Friday, January 24, 2020

Use Interval Training to Write More Effectively

By Lori Hatcher @LoriHatcher2

Does your writing life ever feel inefficient, boring, slow, or uninspired?

Welcome to the club.

Sorry, I had to say it. 

Unlike glamorous Hollywood portrayals of the writers’ life, reality proves quite different. Even the most profound and prolific writers sometimes struggle to stay motivated, creative, and productive. 

Today I’d like to share a fitness training approach that has helped me improve the quality of my writing routine. It’s called Interval Training. 

What Is Interval Training?
I learned about interval training at the fitness center where I exercise. Interval training is training in which an athlete alternates between two activities, typically requiring different rates of speed, degrees of effort, etc.

The Mayo Clinic article, “Rev up your workout with interval training” lists five benefits to this exercise philosophy:
  1. Higher calorie burn
  2. Increased time efficiency
  3. Additional aerobic effect
  4. Less boredom
  5. Increased feelings of happiness

Impressed with the science behind this approach, I adopted an interval training exercise routine. I walk five laps at a brisk pace, then jog one. On days when I don’t feel like jogging, I walk rapidly for ten minutes, then stroll for one, walk rapidly, then stroll.

I noticed a difference almost immediately. I finished my workout quicker, which helped me get to work on time. The occasional jog or stroll broke up the monotony of 50 laps around the track, and instead of feeling drained at the end, I felt energized.

Applying Interval Training to Our Writing Life
Bolstered by my success, I decided to apply interval training to my writing life, even though it seemed counter-productive to spend precious writing time not writing. My normal approach to a day of writing is quite different—write as fast and furiously as I can, barely stopping to eat, stretch, or go to the bathroom.

Most days, the results are less than desirable. After an hour or two of steady writing, my body begins to protest, my brain grows fuzzy, and my creativity and motivation evaporate like raindrops on hot pavement. My output for the day decreases with every hour I chain myself to my chair, and the quality of my work steadily declines.

When I applied the principles of physical interval training to my writing life, I ordered my day differently. Here’s the schedule I followed:
  • Set a timer for one hour. 
  • Begin a new project or continue with one in progress.
  • When the timer rings, get up and move around for 10 minutes.
  • Repeat.

I began with an article assignment. Knowing that my hour was ticking away helped me stay focused, but when the timer rang, I wasn’t finished. During pre-interval training days, I would have pressed on, but that day I stood up and stretched, got a drink of water, and transferred a load of clothes from the washer to the dryer. When the ten minute timer dinged, I went back to work.

I looked back over what I’d written and made some edits. Just a ten minute break gave me the perspective I needed to see mistakes and poor word choices. When I finished editing, I added more content. Although I was in the middle of a paragraph when the next timer rang, I stopped. I walked outside, got the mail and a drink of water, and talked briefly with a neighbor.

At lunch time, I took a thirty-minute break and went for a walk. I didn’t intend to think about writing, but when my walk was over, I’d brainstormed ideas for two blog posts and a conclusion for my article. 

When I evaluated the results at the end of the day, I’d accomplished more than I’d planned, still felt energized, and enjoyed that warm feeling of satisfaction I get when I know I’ve spent my day well.  

As an added bonus, in my ten minute breaks from writing, I’d washed and dried two loads of laundry and prepped the veggies for dinner. 

On the wall of the gym, someone (not me) taped a quote by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It says, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” I wonder if Nietzsche utilized the principle of interval training in his writing? If so, it worked. And if it worked for him, it might just work for us. 

Now it’s your turn. Have you ever applied the principles of interval training to your writing time? What were the results? What does a writing day at your home or office look like? I hope you’ll share your thoughts and join the conversation.


Lori Hatcher is the editor of Reach Out, Columbia magazine and the author of several devotional books, including Hungry for God … Starving for Time, Five-Minute Devotions for Busy Women , the 2016 Christian Small Publisher Book of the Year. Her most recent book, Refresh Your Faith – Uncommon Devotions from Every Book of the Bible releases in the spring of 2020 with Our Daily Bread Publishing. A blogger, writing instructor, and inspirational speaker, Lori’s goal is to help busy women connect with God in the craziness of everyday life. You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God. . . Starving for Time . Connect with her on FacebookTwitter (@LoriHatcher2), or Pinterest (Hungry for God).


  1. Never knew it was called "interval training", but I think I do something similar. I try to make myself take purposeful breaks after writing for an hour or two. I'll go check on the livestock, take a stroll to the mailbox, or just grab another cup of coffee and aggravate my wife for a few minutes. Those breaks, often unforced, help me with clarity of thought and productivity. Great tips!

    1. Sounds like you have just the right combination, J.D. It’s amazing the mental breakthroughs that come simply because we get up and change the scenery. And I’m sore aggravating Mrs. Diane produces much new material ...

  2. Lori,

    Thank you for this fascinating article. I've known about interval training for years but never applied it to my writing. Great ideas here.

    Get a FREE copy of the 11th Publishing Myth

    1. Give it a try, Terry, and let me know what happens. I’ve found it most effective.

  3. Excellent article, Lori. Saundra Dalton, in her book Sacred Rest, reminds us to take breaks and not sit in a chair for hours. It's tempting to sit when we think we're on a roll writing, but much more beneficial to stop, walk and stretch to replenish. I walk an indoor track and have my phone with to track distance but also to voice text ideas.

    1. Brilliant, Marilyn. Funny you should mention the indoor track. That's where I got the idea for this post :)

  4. What great wisdom! I like the timer idea. I think that will help me. :-)

    1. I'm always surprised at how quickly that hour goes, Melissa. I think you'll be surprised, too!

  5. Excellent idea, Lori. It seems to work when I use it, though I need to do it more regularly.

    1. Me too, Roberta. Sometimes I think I don't have time to use this method, when in reality, I don't have time NOT to use it -- especially because it helps me write more efficiently.

  6. That sounds like a really good idea. I think I've been pushing too hard to crank out as many words in one setting as possible.Thank you.

    1. Yep, JPC, me too. Once I tried it this way and discovered what a difference it makes, I don't think I'll ever go back. Let me know how it goes for you.

  7. So right on time. I'm at the library working on a second draft for a devotion. Took a break in the cafe and a-hah. Just what I needed to press on. Thanks