Recently I read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography, ‘Total Recall,’ and enjoyed it as much as any book I’ve read in the last few years. Everyone talks themselves up in their autobiography, and Schwarzenegger is a great salesman. Still, the guy’s achievements are staggering. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more impressive CV.
You’re talking about a man who went from a small town in Austria to the Governor of America’s biggest state. Along the way he became a businessman, Mr. Universe, and Mr. Olympia. He was a real-estate mogul and he hobnobbed with presidents. He also found time to star in a few movies.
Anyway, I haven’t decided to jack in writing and aim at becoming Mr. Universe. But I think there’s a lot that writers can take from Schwarzenegger’s attitude and approach to his work.
Before I started working seriously on my book I had totally the wrong idea of what writing was all about. I think I had a romantic idea of blasting through my novel in an artistic fever, preferably in a garret on the Left Bank of the Seine. I would sit down at my computer every now and then, staring at the flashing cursor on my word processor, waiting to be inspired by the muse. Unsurprisingly, nothing much got done; I spent about a year and a half rewriting the same couple of paragraphs, and worked on it very sporadically, maybe once or twice every few weeks.
I only really started making headway when I developed a routine. I would spend 30 mins to an hour every day working on it before I went to work. Eventually it just became second nature.
How does this all relate to Arnie? One of the key themes of his book is his emphasis on ‘reps’, ie how many times you do the same thing, over and over until it has an effect and you build up the targeted muscle. But he extends this to other parts of his life – he includes in the book a photo of an important speech, which is covered in scratch marks, one for each time he has practiced it.
It’s only through this type of mundane repetition that you get anything done, and I’ve found it’s the same with writing. When I made it part of my everyday routine, and did a small bit at a time, it brought my goal of finishing the book that bit closer. After a while you are genuinely surprised at how much progress you have made.
So my advice to anyone wanting to write a book is to do reps, reps, reps of writing every day, over and over, even if you don’t feel like it. You’ll be surprised how much you can get done in a relatively short period. Less tortured artist, more Arnold!