Yesterday, I did my very first CrossFit session. I was nervous, to be honest, going into it. I do a bit of casual jogging and cycling, but as I walked up and realized I was about half the size of most of the women and men in the class, I started feeling like I was way out of my depth. I thought about backing out, but my instructor had unfortunately already spotted me (the only newbie there) and waved in welcome.
“HEY,” he said. (His deep voice positively reverberated through the gym.) “SO GREAT TO SEE YOU HERE.” He shook me warmly by the hand, pointing out where the bathrooms, water fountains and equipment stands were located.
The music started.
Before I knew it, I was dripping with sweat, fully immersed in the experience that is CrossFit. I rowed, I skipped, I biked and I did sit-ups to a frenetic beat pounding through the speakers. I didn’t speak much with the others, but plenty of long-time members gave me encouraging grins every so often as we cycled through the exercises.
Dan, our instructor, would boom at us every so often to rotate, or slow down or pick it up, his voice seeming to throb in time to the beat.
Finally, it came to an end and faster than expected. Despite all my suffering, all my hesitation and hangups, I realized I’d had an amazing time.
I walked home in the setting sun thinking not about my muscle gain, or my calories lost, nor even what I was going to have for dinner, but instead how I wanted to capture the experience — in writing.
Writing is an extension of your being.
When we sit down to write, we pour a little piece of our soul into the words we put out to be read by others. We talk about the things we feel most strongly about, the topics that define our lives, our passions, our curiosity. What we write reflects a large part of who we are as people.
So it makes a lot of sense to me that when we expand our experiences, we can write about more.
The favorite authors I love reading from, no matter what the topic is, are those who have really lived. They’ve had experiences both good and bad, and they’re open about their thoughts and feelings on it all.
Whether through the form of poetry, fiction, personal essay or anything else, the people who have the widest range of experiences are, in my opinion, the best writers. I’m not talking about people who travel to all the countries of the world or those who buy the latest gadget or visit ice hotels, although of course, those are valid, new experiences.
I’m just talking about folks who go out of their comfort zone and are brave enough to share the results with the rest of us. And the crazy thing is, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from going out to experience new things too.
Get a hit of novelty improves your motivation.
Trying new things does some pretty exciting stuff to your brain. I sometimes talk about dopamine — in layman's terms, that’s the chemical that makes you feel good, also known as the “reward chemical.” However, it’s more closely related to motivation. That means that dopamine makes our brains keen to seek out rewards, rather than being the reward itself.
What does that have to do with writing? Everything. Our brains love new things. There’s a whole area of our brain solely dedicated to dealing with, remembering, and learning from new experiences.
When you perform a novel task, or do something new, or see something different, your brain is going to drive you to be rewarded. And if you’re a writer and find writing intrinsically rewarding, that means you’ll be driven to write.
So not only does doing new stuff give you something new to write about, it’s actually going to put your brain in the right frame of mind to be energized and motivated to write.
That’s what I was feeling, walking home from my CrossFit class — the drive to go out and create something new. I was exhausted from too many sit-ups, but my mind was on fire with the desire to write as much as I could.
How you can become a better writer by doing this.
The best writers are the ones with the richest lives. They’ve done everything, seen everything, experienced the highs and lows of the human condition. They might not spend money on these experiences — sometimes they suffer through depression, or abuse, or grief — but these experiences are what make them such enthralling voices. They’re going to have a lot to say about a lot of different aspects of their lives, and it’s going to be powerful.
The breadth of their lived experience is what gives them the most compelling stories. You can start today to build up the kinds of experiences that will make you a writer that people want to listen to today, just by doing something new. Try a new sport. Test out new food. Drive a different way to work.
It doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. It just has to be new. And along the way, you’ll give yourself new topics to write about, motivate your brain into wanting to write, and find you have thoughts and opinions and emotions on things you’d never heard of before.
Go out and chase new things. You’ll be a better writer for it.