My back is both my fiercest enemy and my dearest friend. It’s an enemy because I often wake up with an aching thoracic spine — and by the end of the day, my lumbar region is throbbing with pain. I’ve had X-rays and MRIs and I’ve tried every possible exercise or therapy — including chiropractic, yoga, Pilates, Bowen, acupuncture, IMS, and osteopathy. I still have daily pain.
While I haven’t completely given up on the idea of a cure, I have learned to live with the pain. This means that I start every day with 30 minutes of exercises and I take a break every hour to do a couple of minutes of stretching. (Yes, I always work with a timer clicking in the background.)
Oh, and I also walk about 20,000 steps a day.
How, you might ask, does this possibly make my aching back my friend? Simple. I’ve learned the value of limiting my writing time.
If you don’t suffer from back pain, you probably don’t have to contort your life to compensate for physical weakness. But by not limiting your writing time you may be exposing yourself to physical weakness later — and at the very least you’re risking a host of other problems. Here’s a list to consider:
- You run the risk of burning yourself out.
I know, I know… you’ve been blocked with your writing project for weeks and then all of a sudden you get a terrific idea that inspires you. Why shouldn’t you write for four hours straight if you’re still raring to go and continuing to feel enthusiastic? My “friendly” back won’t let me do that. And you shouldn’t let yourself do it either. Because you may produce 3,000 words on that red-hot day, but I guarantee you’ll feel dry and worn out the next day or the day after that. In fact, it may be weeks before you can get writing again.
- The tortoise always outruns the hare.
Aesop’s fable reveals the value of slow and dogged persistence. While some creatures have more aptitude for running (and, perhaps, for writing) it is the person who commits the time to working, daily, who is most likely to finish the race. Even then, be cautious about pacing yourself. Always take off at least two consecutive days a week (although they don’t have to be Saturday and Sunday) and start your daily writing time with a very modest goal. Even 15 minutes per day can be enough to start.
- You’ll improve your efficiency and productivity.
Have you ever caught yourself sitting and staring at a blank screen like a zombie? This is because you don’t know what to write next — which likely means you haven’t done enough planning or mindmapping. If you have a time limit, you won’t allow yourself to get stuck in this sticky wicket. Think about how breathtakingly efficient we all become when preparing to leave on holiday: We work quickly; we do only the most essential stuff. If we approach writing with the same time-limited mindset, we can become infinitely more productive writers, as well.
- It will appeal to your inner two-year old.
We all hate being told we can’t do something. If you dislike writing (or even if you just feel ambivalent about it) having a time limit will suddenly make writing ever so much more attractive to you.
- Life is short.
Don’t you have something else you’d rather do than writing all the time? Decide how much time you’re willing to commit and refuse to let yourself go over that limit.
I’m writing this column now — in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and at the beginning of summer — because your holiday plans may be on lockdown. As a result, you may be harbouring the idea of using your “down” time to get started on a large writing project. Don’t do that! Instead, look at your schedule — your regular one — and figure out how you can schedule in a small amount of writing time every day.
If you’re able to take some time off, do so with a free heart and concentrate instead on reading. It’s a great summertime pleasure and a fantastic way to improve your own writing — providing you read material that is well written.
Limits not only stop us, they also liberate us. Let’s toast to the liberation of summer. ∞