Writing: Rehab, Prehab, Strength

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When I wrote about writing exercises having a “therapeutic” value for creativity, I shared it with several friends. My core idea was simple enough – that writing exercises helped me recover creatively, and that metaphor was useful. However, my friends provided insights I want to revisit.

My friend Kate Tremaine, a roller derby enthusiast, pointed out that there was not just “rehab” in sports. There’s also what she called “prehab” – pre-emptively strengthening one’s body to prevent damage. Thanks to her, I want to “roll out” a new concept of writing exercises.

I’m old enough to be allowed dad jokes, thank you.

I realized from Kate’s input that we can think of writing exercises as serving purposes similar to physical exercises. Consider this model:

Development: Development exercises are those writing exercises that improve your work beyond your baseline. Examples would be improving one’s vocabulary, learning to write faster, or create better plot outlines.

Protective: “Pre-hab” exercises designed to protect your writing from the damages of things like stress, bad habits, or disruption. Examples include methods for developing focus, learning to break down work into smaller pieces, and self-esteem building.

Therapeutic: These are exercises to help you get “back on track” after a disruption. Examples may include setting aside writing time each day, word count goals when your count is now zero, or “freeform” writing for fun.

I realize my examples for each category may be argued. That’s good because these categories are helpful for the classification of writing exercises. Using these categories requires you to ask additional questions:

You have to ask what your “baseline” writing is in areas like quality or word count. That helps you understand when you need Therapeutic exercises versus Development exercises.

You have to ask what your areas of vulnerability are in writing. That may mean a chance to find Protective exercises – or you may already need Therapeutic ones.

Finally, you have to ask what exercises fit these categories for me. Though I’m sure you and your fellow writer may agree on how to categorize practices 70% of the time, that 30% is significant. You’ll need to ask the right questions for you – and maybe ask when you should stop evangelizing a method to another writer.

I will be analyzing these ideas further in my own work and would like to hear if you have any thoughts. This model has promise.

In closing, I also think this model is helpful to challenge the idea that “A writer must do X or you’re not a writer.” We’ve all heard the “you must write X words a day” kind of pronouncements, and we know they’re wrong. This model suggests that such goals don’t always fit an individual writer’s needs or their baseline.

Therapy is individualized. So is health – in body, mind, and writing.

Steven Savage