Why The First Thing I Write In the Morning Is So Important

I’ve never been much for exercise. I tend to get winded quickly and easily when running and enjoy a good walk much more. My few attempts at series “get in shape” exercise have been frustrating as I realize after a period of time that maybe I’m just destined to be the kind of doughy guy you’d see being harassed by a gang of hooligans in a 1950s B-movie. Let’s just lean into that. I know enough about exercise, though, to know that warming up is a good idea. Do some stretching before you run and all that.

While I may not be a great example of discipline when it comes to physical exercise, I do a lot of writing, which should be obvious. What I’ve found over the years, particularly since entering the freelance market full-time, is that warm-ups are no less essential in this field.

At any given time I have a handful of things I *need* to write. That might be a movie marketing recap for Cinematic Slant, it might be a project for a freelance client or something else. Those things need to be done and there are deadlines associated with them. So it might make sense that they’d be the first things I tackled when I started the day or otherwise got in front of the computer.

For a while I did just that. I’d pull up the project or post I needed to work on and stare at it. Whatever inspiration I needed just wasn’t there, though. I’d pick at it for a while but only really made any progress after a substantial period of writing, deleting, reconsidering, clicking over to YouTube to watch Talladega Nights clips and other distractions.

Eventually I found inspiration for a new approach to productivity from an unlikely source: Comic book artists.

When I was working with DC Comics on their content marketing program I started following a number of comics writers and artists on Twitter from my own account. These were people I was a fan of myself so wanted to see what they were up to beyond the immediate client-based need to find opportunities to RT them or at least see what they were working on. What I noticed eventually was that many of these artists would post pictures of “warm up drawings” they did before they started in on their actual work. These were usually sketches of other characters they weren’t working on, sometimes tied to something happening in the entertainment industry. So they might sketch a Xenomorph when a new Alien movie was coming out. Or the other day a few did portraits of the newly-announced 13th Doctor. Sometimes they add color to their drawings, sometimes they’re just rough pencil sketches.

I realized that this was their own version of stretching before exercise. They were loosening up their hand, they were clearing the cobwebs out of their head, they were focusing on a task that didn’t carry the pressure of deadlines but was just for fun. It was about getting the muscles they’d need to do their job ready for what was ahead.

That’s why I recently gave myself permission to goof around a little when I’m first settling into the writing environment. I’ll write something that is just for me. It may wind up getting published or it might just sit in Google Docs or Evernote in perpetuity and never see the light of day. If I can pound up 300 or 500 words or whatever the muse is allowing me at any given moment, then I’ve straightened out my own mind. I’ve gotten my fingers warmed up and established the neural connections I’ll need later in the day to approach the project that’s important with a fresher mind.

What I’ve found is that my creativity and skills are much clearer and sharper after doing this. I’m able to approach a problem from a fresh perspective and get to the crux of the issue quicker. I’m able to tackle that client blog post with a better approach because it’s not the first thing I’m forcing myself to do. I’ve warmed up the engine a bit and now we’re ready to go.

Warm ups, in short, aren’t just for physical exercise. I’m not sure there’s an equivalent for someone in accounting or other fields. But for myself as someone who relies on my ability to communicate creative ideas in fresh, interesting and compelling ways, that time spent stretching the muscles important to my job have become an essential part of my day.

By Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.