Periodization for Writers

Periodization is a principle used in may sports and I’ve discovered it also applies to writing. In the sports world, it involves planning your workout year into smaller segments to avoid overtraining while consistently making improvements. The goal is to use the principle of periodization in order to make continuous forward improvement while avoiding burn out.

This was a tough lesson for me to learn at first. I always want to be on the go, working hard, reaching for the next goal. Stepping back and taking a break was something I had to teach myself to do. Others find it hard to take their time getting into a fitness program, when they’d rather make the decision, jump in with both feet and go all out. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work. It leads to burn out, injury, muscle loss, sickness and other negative side effects.

Periodization for Fitness Programs and Writing

Example Periodization for Fitness Programs

The same thing applies to writing. You can burn yourself out just as easily as diving into a new workout program. When it comes to fitness, everyone is different and it really depends on the individual. My length of time is short, I can’t go more than four to five weeks of really intense training before I need a break. How did I learn that? By listening to my body over the years (and it took time!) and learning how much it could handle. I am still learning about my writing endurance and tolerance, but have discovered that it takes time for me to ease into novel first draft writing. After all that foundation work of world building, character profiling, plotting and planning, it’s a slow transition for me to then switch to writing the actual novel. If I try to force myself into a hight word count goal right away, I don’t reach it, then I get discouraged and it stops me from writing. Now, I let myself take it in baby steps. Once I get momentum, I can get up to 2000 words a day, 6 days a week.

Why not seven days a week, if I’m on such a roll? This is where the periodization comes into play. I take one day off a week, and usually have another day of the week that’s a “lighter” day, where I give myself a smaller goal, maybe only 1000 words. That way, I never burn out, I’m excited for my big days of writing and the words keep coming.

After completing a novel, I also take time off from writing, as long as I think I need to recharge. Too much time can lead to getting out of the habit, too little time can mean running straight into burn out. Find what works for you.

In fitness programs, periodization helps avoid the stops and starts associated with overtraining and will have you progressing steadily to higher and higher levels of fitness. The same thing applies to your writing. It may take time to find what works for you, but be patient with yourself. Don’t think that you’ve failed at writing because you’re burnt out. Schedule yourself some time off and the words will be there on days you need to write.

Good luck!

Wishing you happy and consistent writing sessions!

Wishing you happy and consistent writing sessions!



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  1. Steven M. Long
    09/07/2014 at 5:26 am Permalink

    I can’t tell you how many times (years ago) I set myself totally bananas goals, only to feel disappointed when I didn’t reach them. I think that this general principle can be extrapolated to all sorts of planning involving the writing life: how much can you blog? Do you really have time for short stories AND novel writing? And so forth.

    For a long time I’ve been preaching that – unless you’re getting paid for it, and there’s a clear work/$$$ ratio to understand, the most important thing is realistic goals, and continued, consistent effort, whatever that means for you.