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Getting comfortable with discomfort

I look exactly like this in the gym.

“Most of what I know about writing fiction I learned by running every day.” — Haruki Murakami

Murakami wrote the above in his memoir “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running,” which is a great read, even if you don’t run, which I do not. I do, however, exercise, and it’s definitely helped my writing habits.

It took me years to really commit to any kind of workout. Exertion freaked me out, frankly. I’m naturally anxious and convinced death is imminent even on my most relaxed days, so getting to the point where I could tolerate an increased heart rate, burning muscles, or even fatigue took a while. When I started out, anything aerobic could tip me over into a panic attack. And weights? Why, they made things hurt! How could I make things hurt on purpose?

But I kept at it, and eventually it hit me: I wasn’t dying. I was enduring discomfort, and I felt better. I could lift a suitcase into the upper storage bin in an airplane without tipping over. I could run up several flights of stairs without exploding.

Once I was deeply familiar with how crappy I might feel during a workout, with what was normal and what might be truly alarming, I became adept at ignoring my brain’s commands that I cease and desist and locate the nearest donut. I know the routine, now; I know at some point I’m going to want to give up, and I know it doesn’t matter. At my most perverse, I even welcome the discomfort. If I’m not uncomfortable, I’m not working hard enough.

It’s the same thing with writing. I still feel anxious that what I’m writing is no good. I still feel the urge to flee. I still think up ten things I could do with my time that would be better or at least more pleasant than writing. Those feelings used to stop me in my tracks. Now I know they’re a sign that I’m heading in the right direction.  If what I’m writing makes me nervous, than I’m where I should be. And if I keep writing, those feelings will go away.

The discipline I gained from working out carried over to my writing habits. Exercise is excellent practice in disregarding fear. Fear is the killer, not discomfort. Writing should be scary. Exercise should be hard. But that can’t stop you.

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