My wife and I recently began daily yoga exercises–a bit of a challenge because of my arthritic knees, so we use a half-hour instructional video of gentle yoga from Moffitt Cancer Center. This is called “the chair practice” because all of the exercises are done in a straight-back chair, which doesn’t seem very transformative, yet the chair practice leaves us physically and mentally refreshed.

American writer and suffragette Mary Heaton Vorse said that creative writing is “the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” This kind of chair practice is easily ignored, but any experienced writer knows it’s the only sure way to produce results.

In the beginning or after a period of neglect, a writer’s chair practice can be grueling. The blank sheet of paper or pristine computer screen taunts you, and it’s tempting to sneak peaks at the clock to see how close you are to completing the span of time you have promised to stay “in the chair.”

I once heard writing coach James Scott Bell suggest the “nifty 350” as an appropriate goal for this time of enforced practice each day. In other words, aim to write a minimum number of words rather than serving a sentence of so many minutes (or hours!) waiting for inspiration. Just write 350 words, he said. That’s approximately one double-spaced page of text, enough to prime your mental “pump” and begin the flow of a creative stream.

At first, it seems daunting to create even that “nifty 350,” but after several days it becomes a habit. Before checking Facebook, before opening e-mail, before reviewing your “To Do” list or pouring a second cup of coffee–in fact, before any other daily task–write 350 words.

A runner stretches hamstrings and a singer stretches vocal chords. Likewise, a writer must stretch the mind and get the synapses firing before doing serious work. This chair exercise does not attempt to do any “heavy lifting.” In fact, the day’s first 350 words may never be shared with anyone. On the other hand, they may surface somewhere, perhaps a blog like this one. (Yep, 350 words.)