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Monday, February 1, 2021

Working Muscles Back to Fighting—and Writing—Strength

 by Linda Rodriguez

It’s good to be back actively on here after a long hiatus, due to health issues. I’m grateful to our Kindly Leader, Elaine, who has been posting some of my writings from the past for me during my absence. She does so many things to keep this blog running smoothly that readers will never know about.


As long-time readers of this blog will know, I have several autoimmune diseases, and because of one of these, I ended up on large amounts of steroids for an indefinite period of time. This has continued now for several years and has led to a severe weakening of the legs, due to steroid myopathy. As a consequence, I have taken a couple of very bad falls, resulting in a shredded rotator cuff, shattered shoulder, and other difficulties that eventually led to my absence from this blog and from social media in general. I haven’t been on Facebook in years and am only sporadically checking in on Twitter.


As I’m starting to get better here, my home has been invaded for the last several months by an army of home health nurses, physical therapists, and occupational therapists, whose role is to help me rethink my ways of doing things around the house, so that I can begin to take up some of the tasks that I have had to give up, due to this loss of mobility in my arms and legs. I have had more visits from physical therapists than any of the others, and those have been visits entailing hard work and pain on my part. However, I am seeing real progress, so of course, it has all been worth it, and I am going to continue to do all of these exercises, even after the physical therapists stop visiting.


The thing is that any muscles we don’t use adequately on a regular basis will atrophy and continue to weaken. Once those muscles have weakened, for whatever reason, we must work hard to strengthen them once again and teach them what they must do. As I deal with multiple hours of physical therapy exercises on legs and arms every day, I think about how this applies to writing, as well. We all know how difficult it is to begin to write once again, when we have been absent from the page for a long time. Our writing muscles, the muscles that help us to plot and describe and narrate and create dialogue and action on the page, have weakened, and we must begin the process of retraining them and strengthening them.


For me, this often starts with handwriting in my journal and freewriting on anything that comes to mind, especially if it might pertain to a writing project or contain an idea for a writing project. But even before I do that, if I’ve been away from the page for a long time, my first exercise will begin with my fiber arts, spinning, knitting, and weaving. This is because I have usually strayed too far from my creative self, and I need to replenish and stimulate that creative self before I can begin to write my best material. It usually doesn’t take too long a time of wandering among the beautiful colors and textures of fiber arts, before I am developing new creative ideas of things to write and am ready to begin the exercises with the journal and freewriting.


Soon enough, I am ready to move from random journal entries and free writing to the equivalent for writers of the scales and finger exercises that pianists and musicians do. I have written earlier on this blog about these finger exercises for writers here. As I move through practicing these scales for writers, I find that my writing muscles are definitely getting stronger. I am imagining more clearly. Ideas are collecting in my brain. I begin to see characters in sharper detail. Most of all, my energy and enthusiasm for the act of writing itself, creating my own world and people, increases.


As writers, we think of ourselves as cerebral beings, rather sedentary, unless we develop physical activities outside of the act of writing. I do believe that our brain, since it is a muscle of sorts, has more in common with our physical body than we think. A while back, I wrote a poem about this unlikely similarity and connection.



Bring your palms together in prayer

against your chest. Feel the pull


in the once-broken right wrist.

Release, relax, and repeat ten times.


Squeeze the putty to make a fist.

Pinch it between your thumb and each finger,


one after another down the length

of the squeezed-out roll, creating a wavy snake.


Hook the tips of all four fingers, trying

to touch tips to bases, but inches of air


keep them apart. Pull those fingertips

to the center of the palm to make a fist


without the putty’s help. Stretch them

down toward the base of the hand.


Struggle to hold a pen and write a line.

Stop when the fingers tingle and go numb.


For what are we humans without the hand, clever, useful

appendage, connected so closely to our big brains,


that cuts, creases, carries, and caresses

our way through daily obstacles and opportunities.


Write another line and a second before the pain

sets in—the way every writer has to work.


What do you do when you have been away from the page and the act of writing creatively (as in fiction or poetry rather than journalism or blog posts) for a substantial period of time? How do you begin to retrain those writing muscles?

Linda Rodriguez's 12th book, The Fish That Got Away: The Sixth Guppy Anthology, is about to be published. Her 11th book was Fishy Business: The Fifth Guppy Anthology (edited). Dark Sister: Poems was her 10th book and a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, were published in 2017.  Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery featuring Cherokee detective, Skeet Bannion, and Revising the Character-Driven Novel will be published in 2021. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, Every Last Secret—and earlier books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film. 

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Native Writers Circle of the Americas, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Learn more about her at


Kait said...

Welcome back, Linda. So glad that you have recovered sufficiently to return. You have been missed! Those hand exercises are achingly familiar to me from when I broke my wrist three years ago.

Although not for health reasons, I, too, had taken a leave of absence from creative writing. I determined that I needed to show up daily and get something on the page—or edited—or plotted. At first, it was hard and the writing was awful. After a while, when the soreness wore off, it became a joy again.

Molly MacRae said...

What a tough road, Linda. Welcome back! I love the way you use spinning, knitting, and weaving to wake up other creative processes. Here's to continued progress.

Jim Jackson said...

So goo to have you back live and in person, Linda.

Rewriting, self-editing at its finest, is my way back to muscle memory. The alchemy of transforming straw to gold reminds me of what is good and what is dross. And gives me permission to create dross as the first step in manufacturing gold.

E. B. Davis said...

I'm glad you are back and on the mend, Linda. Good advice!

Tammy Euliano said...

Your persistence is inspiring. I look forward to learning from you!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Welcome back! I take a two mile walk with the dogs every morning to "warm up" my writing process. At lunch time, I hit the rowing machine, stroking out meditative miles while I compose in my head.

Best wishes for continued progress!

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Welcome back... glad to see you've figured out ways to bring that muscle memory of writing back to the forefront...

Shari Randall said...

Linda, I'm so glad you've recovered and best wishes for continued progress. I learn so much and gain so much inspiration from you, and especially your poetry. So glad you're back!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Kait, I'm glad you've progressed to the stage of joy, rather than difficulty, in your own writing. I hope to wind up there eventually.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Molly, I find that creative work that is non-verbal and deals with color and texture works best for me in filling my literary creative well. Someone else might find it was something different.

Jim, and I'm so pleased to see that you returned during my absence. I think revisions and self-editing are great tools, but for me, they must come after I begin to think creatively. They pull too much on the left-brain thinking where I've been dwelling too long.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Elaine and Tammy thank you both so much!

Margaret, yes! Exercise can help fill that creative well, also.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Debra, thanks for your encouragement and all of your behind-scenes help, too.

Shari, it's so good to see you--and everyone else--again. I have truly missed my blogging partners and am so glad to be with them all once more.

KM Rockwood said...

So glad to see you back, Linda.

I hope you are managing (and feeling) much better.

I have not been writing much lately and I think you ideas will help me get back into it when I am ready.

Linda Rodriguez said...

KM, I'm so glad that you found my ideas helpful. You and I will return to writing together.