOOT!

Physical Therapy is defined as “a health care profession which targets the physical treatment and management of disease or condition with therapeutic exercise to enable people to reach their maximum potential.”

Hmmm, Maximum Potential…my writing self started feeling kinda frisky over that so I wrote down some questions for the hubby to ask.

1. What was their goal for him?

To strengthen his weaker muscles and get them into balance with his stronger muscles, in this case to keep his kneecap from being pulled to the side.

2. How do they achieve this balance?

Here is where things get REALLY interesting for us writers! There are 3 components that assist you in keeping your balance:

  • Your vision
  • Your inner ear
  • Your musculoskeletal control

(Say what??)

The example they gave him:

When you hold your arm out in front of you, you see your arm. As you look at your arm, you remain upright through the balance of your inner ear (which is the only aspect of this that is really out of our control). You sense your arm through nerve impulses transmitted from the core strength of your muscles which attach to your bones.

All this lets you keep that arm held out straight and still, for much longer than you might think you could. Try it…the act of staring at your hand, out there at the end of your arm makes a huge difference in the amount of effort you need to expend for this exercise.

The reality is that if any of these three components are out of whack, you will not be able to keep that arm (or even your body) upright. Focusing all three components on the task is what makes it work.

So how do we relate these 3 components to writing?

Let’s change the order around a bit and dig a little deeper.

Part 1 – Your Inner Ear

Your inner ear is your voice. Voice is the cadence that is essentially you; it’s what makes your work stand out as unique.

The best description I’ve ever heard of “voice” is:

Imagine you are sitting in a café, telling your friend a story. The way you tell a story is quintessentially you. You don’t stop to think about how the story sounds when you’re talking to your friend, you just tell it. The visual and verbal cues you get back are what help you time the rhythm of your story and play certain parts of it up or down.

The best part, and the hardest part, about writing is that we do it alone. There is no one across the café table, or computer screen, to tell you what’s “just right” and what is falling flat.

We learn to recognize what works on our own (through Craft) or we find a great critique group.

Kristen Lamb did a great post about Voice called, Developing Your Unique Writing Voice.

Part 2 – Musculoskeletal Control.

Definition: This control is essential in our balance and vital to our ability to walk normally. The mechanics of human ambulation, or walking on two legs, is quite unique in nature. It has been described as consisting of a cycle of `controlled falls’, which highlights the complexity of distinguishing between a fall or stumble and normal, controlled walking.

For the writer, “musculoskeletal control” is Craft.

The more you exercise your writing muscles, the more balanced and resilient they become. It took me ages to recognize (and accept) that it doesn’t matter whether you can lift a five pound weight or a fifty pound weight, what matters is that you can do it a lot and do it smoothly.

In writer-speak that means: a good writer with the courage to approach the page every day is going to be published long before a great writer that approaches the page sporadically.

Just like targeted physical therapy can turn a weak knee into a strong one, daily writing can turn a good writer into a wonderful, well-disciplined one. This is why blogging is so helpful.

A great list of Craft books is essential too. Click here if you want to share mine. Here’s some great posts if you want to gorge on a little more Craft:

Part 3 – Your Vision

Your visual strength is what you rely on after you’ve gotten the words on the page. Your vision translates into editing.

I know wonderful writers who have lyrical prose and the ability to create fantastic worlds with engaging characters. Yet they are still fighting to be published. Why?

Is it those mean editors? Those crazy publishers? I regret to say, it rarely is. Most of these writer friends tell me it’s actually because their editing or proofing is not strong enough yet. Practice makes perfect and we’ll all get there if we keep at it and build a powerful writing team to provide help when we need it.

There is a famous quote by Elmore Leonard that frustrates the hell out of most new writers: “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”

The structure of a story is a lot harder than it looks because we have to learn what parts people will skip and why. Kristen Lamb’s latest series on Structure is a priceless gift to all us writers – she’s up to Part 8 right now and they are all fantastic.

Some other helpful editing posts I’ve found are:

Final Thoughts

Wherever you are on your writing journey, DON’T STOP. The best is always yet to come because our writing keeps improving the more we do it. What you hear with your inner ear and see with your writer’s vision will eventually be translated by the “musculoskeletal” strength of your Craft.

My hope is that, even on those days when you feel that all is lost and when you wonder why you EVER believed your words were important, you keep at it.

Remember the thrill that really kickass sentence zings up your spine.
Remember why you started writing that damn book in the first place.
Embrace the act of sharing your story…it’s more than most people ever attempt.

Remember that no one else will have the inner ear to hear the words exactly as you do, the strength to birth them onto the page, or the vision to translate those words into the perfect story that floats from your heart to ours.

What part of writing do you struggle with the most? Voice, craft or editing? I have the hardest time with structure and editing myself, and head-hopping, and conflict and…Oh, sorry. Enough about me… What’s your writing albatross? Enquiring minds always want to know here at More Cowbell!


About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm ( Write on!
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28 Responses to Give Your Writing Some Physical Therapy

  1. K.B. Owen says:

    Fab post, Jenny! I’ve bookmarked it in my “Duh-you-should-be-paying-attention-to-this-cause-your-writing-sucks-moosewing” folder (the shorter name is “writing advice” LOL).

    For me, the first-draft stage is the hardest. Once I have something to work with, I’ll edit till the cows come home, but I’m taking Kristen’s advice and I’m not going to edit the first draft until it’s totally done. For me, it’s kind of a stall tactic to edit the little bits I’ve written, and then my creativity totally dries up. Feel free to slap me upside the head if you catch me at it.

    Thanks for the inspiration, great advice, and handy links!


    • amyskennedy says:

      ditto! Exactly the same for me — so it’s the strength to get it all down. And I can edit the opening page of my book ad infinitum. I am F-O-R-C-I-N-G myself to write through this draft — so people’s names have changed and I haven’t gone back through-out the WIP to update, I’ve added new characters with just a highlighted capitalized note FIX THIS. I have lots of notes. Lots of notes.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Kathy!! And your writing NEVER sucks moosewing, you funny girl.

      I find the first draft stage to be difficult too. As Bob Mayer says, most writers like “having written” rather than the sit down and finish a brutally imperfect first draft part of things. You are not alone, and I’m glad you’re pushing yourself through it with post-its. I’m the same way. 🙂


    • Marcia says:

      LOL, Kathy! Love your file folder title!


  2. Julie Glover says:

    This is a great post! I really appreciate your advice and the links as well. As to what my own struggles are, as a matter of fact, I … *crash, bang* Sorry for that interruption. I stepped into a big plot hole from my book. I really should cover those dang things up. Anyway, what was I saying?

    I’m mostly pantsing, but some overall plotting. Unfortunately, there are times when the lack of detailed structure means I leave gaps or gaping canyons that need to be filled by better story structure. I’m working through my weaknesses now and learning to plot better. (Save me, edits!) Wonderful stuff, Jenny. This satisfied customer is ringing a cowbell to indicate good service here.


  3. Fantastic post Jenny – really lifted me up and inspired me. Such great resources and ways of thinking of things. Like Kathy, I filed this one away for future reference.
    Giving that I haven’t even really started my book yet, I can’t speak to which part will be the hardest. So far, it’s picking a darn idea! Just when I think “that it…I am sticking with this one…” I’ll second guess myself and wonder off into idea #32 land which is WAY more perfect than idea #22. What is with my idea commitment phobia??? Oh well…I am going to stick it out and go through the process and I am sure one of these days I’ll settle on something. By the time ROW80 is done, I’ll likely have 4 or 5 ideas semi-plotted out. That can’t be all bad, right?! LOL!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Nat. And I’ll tell you what I’ll bet Nancy told you: the only way to figure out what you want to write is to read a lot and just start writing a bunch of crap. At some point, your crap starts sounding good and you begin to hear all kinds of voices in your head. LOL…


  4. gingercalem says:

    Excellent way to break the process down and look at it from a different perspective.


  5. Laura Drake says:

    Wow Jenny – way deep! Thanks, I love blogs like this – they make me look at somthing I’ve taken for granted forever, and look at it a new way. Amazingly wonderful.

    I’d add one thing – if you need help with your vision (read: editing,) I’d highly recommend Margie Lawson’s classes. She not only taught me how to get outside my own work to see what was wrong, she taught me how to hone my inner ear (read:voice) but also my muscles (read:craft)
    Seriously – she’s that good. Oh yeah, and the emotion is now on the page!


  6. Structure and therefore, editing. But I finally feel as though I’ve got a workable understanding of structure now and I’m starting to see a huge improvement in the pacing of my first drafts. Essentially, this means less rewriting and editing, a definite bonus.

    Great post, Jenny. I’m about to go into a round of editing, so I’m going to check out the links you’ve included with your post. I have not read a single one of them, so I’m looking forward to picking up a few new tidbits. Thanks!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      That’s wonderful that you’re starting to feel things turning in the positive direction! I think it feels tiny, then tiny, then tiny and all of a sudden we look up and we’ve moved halfway across the lake. Enjoy the links. 🙂


  7. Excellent analogy, Jenny! Great advice all around and your Final Thoughts contain words we all need to hear. Seriously … très profound, meaningful, and to the point. Thanks!


  8. What an awesome analogy Jenny! This was great!

    And so encouraging! Wow, do we all go through this? It’s crazy how much we all have in common.

    That’s it, I’m heading to physical therapy right now! LOL

    Thanks Jenny! 🙂


  9. hawleywood40 says:

    What a wonderful comparison – I see and love so much of YOUR writer’s voice here in this post! As for my struggles, editing for sure! It is the part I enjoy the least, and I am always best at what I enjoy. When I’m telling the story, I’m all focus and laser vision. When it comes time to edit, my brain goes “should I get rid of that comma? Oh, look, a bird! That sentence sounds awkward, maybe I should rework it … yikes! The laundry buzzer just went off …” You get the picture : ).


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LMAO at you having a shiny object for everything that’s not the page. I can laugh because I do it too. Especially when the writing is hard, I’m all like: Ooooh, look…dryer lint!!


  10. Kathy says:

    Wonderful post! I’d like to include a link to it in the newsletter I edit. Would you have any objections?


  11. I love how you take day-to-day stuff into a writing analogy! And so inspiring too.

    I feel a little schizophrenic when it comes to where I struggle. Every story seems to be different, but I’d say keeping the tension/conflict up.

    Wonderful post Jenny.


  12. Marcia says:

    You are very good at choosing the right analogy for your lesson, Jenny.
    As for me, I’m good on structure and have learned how to pace, working on upping the tension in my scenes. I have a closet full of shiny objects that grab at my attention when things get tough, so I’m constantly trying to kick it shut!
    But THIS is my biggest downfall: “a good writer with the courage to approach the page every day is going to be published long before a great writer that approaches the page sporadically.”
    Oh I write my blog daily, but my WIP sits idle for days at a time…I have “too much other work to get done”, don’t you know. I’ve blogged ahead 4 weeks, so beginning tomorrow I’m writing only on one of my works in progress. By the end of December, I should have 80-100 pages of a first draft done on my short story anthology. (That is if i can stay away from emails and facebook. :P)
    Really good post, Jenny!


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