5 Ways Writing is Like Physical Therapy

I’ve been getting physical therapy for frozen shoulder since summer, and I’ve come to realize that physical therapy and writing have some commonalities.

1. No pain, no gain

Physical therapy is rarely painless. In my case, therapy involves a great deal of aggressive stretching to break up the joint encapsulation. The pain at the beginning was intense, shooting down to my fingers and taking my breath away. Now it is more of an ache or a tightness.

Writing is similar. In order to continue to improve, we must stretch beyond our comfort zone. Such stretching can be painful both emotionally and mentally. But improvement depends on pushing through the discomfort.

2. Get help from experts

Now, many times frozen shoulder will resolve over time on its own. But that can take years, and the condition is painful to live with. In addition to the pain, the inability to use your shoulder makes many daily tasks very difficult. So I sought out doctors and then therapists who could hasten my healing.

Seeking out expert guidance in writing can also speed up your writing skills. Having a mentor or group of fellow writers who can help you correct your mistakes—or even better, keep you from making them in the first place—can lead to faster improvement in your craft.

3. Structured process sees results

In physical therapy,  I could do random shoulder exercises and probably make some progress. However, having a well-thought-out, structured process ensures the pieces all build upon each other with no wasted effort, and makes my work more productive.

Having a structured writing process can help make your writing more productive. If you have a process that flows, your word count will increase, and your revisions will take less time. Every writer’s process will be different, but if all the pieces build upon each other, the writing will come easier.

4. Details make a difference

Physical therapy is a science of nuances. Many of the exercises must be done exactly right, or they will not strengthen the muscles needed—and may cause additional damage. Exercises target specific muscles or joints, and the amount of weight or resistance used in the exercise must be carefully controlled to avoid strains and setbacks.

Attention to the details of a story is necessary, as well. Everything from proper punctuation to choosing the precise word makes a difference in the experience of the reader. The myriad craft  skills needed are also detailed, and you can carefully target skills you are weak in to increase your overall strength and flexibility.

5. Persistence pays off

Even with the most diligent exercise program, frozen shoulder takes a long time to thaw. Most people are 80% or better by 6 months, but it can take up to 2 years. So persistence is key.

Persistence is rewarded in writing as well. Continue honing your craft. Don’t give up when you try to publish and rejections piles up. Push through any problems or setbacks, and eventually you will reach your goal.

Keep exercising, trust the process, and your work will improve!



Achilles’ Heel: A Physical Weakness Beyond Our Control

We all know the story of Achilles, the Greek hero of the Trojan War. His mother dipped him in the river Styx to make him immortal, but where she held him (his heel) was left vulnerable. He was later killed when Paris shot him in the heel with an arrow. Had Achilles been intelligent enough to wear a boot or some sort of protective gear over his heel, the legends might have been quite different!

Everyone has an Achilles’ Heel, some physical weakness they cannot control. Some people faint at the sight of blood. Some fall to pieces at the slightest pain. Some have panic attacks (which have a mental aspect but can be triggered by purely physical stimuli).

Me, it’s my stomach. Overall, I have a strong stomach. I never got stomach bugs as a kid. Threw up twice my entire life, and both were because of food poisoning. So when my stomach does act up, I shatter. I can’t concentrate and everything becomes a huge effort. I can handle pain or limited mobility (although gore makes me queasy) but when my stomach goes crazy, I just want to curl up and cry.

And my stomach goes haywire for no reason. What I assume is acid reflux blindsides me from time to time. No change in diet or exercise, just severe reflux of unknown origin. At those times, I feel like I can’t even force water down, the upward pressure is so bad. And the nausea and burning in the throat make me cry. When this idiopathic acid reflux strikes, it can take me weeks to get back to normal.

Which of course makes me think that my characters all should have an Achilles’ Heel. A food allergy. A fear of needles. Vertigo. The Achilles’ Heel should be picked with care—something that seems harmless at first, but eventually plays a major role in beating the overwhelming final obstacles.

When thinking of weaknesses in characters, I tend to think of mental or emotional wounds. But I can increase conflict by adding a physical weakness out of my character’s control—a betrayal of his own body.

What are some more Achilles’ Heels that would be fun to use in a story?

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