Cross Training

I’m a prose-writer. I write essays and novels and the occasional short story. I have strong prose muscles, muscles that allow me to think in sentences that are often long and complex, sentences that use repetition and subordination, sentences that mimic the thoughts they express.

            I wasn’t always this way; when I was younger and fearless I wrote poetry and plays, taking my skills for granted the same way I flew down double black diamond ski trails with abandon. But as life crowded in – marriage, children, money – I shed activities that took too much time or cost too much and instead engaged in the solitary, narrative sports of sculling, cross country skiing and long walks.

For a long time, this was enough to keep me fit. But recently, I found myself breathless and weaker than I wanted to admit, so I joined a gym and started a program of interval training, core strengthening, and weight lifting. It’s made a huge difference in how I feel and think. One day while I climbed hills on the treadmill, I realized I need to cross train my brain as well. I need to pump poetry.

Cross training with verse will help me improve my performance with prose. Poetry, I realized, will teach me concision the way doing bicep curls creates muscle definition. It will help me write vividly and to the point.

I must be onto something, because I feel as much resistance to this as to joining the gym in the first place; I was sure I would hate it. Resistance, I find, indicates I’m on the right track. So this is my plan: I’ve discovered a poetry textbook from my teaching days. It’s got fifty exercises in it: one a week.

Just exercises. Like sit-ups, leg-lifts, shoulder presses and hammer curls, I’ll lift voice, push metaphor, rotate audience, repeat rhythm, chant rhyme, and practice form.  Just like working out at the gym, I might surprise myself and have fun.

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-winning novel, Into The Wilderness, “a fiercely intelligent love story” set in Vermont in 1964. She is a regular Commentator on Vermont Public Radio and teaches for the Vermont Humanities Council. Learn more at her website:

9 thoughts on “Cross Training

  1. You lift words up, you put them down…LOL

    I am mostly a dabbler, and maybe because I am a slightly older writer I feel comfortable with this. Perhaps I am only finding my real voice since I’m still at the beginning stages, not of writing, but of being committed to the full-time process of professional writing. Anyway, when I sit down to write what I have to write I am in a certain mode of operation. But, when I’m writing what I WANT, my mind-set shifts depending on mood and the required focus of the piece I’m creating. It doesn’t matter if it’s challenging. That’s the fun of cross-training. You NEVER get bored.
    My brain thrives on that kind of wandering around, poking in nooks and crannies of grey matter I never knew existed. Sure you run into resistance but mostly, it’s self-created. I hear my alter-ego say to me: “What? You’re writing WHAT?” Then, just for spite, I do it anyway. I can’t always say my endurance is what it should be but you have to start somewhere and keep at it to reach a certain level.
    No wonder I get tired! 😉

  2. Just curious but what is this book with the poetry exercises? I feel that it would be highly beneficial for the kind of writing that I do as well! Thanks for your help! Also if you happen to read any of my work and can offer any kind of advice, I would be honored, as I am just starting to tap into my passion for writing. Thanks again!


  3. This makes me want to lift free weights (with a spotter) and again try poetry (with a poet). Without getting into “product placement,” could you pleasePleasePLEASE share the title of the poetry textbook from your teaching days, the one with the 50 exercise?

    I want to “feel the burn” of adding poetry to my crosstraining!

  4. Deborah, I wrote ONLY prose for decades. Then, four months ago when I started writing again every day and running my own blog, I spend about 3/4 of my writing time producing narrative poems. I agree with you that poetry sharpens and intensifies the message due to the conciseness required. Your writing Muse will thank you for the benefits of cross training.

  5. Okay friends: I just posted a Post Script to Cross Training with the title of the book – and why I deliberately left it out of this post.
    Thanks for your comments. Your passion for writing is inspiring! -DLL

  6. Pingback: Sitting Down « Live to Write – Write to Live

  7. Pingback: Progress Report « Live to Write – Write to Live

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