Cross Training for Writers by Faith Van Horne

Slideways by Faith Van HorneI am happy to welcome Faith Van Horne back for another month with us! In today’s article Faith discusses cross training and writing. Enjoy!


Most writers I’ve spoken to and read about, as well as myself, have talked about hitting “the wall” on a given project. It’s common to have a lot of excitement and energy for a new story for the first several thousand words. For novel writers, the plateau point commonly seems to hit about 20,000 words in, or it might happen just after the halfway point. Regardless of where it hits, the symptoms are the same: a sluggish mess that feels impossible to power through.

This can happen not just within individual writing projects, but in one’s work in general. Sometimes it seems I’ll be writing a series of stories, articles, whatever, and feel as though my skills aren’t growing. Instead of getting stronger, the quality of the work seems to stall.

I’ve noticed the same thing in my karate and fitness journey. I went through a period where I would do nothing but karate forms and drills, and wonder why my karate wasn’t getting better. Turns out there was a piece I was missing that would help me advance, and it applies to writing as well.

In martial arts, the term is “hojo undo”,  which translates to “supplementary exercises”. While traditional hojo undo used items like ceramic pots for gripping and concrete weights (and many practitioners still use these traditional tools, particularly makiwara), today, newer fitness technologies like free weights serve the same purpose. In other fitness pursuits, the same concept is referred to as cross training.

If you’ve ever heard the maxim, “Do what you’ve always done, and you’ll get what you’ve always gotten,” you’ll understand why cross training is important. In my case, I was having trouble building up strength and endurance to make my karate better. Turns out, to work on those areas, I specifically had to train for strength and endurance. So, in addition to doing forms in the normal way, I added high-intensity interval training to build endurance. And I started doing strength training as well. Once I’d added these practices, I found I was able to do karate longer without getting tired, and with more power.

Cross training has the added bonus of breaking up monotony. Instead of doing the same old thing, I got to try something new. This not only worked new muscles, but kept me from getting bored. Especially when I started to see improvements.

So how can you apply these concepts to writing? The concept’s the same: in order to strengthen your writing, try working in a new way. Take a look at your work in progress, or your last completed project. What areas of the work need to be strengthened?  If the plot’s sagging, pick up a book on plot (here’s one that I like).  Even if it’s a book you’ve read many times, go through the exercises, applying them to your current story. Do free writing that focuses on the aspect of your craft you’re seeking to strengthen. Then go back and dive into the story.

Working through plateaus in a new way can break up stagnation and stimulate new muscles, both in writing and fitness. If you’ve found cross training helpful, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Happy writing!


Faith Van Horne, authorFaith Van Horne is the author of the young adult fantasy novel Slideways. Her collection of offbeat horror stories, Super Sargasso, is now available. She is currently working on another novel. In her free time, she practices karate, and even helps teach it a little. She also blogs at Scribatious (


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