Monday, May 3, 2021

4 Exercises for Writers Inspired by Physical Therapy

By Kristen Hogrefe Parnell @khogrefeparnell

In March, my husband and I went on a ski trip with some friends, which was everything a good time should be—until I crashed on the slopes and dislocated my shoulder. When we returned home, I scheduled the first of many physical therapy sessions to regain full mobility. 


As my therapist walked me through an evaluation and showed me several exercises, the writer in me noticed parallels between PT and the writing journey. Even writers can use physical therapy, and the good news is you can start these exercises today—no referral needed.


Exercise 1: Establish a baseline.

As part of my initial evaluation, the therapist compared the strength and flexibility of my recovering right arm to my healthy left arm. She tested how hard I could resist her, how tightly I could squeeze my hand, and various other activities to get a baseline for my treatments.


As writers, we need baselines too. What authors are examples or models for us? We shouldn’t try to be “them” but rather do everything we can to learn from them. 


Another baseline to consider is what other books in the genre are similar to ours. In proposals, we call these “comps” and include them in a competitive analysis section. Again, the goal is not to compete with other titles, but to show how our book is similar while also offering something different.


An agent or editor doesn’t want to hear that our idea has “never been done before.” If that’s the case, there’s probably a good reason! Rather, we writers need to look to, and learn from, others to establish our own baseline for success.


Exercise 2: Keep pushing your edge.

Everyone’s pain thresholds are different. Some days after therapy, I thought, “Oh, yeah, I’m a beast at this pain thing.” Other days, I wanted to curl up and cry.


My therapist gave me this advice. “You want to feel some pain. That’s the only way you’re going to stretch further and gain strength. You don’t want to push past your edge but do keep pushing it.”


How do we push our edge as writers? Several ideas come to mind. 

  • Join a writing critique group where you can give and receive constructive feedback. Don’t resist criticism but listen and learn from it. Writing critique partners are your allies. They only have your best interests at heart. I’ve been part of Word Weavers for six years and look forward to my critique group meeting each month.
  • Attend writing conferences, whether virtual or in-person. Sign up for appointments with editors and agents, as many as you can, and invite their feedback. These professionals know the industry and can help you push your edge.
  • Invest in yourself and your manuscript. Each writer is different. Maybe for your project, you hire an outside editor to give you an objective critique. Maybe you invest in marketing courses to learn how to better spread the word about your writing. I realize there is an expense involved, but any serious pursuit will involve an investment of time and money.

Remember that your “edge” today will not be your “edge” even a month or year from now. If you are willing to experience discomfort, take criticism, and grow from it, the possibilities are endless.


Exercise 3: Practice, practice, practice.

After my first appointment, the therapist printed off visuals for my homework assignments. I even received my own exercise band. Each day, twice a day, I was to do two sets of each exercise. Hello, soreness, stiffness, and grimacing! 


Regardless of the discomfort, I practiced each day, and slowly, my range of motion improved, and the pain diminished. 


As writers, we have to be intentional and disciplined in our writing. If we only write when we feel like writing, we’ll never get anywhere. Banish the romantic notion that words should simply gush onto the page. The truth is that good writing is hard work.


Instead, reserve time on your calendar to write. Set a schedule. Impose your own deadlines. Trust me, the practice will serve you well when an editor or agent gives you a deadline!


Some of our initial drafts will be downright awful, but hey, we can edit awful. We can’t edit something that’s never been written.


Exercise 4: Never give up.

As the illustrious Winston Churchill once said, “Never, ever ever ever ever give up!” Although this injury introduced me to a whole new level of pain, I cannot wait for my next chance to click into a pair of skis and get back on the slopes. 


No, I’m not one of those crazy adrenaline junkies. Rather, I’m a persistent woman who knows the sport itself isn’t to blame for my injury and that I can still enjoy it, though with a new level of respect.


We writers face our own share of body slams, right? Every writer experiences rejection on some level. Rejection doesn’t mean we should throw in the towel. It just means there’s something for us to learn when we try again. 


My therapist says my shoulder will actually be stronger because I took the time to get therapy. How might your writing improve through some of these therapy exercises?


4 Exercises for Writers Inspired by Physical Therapy - @khogrefeparnell on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)


Kristen Hogrefe Parnell writes novels, learns something new every day, and runs for pizza. An educator and mentor, she teaches English online and is an inspirational speaker for schools, churches, and podcasts. Her young adult dystopian novels, The Revisionary and The Reactionary, both won the Selah for speculative fiction, and she recently signed with Mountain Brook Ink for a new romantic suspense series, coming December 2022. Kristen and her husband live in Florida and enjoy sharing their lake home with family and friends. She blogs at where she challenges readers to find faith in life’s everyday adventures. 


  1. As a physical therapist, I love how you shared your thoughts. So many important points here! Glad your shoulder is better!

    1. Hi Ginny, thank you so much and thank you for helping other people like me on their roads to recovery! I have no doubt you're a blessing to many.

  2. Kristen, comparing the writing life to physical therapy is a great analogy. Thank you!

    1. Hi Kay, you're so welcome! Thanks for your comment. I'm glad this analogy was helpful.

  3. Before I read this post, I was thinking that I needed to get out of my chair and walk a little. But I was going to read one more post or email and now I am glad I did. Now I can go exercise and come back to my chair with new inspiration and the urge to keep going. Thanks!

    1. I'm so glad this post encouraged you, Barbara! Thanks so much for your comment. Blessings to you in your writing journey!

  4. Oh, I can't imagine that kind of pain for an extended period of time, but thank you for sharing these tips, Kristen. The "stretching" is needed as a writer, and after a while, I noticed it doesn't feel like stretching any more. Until you reach a new level of stretching. :)

    1. Thank you, my friend! You're so right. It's easy to become comfortable where we are. The stretching hurts but makes us stronger in the long run. Blessings to you!