A couple of years ago, my husband got hooked on The Biggest Loser. I never got into the show itself (and my husband has gotten out of it since), but I loved Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels. They were awesome. I wanted Jillian to yell in my face on the treadmill and for Bob to put his arm around my shoulder and tell me to love myself more.
Never happened, of course. But for a while there, I did get yelled at by Jillian every morning when my husband and I dutifully did her workout video, The 30-Day Shred. We were devoted to the workout for about a month and it came to pass that we could do the workout with the sound off and I could recite every line from it.
I’m sad to say that in the years since we quit, I’ve pretty much forgotten the lines, but occasionally my husband will pop in the DVD and start his jumping jacks and I’ll remember the one phrase that really stuck with me: “a false message of lethargy.”
As you may have already noticed, I collect these little gems of soundbites and begin using them wherever I can and so for the months following our morning workout, I was quick to declare the following things a false message of lethargy: taking the stairs, parking further away from the mall entrance, going back for the second ice cream cone at the deli. They got sillier and sillier until I declared that driving to work was a false message of lethargy, when clearly my husband could walk the 15 miles. (Hey, we amuse ourselves, that’s all that matters.)
But Jillian’s message about a false sense of lethargy is actually a pretty serious one. Check this out:
“People are so placated by groups that say, ‘Start by taking the stairs,” says Michaels. “What? That makes people think, ‘I’m so fragile, I can barely take the staircase.'” In fact, she says, the human body can withstand a lot—and increasing the intensity of your workout is one of the fastest ways to burn calories and lose weight. “The more we hear this false message of lethargy, the more we believe it,” she says. “As humans, we have evolved to the point where the sky is not the limit. Your capabilities are, in fact, limitless.” (source)
We writers are very much aware of these false messages of lethargy. We know them as “excuses” and we hear them and use them daily. Well, I do anyway. Some examples from my own writing life:
For years, when people asked me if I was writing or had written a novel, I’d tell them I was a short story writer; I didn’t have the attention span required to write a novel. How would I know? I’d never even tried at that point. But it sounded true. And it also meant that no one would be expecting me to write a novel, ergo, I didn’t have to try. False message of lethargy.
When it comes to writing, I like to get my head clear with morning pages. If I don’t get a good 750 words in, something feels off all day and more than a few times I’ve used this as an excuse not to write or revise for the day. I convince myself I’m not in the right headspace to write. False message of lethargy.
I hear these messages from other writers and would-be writers. “I’ll write the novel when the kids are grown and out of the house.” “I’ve never written anything, so maybe I should start with short stories.” “I’ll never get published anyway…” “I’m so tired from the day, my writing will be crap anyway. I’ll just watch The Biggest Loser.” False messages of lethargy, all of them.
Now, I am the last person that should be pep talking other writers about giving up their excuses. I am far too comfortable with my excuses myself. But maybe that’s exactly why I can talk about it. I need the reminder just as much as everyone else. Sometimes I think I don’t need Jillian yelling in my face while I’m on the treadmill, I need her yelling in my face at my writing desk.
“Is that all you’re going to do today? 1700 piddly words? Half of them suck, are you just going to leave them like that? Is that sentence the best it can be?”
Something tells me I wouldn’t make it five minutes with Jillian.
I really wish that writers had personal trainers, though, to kick our butts into staying in the chair. Into revising that sentence one. more. time. To remind us that our capabilities are limitless. Someone to call us out when we fall into believing those false messages of lethargy.
What excuses to you tell yourself? What would your personal writing trainer be yelling at you about?