Start writing more.
That’s the standard advice you’ll get when you email a writer asking for help.
It’s not great advice, nor is it original. What do you expect for free? Moral of the story — when asking a writer for anything, it never hurts to inquire if they accept PayPal.
I kid of course. But I get this question fairly often and never know how to answer it.
On Writing Well
Fitness folks typically see writing as a chore, perhaps suffering flashbacks to high school English class when they had to painstakingly analyze George’s actions in Of Mice and Men.
For that reason, many try to avoid writing entirely and instead record a catalog of YouTube videos or podcasts. Or worse, when they do write, they straight-up copy one another’s posts, right down to recycling the same tired metaphors and well-worn Lindsay Lohan rehab jokes.
But being able to write clearly and succinctly is hugely important. It can literally separate you from the pack, especially if said pack is composed of 19 year-olds in Under-Armor tuxedos that use use words like ‘ur’, ‘lol’, and the ubiquitous ‘smh.’
Just think: if a prospective, educated client is scanning the blogs for his next trainer and has the choice between a bro and a bro that understands the difference between there, their, and they’re, all this writing shit might start paying off.
As for me, most of my paying work is either ghost writing or editing – not exactly the type of fare you splash all over your Facebook page amidst a torrid sea of duckface selfies. This week, however, I did get some acknowledgement and with it, the standard question from a few fitness pros about developing their own skills.
Apart from “just write more homie” I don’t have much to say.
I just know what I did. My own n = 1 route to a meager living behind a computer.
But if you’re an aspiring writer, especially an aspiring fitness writer, there are some things you should do.
Lift Weights. Surprised that would be number one? You’d be amazed how many fitness journalists I meet that have the musculature and athleticism of Larry King. Look if you don’t practice what you preach, I really don’t give a shit about your opinions on the subject. You won’t know what you’re talking about. That makes you annoying. #science
Be Educated and Experienced. A coach should have an Exercise Science degree or at least a broad array of certifications, not to mention years of hands-on training experience. A fitness writer has similar obligations. The work I read by journalists without legitimate training backgrounds (not just writing backgrounds) is often deeply flawed as they tend to have poorly honed bullshit detectors.
Examples include the number of fitness writers who bought hook, line, and sinker into things like Wheat Belly, Good Calories, Bad Calories, and Carb Backloading. In these examples, while some of my colleagues were off blaming the obesity epidemic on magic toxins in bread or freely eating piles of pancakes after 9:00 pm (9:30 pm in Newfoundland), I found myself thinking “I’ve seen this bullshit before.”
Have An Open Mind. While the aforementioned bullshit detector is very important (especially in this industry) don’t be afraid to question even your most tightly held beliefs.
I’d bought heavily into the post workout window, to the point that I’d cap my workouts with a sugary workout drink mixed in a noxious gym bathroom. While that certainly didn’t harm me, olfactory scarring notwithstanding, it didn’t help me much either. Lesson learned; knowledge gained.
Do You. My mantra is to always do you. Especially when it comes to what you write about. So if you’re a baseball nerd, then write about that. Don’t start cranking out articles on stubborn calf training. That’s my shit, and I’m the broseph around here.
When you write about stuff you’re not passionate about, it will invariably be boring or derivative. You’ll also recycle bad bodybuilding jokes from 1985 like “lets turn those calves into cows.” Stay out of my kitchen, Emeril. You’ve been warned.
Read Really Good Writing. I find good writing inspiring. But I’m appalled by how few books I actually read today. I have to literally force myself to step away from the computer and attack the growing pile on my desk.
I blame it on my education. In university and college I averaged 2-3 novels a week. So now I’m burnt the fuck out. Still in rehab, I guess. I do, however, read a ton of shit online. And I do read actual books. Seriously Mom. Just not enough of them.
Copy Really Good Writing. Once you discover a writer whose style speaks to you, copy them. Literally, write his or her work out, word for word. Just don’t then pass it off as your own work and expect a check, you creep.
This practice is called copy work. Some truly great writers did this while mastering their craft. It can teach you how word choice matters and how to structure paragraphs and transitions. As I was coming up in fitness I copied TC Luoma and later, James Altucher. I still do.
Write Your Boobs Off. Write for 90 minutes a day. Come hell or high water. I write for about 3 hours a day minimum, and if I screw the pooch for a few days I often write three times that to meet a deadline. Granted it’s how I make money but you should still make writing a daily habit, like trimming your hipster beard or taking a picture of your lunch on Instagram. You know, the important shit.
Edit. I edited fitness articles full time for 5 years. If your goal is to write better, you’ll find no better teacher than having to make disastrous work publication-worthy, quickly. And people wonder why I went grey early?
Be Funny. That is, if it’s appropriate, and if you’re actually funny. Writing humor is kind of like singing karaoke or having sex – everyone can technically do it, some just do it so damn much better than others.
Bear in mind, having a sense of humor and being funny are different things. Just because you appreciate a good joke doesn’t mean that you can deliver one. So if you don’t leave your friends in stitches on a regular basis — or have any real-life friends to begin with — then you probably aren’t cut out for the humorist category. Laughing at your own jokes doesn’t count either.
To be a good fitness writer requires reading good fitness writers. The following writers are my 10 favorites. I like many more of course (and kinda dislike a few too) but these are the ten I go out of my way to read. Granted I work out of home, so it’s never really “out of my way” but you get what I mean, you pedantic son of a bitch.
These writers all have something in common – they’re 100% authentic, meaning their online persona matches their in-person package. I know cause I’ve met them all. That’s why I like them and choose to associate with them. If you’re an aspiring writer then I encourage you to as well.
Jen Sinkler. My friend Jennifer is an excellent writer and skilled editor, but where she really shines is her incredible gift for connecting. She makes her readers feel like she’s actually speaking to them directly over an Americano in some fabulous coffee shop somewhere. You couldn’t fake that type of authenticity if you tried – and sadly, many do try. The fact that she delivers top quality content doesn’t hurt either. Check her site out here.
James Fell. I met James in Kansas City at the Fitness Summit and had no idea who he was, until I realized that for months I’d been reading his very popular syndicated fitness columns. He has a funny, informed yet disarming style – his blog is called BodyForWife for God’s sake – which matches his personality. Check him out here.
TC Luoma. TC is the finest writer working in fitness today. His work is edgy and irreverent yet always balanced and well researched. For 5 years I was his assistant editor, playing the Commander Ryker role to his all knowing Jean-Luc Picard, and as such I’ve occasionally been accused of “biting his style” — to which I answer “abso-fucking-lutely.” You can read more from him here.
John Romaniello. You either love John or think he’s full of shit. I know John well and and can honestly say he is 100% not full of shit. He’s just having more fun than you. The cool thing about John is he wants you to join him at the party. He’s also an amazing writer, Tolkien references and semicolon fetish notwithstanding.
Adam Bornstein. Adam works way too hard, putting out top quality content and helping thousands of people on Twitter. For that reason I don’t like him, as I, for one, do not like to work hard. Especially not after 5 pm. Or before noon. I need my “me” time. You don’t need my help finding Adam. He’s everywhere.
Lou Schuler. The nicest guy in fitness is also a talented, award winning writer and exceptional editor. I owe Lou so much I’ve literally stopped keeping track. Fortunately, at his advanced age I’m pretty sure he’s lost track as well. Lou is the type of guy who changes lives and creates careers just by being a nice guy. He has a book coming out with Alan Aragon in December and you can read more about him here.
Ron Harris. You knew a fellow bodybuilder would make my list. Ron inspires the hell out of me because he is a writer, father, husband AND a bodybuilder – and he gives 100% to each role. Reading his blog helped me believe 10 years ago that there was a possible career for “thinking man’s bodybuilding writers.” I wouldn’t have done a blog were it not for his Daily Pump. Plus, he’s a bro.
Tony Gentilcore. Tony’s my boy. I worked with him closely for years, mercilessly editing out his jokes and long-winded introductions – and he always just said thanks. Within a year or two he was submitting articles that were basically ready to publish from the first reading. He’s funny, knowledgeable, and helpful and he doesn’t try to bamboozle you with industry schtick. Interestingly, I now find myself emulating his style. Check him out here.
Sean Hyson. Sean is my NYC wingman, the Goose to my Maverick; that is if Goose traded beach volleyball for deadlifting in the high 500’s. He’s the fitness editor of Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness and he writes crisp, clean, informative work. His brand is telling people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. In some cultures, those people are called “assholes.” Alas. He can quote Goodfellas like a robot though so he’s A-OK in my book. Check him here.
Nate Green. Nate has a wonderful, breezy, succinct style that’s fun to read and extremely tough to copy – so don’t even try. He’s also shockingly down to Earth and likeable, which only adds to the frustration that he doesn’t blog more often. Although he doesn’t write much about fitness anymore you can read his excellent work here.
BONUS: Want to instantly be a better blogger? Read everything by NYC-based writer James Altucher. But read him closely. Notice his usage of short sentences. His lack of commas. Every sentence delivers. If I was to copy anyone online in terms of style and structure it would be him. This article in particular changed how I write online.
Now Do You
So you wanna be a better writer? Step one is to write. Step two is to read good stuff. Or maybe that’s step one? Step three is to approach your subject with passion and authenticity – no wait, that’s step one!
Maybe just email me and I’ll break it all down for you.
And yes, I do accept PayPal.