Doing the hard work — fitness and writing

I can remember vividly when I was 15 years old and sitting in my bedroom considering how to get into shape. I had a significant debate with myself that went like this. I could do just 15 push-ups and 15 sit-ups, that was within my realm of reality. But, I told my self, that was nothing, worthless. It would gain me nothing. But think of the long game, I said to myself. Today it’s 15, what would it be in a year, five years, thirty?

And here I sit at 45 years old, 30 years later and I wish I could go back to that 15 year old kid and tell him to do the 15, because it is as good as you can do at that time, but if you don’t start there, start somewhere, you’ll never get where you want to go.

So, now I’m starting the fitness game with earnest. I get up at 5am, 5 days a week, and head to the YMCA to work out. Let me tell you it’s a struggle. I am heavier, and more out of shape than anything I’d ever feared, but I’m getting better. I’m too tight in all the wrong places, not as strong as I’d like to be, and my cardio is on the low end of sad. The weight, I can’t think about. It took me 45 years to get this far, building extra pound, by extra pound. I didn’t get this heavy overnight. It took years to build, years of slow increase, gentle addition upon gentle addition.

But I’m fighting back. Turning back the decades of inactivity. It’s only been 4 weeks and I can feel a HUGE difference.

This week I increased my weights I’m pushing around. This is an amazing thing to me. I love doing free weights, but know I have to go slowly, or risk injury. Only I didn’t exactly dodge that bullet.

My knees are in rough shape. Too much, too soon, it seems. I’m on the mend, no permanent damage (I hope) but I’m off to see the orthopedist after the new year. My knees will always be a bother, until I get them stronger, and lose the weight. How awesome it would be if I’d come to this mature realization when I weighed quite a bit less.

I’ll get there, lose the weight and get physically fit, but it will take me a very long time. I have to work against 45 years of not working out. 30 years of “15 is so small, how can it matter?” thinking.

Which brings me around to writing. I’m in the middle of outlining the third book in the Black Blade/Sarah Beauhall series.

Book one, Black Blade Blues, seems to be doing okay. I’m very happy with the response I’ve gotten, and continue to get with the book. I continue to sell books every week, even though I’m not on a best-seller list or anything. Not quitting my day-job at this time.

Book 2, Honeyed Words, is in the pipeline. I think it’s a stronger book than BBB, honestly. I’m quite proud of the way that one has turned out. Which is funny, I’m also proud of Black Blade Blues… and every short story I’ve written.

But, as I’m staring at the unfinished outline for book 3, I keep thinking how I’m overwhelmed with priorities, and I really don’t have time to but any quality effort into the book at this point, so I find something else to do.

Then the voice of the 15 year old woke me up this morning. Outlining one scene today, is more than you had yesterday. Putting down 200 words is greater than 0.

And it’s the accumulation, the compound interest of what we do that is so damn exciting and hard to see. A novel is never written in a day. It’s an act of faith and endurance. Put down the next word, even though the end game is so far out as to make this moment’s work seem infinitesimal and irrelevant.

The secret is that every single word is a building block in the final improbable effort. You can’t put down “The End” until you’ve started with that first word, and the fifth, and the 67,031rd.

Today, I’m allowing my knees to have a second day of rest, so they improve and stop hurting so much, but I will stretch and put down words.

Even if it’s only 15. That’s 15 more than I had when I woke up.

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  • John, truer words were never written. Good on ya for being willing to do the hard work, both physically and mentally. You inspire me!


  • Amen, John, amen.

  • Really fantastic post. I wish we could all have read this when we were 15. :-)

    Happy New Year!

  • [...] Doing the hard work – fitness and writing — Though provoking stuff, especially for those just starting in as novelists. [...]

  • Nice post, John. True words.

  • Amen, amen. When I can’t do everything right, fast, the first time, perfectly, immediately, I can still make every little bit add up.

    Good luck with your routines and your writing! FWIW, I picked up BBB at Powell’s for my daughter, who loved it.

    • I’m glad your daughter loved Black Blade Blues. :) Honeyed Words comes out in July. I’ll come down to Powell’s and do a signing.

      The exercise is definitely a life changer. I just wish I’d figured it out before I got to the point my knees are a problem. But with the help of a trainer, physical therapist and some high quality ice packs, I’ll be fine.

  • E. Catherine Tobler

    January/6th/2011 12:30 pm


    Love this post. I started going to the gym before Thanksgiving, and it’s sooo hard to get up that early and fight with the elliptical, but…it’s slowly paying off. And, I’m writing more, too. Good luck with your venture!

  • Good going, and hang in there! I’m about where you are, actually, only working out in my home basement gym which has a good stationary bike and a really good weight apparatus. But I’m lugging a decade’s worth of really bad eating and lazing habits down there with me. However, I’ve accomplished major weight loss and fitness before so I know how to do it.

    One thing I’m finding very helpful this time is head work. Like you, I’ve found myself kicking the earlier Me for NOT doing things that would have been SO helpful now – so now I think in terms of “how can I give Future Me a favor?” Every little thing, every little step – and it applies to any big project – is a favor to my future self. For some reason, that trick is working this time.

    FWIW. Congrats on your success so far!

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What I'm Reading


Ernest Cline

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The wild ox; strength and power.


Creativity; words, music, and art.


The troll cross; wealth and prosperity.


The sun; energy, honor, guidance.


Personally earned or lucky wealth and prosperity.


The harvest; patience and promise.


The chariot; journey and travel.

Note: This is not the real book cover.