Write, Burn, Read

I earlier posted about my current workday routine: writing 1,000 words of new fiction and burning an equivalent number of calories on an exercise bike. Book gets bigger, I get slimmer.

View from my writing chair

So far, so good. Since late March, I’ve written 21,000 words (about 60 pages of a first draft) and burned 21,000 calories, and that’s including spring break with our son home from school.

Now I’ve added reading to the mix, so the routine looks like this:

  1. Write 200 words
  2. Burn 200 calories
  3. Read 20 pages of a book
  4. Repeat

Ideally, by the end of each week, I’ve written 15 pages of fiction, lost approximately 1 pound of bodyweight, and read at least one book.

A single, undisrupted season would yield:

  • 180 pages written (half a mid-sized novel)
  • 12 pounds lost (which I could stand to lose)
  • 6,000 pages read

And I can still be a bum on the weekends. I recognize that I’m in a privileged position of writing fiction full time, and that such a routine would be tricky for people with day jobs. But the beauty of the routine, for me at least, is the steady accrual of results, along with the enjoyable, balanced variety. It’s daunting to write 1,000 words in one rush, or exercise for 90 consecutive minutes. Alternating through micro-goals keeps the effort fresh and approachable. On days when I can accomplish only a fraction of my usual goals, the routine remains an easy way to beat procrastination.

The 130,000-Calorie Novel

I write and exercise best in intervals. Several consecutive hours of writing would exhaust me, and whenever I’m on an exercise machine, I’m painfully aware of the remaining minutes. This makes it tough to write books and stay fit.

The writing chair. It’s real nice.

Now that I’m writing the BELL WEATHER sequel, my workday goal is 1,000 written words and 1,000 burned calories. We’ve had this cheap but durable (and dead silent) exercise bike for more than a year. I keep it near my writing chair during the day. The new routine is to write a few hundred words in one go, and then ride off the equivalent number of calories on the bike.

So if I write 333 words and need to clear my head, I ride until I’ve burned 333 calories. Then I drink some water and coffee and write more words. I listen to WCDB or KEXP, and sometimes Beats. Our dog Bones sleeps beside me when he isn’t guarding the front window.

A thousand is a good number for me. Simple and round, it’s easy to compute when measuring progress. I can ballpark how long my draft is going to be, so I can ballpark how long it’ll take me to finish. And a thousand daily words is a solid pace, a respectable challenge (especially because I write slowly, even during first drafts) that isn’t overwhelming. If I write fewer than a thousand words a day, I feel lazy. When I’ve tried committing to more than a thousand, I’ve burned out or felt rushed.

The bike. It is cheap but durable.
The bike. It is cheap but durable.

Plus a thousand calories on the bike gets my Fitbit step count up to 10,000 — that gold standard of minimum daily steps, as established by some apocryphal study of Japanese health. Ten-thousand steps isn’t a magic number, but it’s about 7,000 steps more than I would usually take, bumming around the house between the library and the kitchen.

I estimate this draft will run approximately 130K words. By the time I’m done, I’ll have burned 130K calories on the bike, which is the equivalent of:

  • 394 peanut butter sandwiches, or…
  • 962 extra-large bananas, or…
  • 1,857 Oreo cookies

Book gets fatter, Dennis gets leaner, and my workdays are much more productive and enjoyable.