This is part 1 of a multi-part series
My passion for the last two decades has been fitness – making myself fit, helping others become more fit, and teaching my students how to become personal trainers so they can make a living in the fitness industry. I found fitness when I was 14 and never looked back – it was truly transformative in my life. Fitness was my first thought when my eyes popped open in the morning and it was my last thought when my head hit the pillow. Fitness has given me my closest friends, my career, and my sense of being in this world. I’ll always love fitness.
Over the last several years a new passion has started to emerge for me. It is one I don’t think my high school self would have expected twenty-five years ago. This new passion is Writing. I find myself thinking about writing when I am in the shower; I am crafting new scenes as I drive down the road; as I drift off to sleep epic battles and heart rendering drama that will bring a reader to their knees plays out inside my head. Even during my workouts I am often thinking about writing – things to write about it, the way to phrase a certain something, the sequence of plot events, how best to describe the characters so they live forever in a reader’s mind. I’ll ponder anything if I think it has a chance of making my work better.
As more of my work has become published and as I have shared with others that writing is becoming a bigger part of my life, people have started to ask me questions about the process. I find that many are where I was just a few years ago – an idea gnawing at them, a need they can’t ignore, but they are unsure what to do with it or how to express it? The questions I receive are typically along the lines of: How did I get started, should they write or are they kidding themselves with the very idea of it, should one self-publish or not, how do you know if you are any good, and how can you make money by writing?
Before we proceed you should know a little bit about me if you don’t already. I’ll try to be as open as possible so you can see what has worked and what hasn’t for me. I am not a full-time writer and I don’t claim to be a brilliant wordsmith (when it comes to fiction personally I think my story and the characters are pretty awesome – but the voice inside my head whispers that I’ll never be able to write the story well enough so that people actually care). I make my living in the fitness industry. I teach people to become personal trainers and I train and coach athletes online and in-person. Over the past decade I started writing more, some of it paid, some of it unpaid. I’ve written about 150 fitness articles of which I’ve was
paid for about half of those. In the fitness industry you typically receive $100-500 per article, most of my articles would have been at the higher end of that scale. I have also written two books: All About Powerlifting which I self-published through my own company Mythos Publishing; and NPTI’s
Fundamentals of Fitness and Personal Training which was published through Human Kinetics – the leading publisher of academic natured fitness books. In a future part of this series I will detail the pros and cons of each of those scenarios. I have a third fitness book coming out shortly which is also being self-published and my primary obsession right now is a work of fiction, my first time dipping my toe into that world. It is a sword and sorcery style series of novels that will be 4 books in total and I am about halfway completed with it, I hope to finish that series in 4 years. Exactly what will happen once I complete the series I don’t know yet.
All put together my work has sold for a little over $200,000 as of this writing – note that doesn’t mean I made 200k in profit, but that is what everything has sold for. That may seem good to some of you, in the world of famous authors it isn’t. I’ll get into the specifics of where those numbers came from as they come up. Certainly I am no George RR Martin, but I suspect most people reading this are wondering how to get started with writing and I am assuming they are not already well known authors with hundreds of thousands of books sold.
Should You Write?
One of the first questions I receive is also one of the most basic. The burgeoning author asks me – Should I even write in the first place? It is an understandable question. People wonder if they are any good, even if they are good how will their work get noticed, will others like it, and how will they handle the criticism that always comes when you expose a piece of yourself? All valid questions and I hope to address them in time. But the first thing I would do (which I often do to the frustration of my students) is to reflect the question back to you.
Why do you want to write?
If you are going to travel down the dark and shifty tunnel of writing seriously, you need to be able to answer this question, otherwise you’ll quit at the first obstacle – which will invariably come and likely sooner rather than later.
If one is writing nonfiction, this question is often a little bit easier to answer. I wrote my powerlifting book because I had knowledge that I wanted to share and to be blunt no one had ever really put together a comprehensive book about the sport in one single resource before. I wrote the NPTI textbook for similar but not the exact same reasons. The powerlifting book filled what I perceived to a void in the world of strength sports, there was simply no good book about powerlifting available to those interested in the sport. I wrote the NPTI textbook for two reasons. The first was simplistic – we wanted a book that was matched to our curriculum and it would be cheaper to buy one textbook than three. Second, while there were a lot of fitness related textbooks that already been written, I felt that I could do a better job of presenting the material. There were other ‘pretty good’ books out there, but they all had some sort of significant flaw(s) and I kept coming back to the point that our book could be better. In that specific genre the flaws, as I saw them, were as follows:
- Written Too Academically – the majority of students wouldn’t even crack the book because of the way the book was written
- Weak Practical Information – the workouts presented had obviously never been tested nor written by anyone with actual ‘time under the bar’ as we say in the fitness field
- Missing Key Parts – for example no book even talked about how to actually run a personal training session from start to finish
In the end I felt (and do feel) that our book solves those problems. It is written in a conversational tone so it is easy to read; the practical information actually works because it is has already worked on many individuals; and we cover the ‘extra stuff’ that trainers need to know how to do.
If one is writing fiction, the question of why you want to write can vary. It seems that most authors write for the following reasons:
To tell a story – sometimes you just think of a story that you believe is pretty bad assed and you want to share it with others. Something I remember, and something I cling to in moments when I feel lost, is what the game designer for Zelda said when they asked him how he could come up with such an awesome game? His response was simple. I design games that I myself would like to play. Right now I am writing a Dungeons and Dragons style fantasy series. Part of the reason I am writing it is because I think the story itself is pretty awesome and while I have read a lot of fantasy novels I have never read that ‘perfect’ one that encapsulates what D&D is to me. They are either too cheesy and too cliché or they go down strange paths or the author takes too many liberties and I find myself thinking that is not how this is supposed to happen. Will my story be perfect – definitely not. But I hope, if I do my job as a writer (and if I ever finish the damn thing) that at least some readers will say it is the best classic D&D story they have ever read. If people say that I will be more than satisfied.
To teach lessons and/or convey a political message – sometimes you write because you want to teach lessons or you have a political message you want to relate or perhaps you want to explore such an issue in your writing. I have short stories floating around in my head about abortion and gun control because those are two issues I think are interesting to examine. It would be a fun challenge as a writer to get the reader inside your head and to have them to at least consider taking the point of view you yourself have.
To express creativity – writing is a form of art, and many artists simply feel compelled to express that part of themselves. Like it or not, that work must come out. Unfortunately, the work may well not live up to the image we have created in our mind about how it should be, which can be the cause of great angst among artists.
To learn more about yourself – writing can be a great way to explore topics. You can voice opinions that are not yours, bounce around ideas, and see how you react to various twists and turns in the story. I like to think that I view a man and a woman as equal, but in my story one of my characters is very sexist. It makes for interesting dialogue and it challenges you to explore every aspect of how you feel about a topic (and it annoys the hell out of my wife). Many writers find writing about loss or a personal struggle to be very therapeutic and a key part of the healing process for them.
To make money/receive glory – Let’s be honest, most of us have an ego and we secretly wish that our work will be recognized as a masterpiece and we will get all of the glory that should accompany such brilliance. We also hope that we will compensated for our hard work and time. I know personally I went the conservative route and I simply hope that my work will become the next generations’ Star Wars complete with a series of highly grossing movies, action figures, and of course several documentaries on the brilliant and creative author who came up with the whole idea. Thus, if I equal George Lucas status I will be moderately satisfied, anything less will be soul-crushingly disappointing.
You will likely write for a combination of reasons, but I would encourage you to be aware of your reasons and whenever possible, hold on to that initial reason you first wanted to write. For me it was just to tell a good story. It can be overwhelming if you try to do everything – tell a story, teach a lesson, change the way society views an issue, make gobs of money, shape a generation, etc. But if you just want to do one thing – teach one lesson, tell one cool story, express yourself creatively one time in a way that is truly you – that is doable. Let that be your guiding light when the shadows of self-doubt creep in around you.
Here’s where we get to the interesting part of the question “Should You Write?”
When it comes to an individual asking me that question – asking me if they should try to write the story that is in their head – my answer is almost invariably yes. If you want to become a good writer, it doesn’t happen overnight so one might as well start now. If you want to learn about yourself, flesh out how you feel about complex topics, impart political lessons, or share knowledge, when is that a bad thing? Go ahead and start writing. Just because you start writing doesn’t mean that the world must read every word you have written, but feel free to start writing. Even if you are 10 and you can’t even put a decent sentence together, everyone must start somewhere.
When it comes to a broad answer of “Does the world need more writers?” my answer there tends to be no. It used to be that to be published one was almost automatically vetted and thus the work was likely to be pretty good (for fiction) or mostly true (for nonfiction). With the spread of social media and blogs and instant publishing, almost anyone can become ‘a writer’ and send their message out the world. This is abundant in the fitness world and part of me cringes when I see the 20-year-old with a 1-2 years of experience blogging about this topic or that (and the more forgiving part of me understands we all start somewhere). Do we need an endless spew of information that comes from those that are not subject matter experts or those that have not really vetted their opinions? No. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write – there is a difference between writing and publishing. Write as much as you want privately, hone your sword, and when you are ready to reveal your fighting skills to the world, do so.
While American society is extremely focused on results, personally I think we should put more emphasis on effort. Sometimes you have a valiant effort and the end result isn’t what you want. Sometimes you have a shitty effort and the end result is great. But effort is all one can control. At the end of the day, or at the end of your life, if you can look in the mirror and truthfully say you gave an effort that you were proud of, that is all that one can do.
I decided I wanted to do my best to tell a cool D&D style story. I mean, what’s not to love about fire breathing red dragons, magical battle axes, vengeful half-orc blackguards on the hunt for revenge, and a group of adventurers bonded together through friendship and love facing perilous odds. I don’t know if it will be any good? The odds of it ‘making it big’ are slim, but I would rather try and fail then live my life wondering what if? And besides, I already have 3 readers (ages 11, 9 and 7) that told me so far it is their favorite story. I have to finish it now, for them if not for me. If you can reach just a few people and make a difference in their lives, that should be all the motivation you’ll ever need.
In Part 2 of this series, I will talk about how you can improve yourself as a writer, and in Part 3 I will discuss the advantages and negatives of going the self-publishing route or working with a publishing company. If there are other things about writing and publishing you would like to hear my take on, post it below.