Writing is a lot like weightlifting, except without the abs

image Thanks for joining us for another edition of Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing, when I take the collective wisdom gathered from 15 years as a columnist and, much like an all-you-can-eat burrito bar, offer ingredients that will satisfy your writing hunger while still leaving you a little gassy. But don’t just take my word for it! Publisher’s Digest has heralded my weekly writing tips as “…A step-by-step guide to literary success, as long as you can walk backwards…” and what ®The Master of Horror Stephen King has called “…Writing milestones you’ll keep stubbing your toe on…”

But enough accolades!

It struck me this morning at the gym, while diligently pumping iron from a seated position at the smoothie bar, the number of similarities there are between reaching your fitness goals and writing goals, and how, in both cases, you will likely fail if you attempt too much too fast — especially if you’re trying to show off and accidentally flatulate while attempting a power lift. OK, now that the obligations required by my Gas-X sponsorship have been met, we can move on to how the same principles that make up a good fitness plan can be applied to achieving your writing goals. (Make sure to stop in next week, when Trojan will sponsor tips on expanding your readership.)

Just like many people who enter the gym for the first time and see the dozens of different torture devices designed to make you look weak and destroy your self esteem fitness apparatus that can sculpt your body into lean muscle capable of opening even the most stubborn mayonnaise jar, those entering the world of writing often find themselves being crushed under the weight of their own lofty goals by not building up literary muscle first. And by this I don’t mean technique, style or developing your writing voice. I’m talking specifically about easing into writing project(s) and commitment(s) in a way that strengthens your writing endurance so you can avoid “injuring” yourself creatively.

This isn’t to be confused with creatively injuring yourself, which I also know about. But that’s a whole other post…

In the same way a smart fitness plan is built on improvements through gradually adding weight in small increments, running for longer periods or monitoring and increasing resistance in measured amounts, writers need to follow the same example if they want to keep their disciplined writing commitment from turning into sloppy repetitions that can hurt their goals. Any gym instructor will tell you lifting a lot of weight too quickly, or without the proper control, is pointless and even dangerous.

Especially if I’m your spotter.

The key is to recognize your limitations and commit to lifting nothing beyond that until it’s time to add more.

How will you know when it’s time? When you realize you’re making the circuit without getting winded. In literary terms, the best measurement I can give you is this: When you find yourself easily beating your deadline(s) on a regular basis — whether self-imposed or established by an editor or agent — you’re probably ready to build more muscle.

Until then, keep working the circuit and maintaining those steady, controlled writing reps.

But please: Stay away from the gym if you’re gassy.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

42 thoughts on “Writing is a lot like weightlifting, except without the abs”

  1. With all the sweat molecules in the air in a gym, how would anyone even know you were gassy? Just blame it on the steroid enhanced guy on the next bench who is pressing weights equivalent to a VW bug!

  2. I like the gym analogy. If I take it a tad further, I can argue that at the moment I’m doing the writing equivalent of “tapering.”

  3. Without the abs, huh? I’ve just checked and I fear you are correct. But what might be the writerly equivalent of abs? Hmm, I know – I’ll go to the gym to ponder the matter.

  4. Ha! I have neither.
    However, at the gym, I did notice that in the abs department there are no two sets the same. Note, observations undertaken with great care – I didn’t want to creep anyone out – especially the young men in the weights section who treat me with the same deference I suspect they usually reserve for their grandmothers.

  5. Great advice! This explains a lot about my literary muffin top and the strange sounds coming from… the weights…I’m quite guilty of the too much too fast give up and eat cake cycle. I think I’ll have to try something smaller…besides… I think the weights I’m using must be defective…they probably shouldn’t sound that way…

  6. That is good advice Ned. I’ll start with short sentences. Five words is long enough. This can be somewhat limiting. I musn’t strain my writing. Tomorrow I’ll add a word. Six words is a lot. Maybe I’ll wait two days. No need to over achieve. How am I doing Ned?

  7. I
    I will
    I will try
    I will try to
    I will try to write
    I will try to write better
    I will try to write better comments.
    I will try to write better comments more
    I will try to write better comments more often
    I will try not to fart while writing better comments more often.

    Huh… look at me go. Who knew writing was this easy?

  8. “Almost always applicable”
    VERY sound advice, dear Ned…wished I had learn to take it (both in the gym AND at the typewriter)

    Can you see a cycle here?
    Goal: Start running
    Me: Run 2 marathons, countless halves and a Tough Mudder…with a broken foot
    Goal: I don’t want to buy tomatoes at the store
    Me: Plow up a north 40 and grow enough produce to support a small orphanage
    Goal: Start writing
    Me: Start a blog; Wait: I need one just for photography; AND: one for fiction (yikes!) ; AND: throw in some guest writing and monthly features AND…

    (You should see me in a candy store 🙂

    You may have just uncovered and revealed something seriously wrong with me.
    Oh well…at least I’m in great company!!

  9. I laughed out loud at least five times before I read the first two paragraphs. My mom kept asking me, “What’s so funny?” You made my eyes tear up, but in a good way. Love the bench pressing typewriters pic too.

  10. Another excellent post, and some of the comments were darn good also! In the vein of feedback I wondered about the length of the post. In the age of Twitter I worry sometimes that the average reader is in too much of a hurry to read a longer post – am I incorrect to limit the number of words in my blog posts? In your case you have the “strength” of writing to capture your reader so it isn’t a concern but I lack your bench press physique.

    1. Thanks so much for reading, and I appreciate the kind words. When it comes to blog posts or any kind of writing really, I think the story will take as long as it needs to be told. The editing process will dictate the length. While I agree there literary curve is flatlining to some degree, those who enjoy a well-told story will find you regardless of your word count 😉

  11. So let me see if i have this straight: You’re a fully accredited journalist, you rock a mean ‘stache AND you’re overflowing with wisdom?
    As the kids say, Ned.. You da Man!

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