I’m not athletic by any stretch of the imagination, but I do understand the value of cross-training. Wikipedia defines cross-training as follows:
Cross-training is athletic training in sports other than the athlete’s usual sport. The goal is improving overall performance. It takes advantage of the particular effectiveness of one training method to negate the shortcomings of another.
An ice-skater, for example, might include training in bicycling, karate, or even yoga as a way to complement the benefits from on-ice training. According to one expert quoted in a US Figure Skating article on the topic, “placing an athlete in a new environment with different demands awakens their muscles and senses, and refreshes their outlook on training. The change can be invigorating as well as beneficial.”
Writers can use this idea by adding cross-writing to their writing training as a way to use and build different creative muscles. The point of cross-training is not necessarily to become competitive in the new sport but to find new ways to sharpen skills and strengthen muscles. Similarly, when we dip into new genres, forms, lengths, or styles, our goal is not to be perfect or publishable, but to try something new:
- Non-fiction writers can add poetry to their routine to focus on language and rhythm.
- Fiction writers can start a blog as a way to write to deadlines and schedules.
- Poets can write short stories to experiment with descriptions and character.
- Essayists can write a novel to practice long-term planning and persistence.
- Literary writers can try science fiction or fantasy to stretch their imaginations.
- Biographers can write a romance story for the pure fun of it.
I’m sure you can think of more ideas.
The article “A Beginner’s Guide to Cross-Training” at Runner’s World offers these cross-training suggestions, which I’ve tweaked to apply to writers:
Make it regular: This advice is especially good for writers, regardless of whether we are cross-writing. In sports and other arts (music or dance, for example), regular practice is expected. Engaging in the activity “when we feel like it” isn’t enough. Writers, however, easily fall into the trap of waiting for inspiration. Maybe it’s because writing is done alone or there isn’t the tradition of working with a coach or writing doesn’t have the same kind of training program as many other skills. If we make cross-writing a regular part of our schedule (e.g., once or twice a week), we can use it to build a more sustainable writing practice.
Choose one. Once you decide upon another kind of writing to try, stick with it for awhile. Learn what you can by reading books on the form/genre, watching videos, or listening to podcasts. Immerse yourself.
Enjoy yourself! Remember, the goal is not to be published or competitive in the new venture, but to learn from it. Your poetry or science fiction or first novel doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be written.
Let effort be your guide. If the new form of writing feels uncomfortable and you are struggling a bit to meet your daily word count, you are probably doing it right. Remember to have fun (see above), but fun and effort are not mutually exclusive.
Don’t get hurt. Okay, I admit this one is kind of amusing, but here’s my take for writers: Don’t set your expectations so high that you feel bad about your writing for trying something new. Also, be sure to budget enough time for your usual writing tasks and goals. (On the other hand, you might just fall in love with something new and never look back.)
For inspiration, see Christi Craig’s blog post, “The Editor as Poet.”