“Get Up! Begin Your Day!”

I’m a gym person.

I have been for thirty years.

I go early.

Ridiculously early.

Twyla Tharp does too. Here she is from The Creative Habit:

Choreographer Twyla Tharp begins her day at the gym

I begin each day of my life with a ritual. I wake up at 5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and the weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.

What we’re talking about here is Resistance.

Not Resistance to physical exercise.

Resistance to our artistic calling.

Twyla Tharp does her lunges and stretches for their own sake, yes. But they are also (and more importantly), as she says, a ritual.

They are preparation for the moment when she arrives at her dance studio and faces the choreographer’s equivalent of the blank page.

Her time at the gym is rehearsal for that moment.

It’s practice.

It’s preparation.

If you saw me in the squat rack at Gold’s Gym in Venice at five-thirty in the morning you might think, “Why is that guy busting his butt? He’s not gonna be running the marathon. What could he possibly be thinking? He ain’t gonna be starting next season for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.”

Like Twyla, I am enacting a ritual.

I am rehearsing doing something I don’t want to do.

I’m rehearsing doing something I’m afraid of.

I’m rehearsing doing something that hurts.

When I hit the showers after my workout, I feel good. I’m proud of myself. I have faced another dawn when I could have lain in bed or blown off my journey or given in to some vice or distraction.

But I didn’t.

I have performed my ritual.

I have gotten my day started.

I have momentum now.

I can meet my buddies for breakfast, shoot the breeze for a while, then go home and get to work.

 

 

 

 

 

DO THE WORK

Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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THE AUTHENTIC SWING

A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

The-Authentic-Swing

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.

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TURNING PRO

Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

Turning-Pro

32 Comments

  1. Rick Matz on October 9, 2019 at 6:25 am

    I would normally get up an hour before I would really need to leisurely have my coffee in the morning, watch the news and catch up on social media.

    I figured out that if I practice taijiquan every day, my life just works better.

    I also figured out that working out in the morning is the only way that I can guarantee that it will get done, before the events of the day conspire to throw a monkey wrench into things.

    So I get up an additional 90 minutes early, at 4:30 on work days, to complete my practice and start the day.

  2. Joe Jansen on October 9, 2019 at 8:08 am

    Brian Nelson’s comment last week was good on this point: “Don’t hit Snooze. Don’t make the first act of your day one of failure and procrastination.”

    • Elaine Dodge on October 9, 2019 at 9:00 am

      “Don’t hit Snooze. Don’t make the first act of your day one of failure and procrastination.” Very good. I like that take on it. It’s not how I’ve been looking at it. I’ve always seen it as ‘being kind to myself’. But truly being kind to myself would be writing more and chasing squirrels less. I do like squirrels, over the years, they have become close friends. But no more! Squirrels will be allocated an audience only after writing is done!’

      • Sara Bates on October 10, 2019 at 2:44 am

        Elaine-you make an interesting point. I like to call myself a functioning perfectionist. My mind often bumps up against this concept of “being kind to myself.” That’s not something I know how to do very well. That’s not a good thing. When used in opposing situations, though, being kind to yourself can indeed look like or even become an excuse to not push further. I have a difficult time toeing that line. I wanted to acknowledge that you’re not alone in your dance with this concept, even though I’m fighting it from the other side.

    • Brian Nelson on October 9, 2019 at 2:06 pm

      Joe,
      Thanks for the nod! I started a job a couple of months ago, first time having to punch a clock in nearly 5 years. The adjustment has been a challenge as our bedtime moved about 90-120 minutes right when I retired. Kelly is the night owl, I’ve always been an early bird (paper routes from 5th grade thru high school), military career, etc. Anyways I’ve been a fan of the early mornings. The quiet. The solitude. The sovereignty.

      When I wrote that little rule, it was after years of trying to workout at lunch, or after work. It finally occurred to me that the only time guaranteed to be mine are the minutes/hours between when I get up, and I get to work. The rest of the day is owned by my employer, my family, my responsibilities. If I want to be the best version of me–the only time for needed internal work (PT, journal, prayer, meditation, spiritual reading…) is when the rest of the world is still asleep.

      Don’t hit Snooze. Softy McSofterson lives in the snooze bar. Once he grabs hold of you…you’re done. Softy is the evil, lazy, complacent alter ego whose only goal is to see me fat, dumb, and broke.
      bsn

      • Cate Berg on October 9, 2019 at 3:58 pm

        “Softy McSofterson”! Love it! Ha!

    • Joe on October 11, 2019 at 7:28 am

      Brian, my one-word response is “solid.”

  3. Jay Arthur on October 9, 2019 at 8:20 am

    I have coffee and breakfast with my wife, then I sit down at the computer and write.
    No squirrels! (resistance) I start writing before resistance wakes up for the day.
    When I’m working on a book, I write every day for at least 15 minutes.
    Writing a book is like pumping water, it takes a lot of work to get it started, then continuous motion to keep it flowing. Stopping interrupts the flow and then I have to “pump” like crazy to get started again.

  4. Yvonne on October 9, 2019 at 8:21 am

    Wow…what a kick in the butt for me (both about my writing AND about my exercise routine)! Thank you, Steve–another excellently timed post for me!

  5. Grey Smith on October 9, 2019 at 8:29 am

    Resistance has been so insidious at points in my life that’s it convinced me that physical exercise is Resistance.

  6. Kim Finnegan on October 9, 2019 at 8:37 am

    Ditto what Yvonne said. Been looking for snippets of inspiration to get back in the writing game. So timely!
    Thanks!

  7. Jen on October 9, 2019 at 8:53 am

    I tend to rotate my morning ritual. When I was a competitive figure athlete, I’d go straight from sleep to the gym–there was absolutely no room for failure or not getting it done. These days, the workout is getting to the meditation cushion waaaaay over in the corner and off to a coffee shop for writing. I’ve found that whatever’s the hardest/top priority is what needs to be done first. It took a long time to figure it out (the hard way), but a solid routine upon waking is absolutely necessary for success. It also puts the oxygen mask on “mama” before assisting others.

  8. Mary Warren on October 9, 2019 at 8:59 am

    I like this approach and have used it since taking up running at age 61. I get up and run on T, Th, Sat, and work out at the” Y” M, W, F. I don’t make this a decision point each day, it’s in my calendar and I just get up and do it. It’s now 12 years later and it’s still how I start my day.

    • Jen on October 13, 2019 at 5:38 pm

      I LOVE that you started this practice at 61! So inspiring and a really great example. Good for you! I entered my first figure competition in my 40’s and, applying Steve’s PRO advice to every moment of every day, won and entered the professional circuit. That’s over now (*takes a bite of chocolate), but this can be done any darn time and applied to any darn thing for PRO results. Thanks for sharing, Mary—this just got me pumped up! 🙂

  9. Elle on October 9, 2019 at 9:36 am

    Tony Robbins says a similar thing in different words: “Don’t negotiate with yourself.” Just get it done.

  10. Aili Kuutan on October 9, 2019 at 10:25 am

    I love looking at the morning ritual as a way of creating momentum for your day.

  11. Kim on October 9, 2019 at 10:36 am

    Get up, hit the floor, 25 pushups. Every day.

  12. David V on October 9, 2019 at 10:49 am

    Bulletproof Coffee within 15 minutes of waking, followed by 15 minutes of yoga, and the whole day goes better!

  13. Brandy Walker on October 9, 2019 at 10:59 am

    I had a baby just less than a month ago. Before giving birth, I had my rituals down (always meditation). We are in the liminal space of figuring out our new rituals and what they look like with three kids to account for. So I’m not doing squats at 5:30am—yet. But I appreciate this reminder to be intentional about my work and my self care routines.

  14. Renita C Wellman on October 9, 2019 at 11:00 am

    I would so like to have a ritual, but I just can’t seem to adhere to one. Last night at 3 AM I started writing my blog post on Robert McKee’s quote from his book on narrative as a way of learning how to live. This led me to Piaget’s Assimilation vs. Accommodation in cognitive development. The best example I could find for this was writing about The Lego Batman Movie. So I wrote about that. I seem to be creative with spoiler and am still learning to drive this thing called me.
    If you have both family and an online job like I do, you know what it is to have interruptions. Their needs interrupt my thoughts. So I grab creativity on the go or in the dead of night. But I love reading about how others can have ritual. Be grateful that you can do this! It is a treasure!
    Renita

  15. Paul Garrett on October 9, 2019 at 12:01 pm

    “The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.” Anon.

  16. Kate Stanton on October 9, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    “Don’t hit Snooze. Don’t make the first act of your day one of failure and procrastination.” Feeling convicted right now, as I am not a “morning person”. However, I have rituals each day to help battle resistance. Maybe I should put a sign by the bed, with clear instructions, on how to make a bed like a Navy SEAL?

    • Brian Nelson on October 9, 2019 at 3:13 pm

      Kate,
      When I ‘coined’ the don’t hit snooze, I was writing to myself. Maybe all creation is in someway pointed inward, but I STRUGGLE when the alarm shocks me awake. I fought with my snooze bar for a decade or more before I realized I am not capable of ‘moderating’ my snooze addiction. I needed to go cold turkey.

      By the time I go downstairs to let the dogs out, brush my teeth, do my business…I feel fine. It is similar to what running now feels like for me. When I was a young man, I could begin running at a 6:00-7:00 min mile immediately, seemingly forever. Once I hit my 40s–the first 8-10 minutes of any run is absolute torture–and it is at a much slower pace.

      I agree with McRaven’s rule of making your bed–but he’s missed a step. We have to get out of the bed first. No one has an alarm clock in basic training, boot camp, Ranger School, BUDs, SF selection…the black hats generally wake us up with coffee and beignets accompanied by choral music…
      bsn

  17. Hiram Muniz on October 9, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    The moment I open my eyes, resistance kicks in to stop me! Thanks Steven for acknowledging. I’ll beat you RESISTANCE!

  18. Jule Kucera on October 9, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    Jim Loehr, author of The Power of Full Engagement, wrote that he keeps his weight-lifting gloves by his bed so when he wakes up he can reach over and put them on, a physical signal to his brain that it’s time to lift. After I read that, I moved my yoga mat to under my bed. It minimizes the amount of effort required to get going. I can fall out of bed, pull out the mat, and start my routine. Once I start, I’m good. I needed to minimize the links in the chain between waking up and starting the routine, because each link is an opportunity to break the chain and fail to follow through. The other thing that helps is the recognition that a good morning starts the night before.

  19. Alex on October 9, 2019 at 11:34 pm

    Succint, useful article, Steve, I like this one. I have a morning routine, too, and there is a Resistance component to getting through it, but once you do, you do. It’s some amount of work to get it started but once you’re started you’re fine. It’s that absurd challenge, the getting started challenge, always the hardest part and when it’s hard it’s usually indicating a good session but I heed the difficulty of such a thing because it really is a tough thing to get through. Getting to the other side of the bridge, so to speak, here in this context is pretty demanding and it’s like starting your day with the greatest challenge and scaling back after that, a bit unexpected but if it comes with the success territory I’ll just accept it and bite the bullet there, with all its collosal hard ships and struggle that comes with it. lol

  20. Jill on October 10, 2019 at 10:01 am

    I admit the ritual is one of the first things to go out the window when the deadline is looming. Like I’m thinking, “I could save so much time I could be using on painting IF I skipped ____”. But I recognise that skipping the ritual, any part of it, is a mistake. I notice I don’t work as well when I do. The ritual does get you into a certain mindset, it’s like a signal to your body that says “Hookay, time to work! Back to the salt mines.” And you do feel better about yourself, like you can give yourself a pat on the back for being so disciplined.

    Hookay, time to get back to MY ritual now ^__^ //

  21. Jamie on October 10, 2019 at 10:09 am

    Huh, never thought of the snooze button in that way – now will reconsider, thanks all for the insights 🙂

    In the interest that my own morning practice might help someone else in some way, here it is…

    My morning routine (for the past few years) has developed into three things, each an anchor/trigger for the next thing. Having three things means that on days where life circumstances interfere I try to complete at least one of the three and that anchors the entire habit for the next day. The three things are: 1) morning run, 2) meditation, 3) cold shower – or as I like to refer to it: Movement – Stillness – Shock Therapy!

    It didn’t start out as three things, just the first, and I’ve tried to add a fourth (journaling/morning pages) but to no avail… will continue to try though. It used to be that the run (it’s more of an old man shuffle) was the anchor to the whole event, but now I find the cold shower is; mostly because it can be done in the least amount of time, resistance to it is always high, so level of accomplishment helps trigger the next day.

    The other key, for me personally, is what I call “keeping the barrier to entry low”. I try not to attach a distance, time, or level of effort to the run – just getting the running shoes on and out the door is the goal – much like hailing the taxi cab above, so that definitely helps me frame it in a different way.

    Thanks Steve for your work – gave a copy of “The War Of Art” to each dancer in my son’s dance troupe (~ 15-20 year olds) saying they may find this useful now or later in their lives.

  22. MarkPL on October 11, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    My approach is a little bit different: having my own gym at home, I save time needed for reaching any commercial place. Following Nassim Taleb’s Max Weight exercise routine, I keep my daily training really short (20-25m). This means even warming up has to be pretty tough – series of swings with 36kg Kettlebells.

  23. Diego Jourdan Pereira. on October 15, 2019 at 5:12 pm

    A quote from one of my favorite writers:
    “I’ve been very successful at selling my things, but I’ve also been getting up at 4 in the morning for 40 years.”
    –Stephen J Cannell

  24. Gary Collins on October 16, 2019 at 9:13 am

    Been working out for nearly 40 years now, it is my time to decompress and contemplate things without distractions. It all started in my childhood house garage with a pull-up bar rickety bench press, some dumbbells, and plastic weights filled with concrete. Not much has changed still use the same things today for my workouts they are just newer 🙂

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