10 Things The Gym Taught Me About Writing
The funny thing about revelations is that sometimes they appear as sudden explosions of understanding, but, after thinking about them for a while, you realize they are just your brain’s way of unexpectedly showing you a bunch of accumulated knowledge put together. I’ve spent the last decade and a half training and working out in gyms in three different countries, and the last decade doing the writing thing in Shakespeare's language, but seeing the ways one resembles the other is something that, although it had been building in my head for a while, truly came to me as a revelation early last year. In any case, I’m here now to share those common elements in hopes that they help you keep at it on those days when quitting seems like a feasible option. Here are the ways writing is just like training.
1. Consistency matters
You know who makes it in the writing world? People who get their asses in front of a computer or a notebook and put words down. They keep at it when it feels good and everything is going well, and they keep at it when they feel like no one’s paying attention and the rejections are coming in like cockroaches looking for a warm place in the winter. Yeah, consistency matters. Want to lose weight? Stick to your diet and training regime. Want to get published? Keep writing, keep reading, and keep working on getting better. No one will hustle for you, so you have to hustle harder than everyone and do so constantly.
2. Pain makes you stronger
Sometimes people ask you how much you can bench. Depending on their level of knowledge (and your strength), they might be very impressed by your answer. The same goes for your squat or how fast you can run a mile. What those people tend to ignore is that the first time you hit the gym, you couldn’t handle that weight. The first time you tried to run a mile, you ended up walking half of it while holding your side and feeling your heart slam against your throat. No, you had to train and eat and rest and rinse and repeat to get where you are, and every time you hit chest hard, lactic acid had you walking around in pain for a couple of days, or your legs would be wobbly for hours after a solid run.
The same goes for writing. “Oh, you have a book out?” You can say “Yup” or ‘Well, it’s actually my fourth book,” but regardless of your answer, only you know the hours and effort that went into turning those ideas into words and those words into a book. During that time, you suffered. Long editing sessions, rejections, having to go to the day gig to cover your bills while you wrote, computer problems, narrative holes revealed when you thought you were done, etc. Those things hurt, but they made you stronger. Now, when shit goes south, you know you got this. You’ve been here before and survived and, just like you know the pain will go away and you’ll be stronger with time, every obstacle you face in your writing career makes you stronger and better, so don’t despair.
3. It’s a lifestyle
You can hit the gym hard in the morning two days per week and spend the rest of your time watching shows, eating cookies, and drinking whiskey and not see any positive results. However, if you change your lifestyle around a bit, those results will come. Likewise, you can wait around for inspiration to strike or spend your days writing about writing on social media instead of adding words to your work in progress, but that thing won’t be done until you make an effort and change some things around in order to get it done. Writers write. The rest is bullshit.
4. There’s a bunch of assholes out there
You know that guy talking about every female in the gym? There’s an equivalent of that in the publishing world. You know that asshole who looks like a bloated corpse but is always dishing out training advice? Yeah, the writing world has plenty of those. The list goes on and on. Just like the gym is a weird place packed with diverse fauna, the writing world is packed with sexist assholes, racists, dudebros, divas, self-proclaimed experts, bad editors, etc. Be ready to deal with them and don't let them get you down. Just like the gym, the biggest battle you fight while writing is against yourself.
5. Complaining gets you nothing
I keep saying this and keep getting unfriended and unfollowed. Thankfully, I don't care, so I'm saying it again: quit complaining. Listen, no one forces you to drop ten pounds or to write a novel. You don't have to do this, and no one cares if you think editing sucks or if you didn't get 1k words down today. You're gonna say that sharing is okay and I'm a monster and you'll write in your blog about how wrong I am...and it will accomplish nothing because folks will still not care about your crying and moaning. Do the thing, share your triumphs and defeats (sometimes getting a few encouraging words after a tough rejection is the best medicine), but if all you do is complain about how hard writing in, how social media is sucking away all your time, and how editing is a pain, then maybe you should do something else. Hate the gym? Don't go. Hate writing? Don't fucking do it.
6. Stay humble, but be confident
The one truth in the world of sports/bodybuilding/powerlifting/whatever is that there is someone bigger, faster, and stronger 99.9% of the time. Got $250 for a story? Celebrate, but then get back to work. You can't retire on that money. Got a rejection? Revise your submission, but stay confident: your favorite famous author collected rejections for years (look up James Lee Burke's rejection letter collection). Some editors will dislike your work and some will love it, and that's how the game goes. Don't let the victories go to your head and don't let the defeats bring you down. Some days you're stronger than others at the gym, and the same goes for writing. The trick is to find a happy medium on the bad days and remember that the sun will go down and you'll get another chance to rock this thing. Stay humble, stay confident, keep grinding.
7. Take a break once in a while
When I was teaching audio editing at the University of Texas at Austin, I loved trying to explain to students in a comprehensible way the difference between sound and noise. When I ran my own personal training studio, I loved doing the same with the difference between good pain and bad pain (in a nutshell, good pain is from muscles that were broken down by a good workout and bad pain comes from your joints screaming about your shitty form). When the good pain is around, keep training. When the bad pain comes, your body needs a break. When you take a few hits in the writing game, push through. When your brain stops functioning properly, take a break and do something else so you can come back to it with a fresh brain and renewed vigor. I'm not a seasoned veteran or a self-proclaimed expert, but I will tell you this: "write every single day" is a piece of advice that doesn't work for everyone, and that's okay.
8. There's no magic pill
Steroids work for a while, and then your system collapses. The juicers I've known for years were massive ten years ago, but they're getting back or heart surgery now. You can lie, steal, and cheat in the writing world, but that's not sustainable, and once you get caught, your career is over. Keep pushing yourself and you'll get what you want. It'll also taste fucking sweeter when you get there because it'll be all yours. There are no magic pills, and anyone trying to sell you one should be told to fuck off.
9. Being good to others is the only acceptable behavior
Don't leave a bench covered in armpit juice. Don't blow your nose at the water fountain. Rerack your damn weights. These are all basic rules everyone should follow, and yet we have to keep repeating them because some people don't follow them. In the writing world, being decent goes a long way. Sure, I want to be able to pay my rent with my writing and have enough left to go to a few conventions every year and buy that third taco on Saturdays, but I want the same for every single one of my horror/crime/bizarro friends. The gym is a communal space, and so is publishing, so be decent, help others out when you can, offer them a hand, give praise (it's fucking free!) when someone earns it, and remember that women are here to do work, not to be exposed to more macho bullshit. Also, as a communal space, every person should be received with open arms.
10. You have to remember how great this thing is
Yeah, you sweat and you put in the work and sometimes you don't get the results you want, but that's okay. Just like any day at the gym is better than any day at the office, any day writing is better than any day not writing. We create cool stuff for readers to enjoy. We give ourselves therapy after digging into the darkest, deepest, scariest holes of our heart, memory, and soul. We bring characters to life and create worlds. If you can't see how cool that is. you need to reevaluate why you write.
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