Lessons from the Gym

If you know me at all, you probably know I have this annoying little habit of getting out for exercise every day. Either the gym, or outside for a hike or bike ride. I admit I love my exercise. But not for the reasons you might think. I mean, physical health is important and all, but honestly, would that be enough to motivate me? No way.

The truth is, I go to the gym for YOU. When I’m at the gym, I have all kinds of insights about the writing life, then I come back and share them on my blog and you might think these things just sort of come to me, but they wouldn’t if I hadn’t been at the gym.

Case in point. I’ve been thinking lately about the fact that there are parts of a writing career that writers don’t enjoy. It’s different for each person, and some of you might be very strange and actually enjoy all of it, but the parts writers typically don’t enjoy include:

→ Writing a synopsis
→ Writing a proposal
→ Writing a query
→ The entire query process
→ Blogging and social networking
→ Being patient for things to happen
→ Any aspect of marketing the book

To be successful in any business, sometimes we need to step outside the comfort zone. It isn’t enough to just write your book; there are other things that need to be done.

I was thinking about this while I was going through a similar thought process about my gym regimen. I needed to shake things up a bit, kick it up a notch. I decided to try some new exercise classes. So I went for it, and here’s what I learned:

→ Lesson 1: If you’re focused on how much you hate something, you’re not going to do it well.

Class: Zumba. Can I just tell you how much I detest Zumba? Possibly as much as some of you hate synopsis or query-writing. I’m not at the gym to shake my booty and swivel my hips, but I tried it anyway. From the first song, I was in torture. Hating every second. Doing the fancy footwork, shimmying my shoulders, all that stuff. I wanted to leave but I promised myself I’d stay at least 30 minutes. It felt like 30 hours.

And you know what? Since I was so focused on my intense dislike of all things Zumba, I was unwilling to try hard. I couldn’t give it my all. I couldn’t break a sweat, my heart rate didn’t even go up. I wasn’t getting a good workout because I wasn’t giving all I had.

For you: Ask yourself: is this something I must do? Or is there another way to accomplish my goal? If the activity is a must (i.e writing a query) then face the dislike head-on and figure out a way to get past it so that you can truly give it your all. If there’s another way to accomplish your goal, by all means, head that direction!

Which is what I did. Next up:

→ Lesson 2: Sometimes, the fact that you know something will help you is enough to motivate you.

Class: Interval Step. An advanced step class where the movement never stops for 55 minutes. I never took step classes because the complicated foot work scares me. At the beginning, it seemed pretty easy to follow. Gradually the steps became more complicated until it became laughable to try and keep up. I persisted and to my amazement, it got my heart rate up and I was really sweating. I was getting a good workout regardless of how goofy I looked, and that was incredibly motivating for me. Now step class is my go-to, and surprise! I love it.

For you: You may not enjoy social networking or writing a proposal, but perhaps if you focus on the end result, the task will become easier. Who knows, you might end up enjoying it.

→ Lesson 3: Sometimes results come slowly. Don’t quit too soon out of impatience.

Class: Bosu Core Training. This is a class of slow & steady movements that are difficult and awkward yet they don’t seem like they’re doing much good. I prefer a quicker pace in my exercise classes, and I prefer not to feel like a dork, so I didn’t really like this one.

Until the next day. Wow, muscles I hadn’t talked with in awhile were communicating loud and clear. I finally realized that slow and steady sometimes works, and that I should do this class once in awhile to shake up my routine.

For you: Don’t quit blogging and social networking because you’re not seeing immediate results. Don’t quit querying, don’t quit improving your craft. Give it time.

What parts of the writing career do you find less than enjoyable? How do you deal with them?


If you should decide to invest in some personalized counsel, I offer coaching for unpublished authors here: My Coaching Services

I also offer online courses here: Author School


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. […] The best advice comes from people with experience. Donald Maass explores how to fill the empty page with non-boring words, Juliet Marillier discusses her worldview as an older writer, Yvonne Kohano reflects on the split between her organized daytime life and pantser writing style, and Rachelle Gardner meditates on lessons from the gym. […]

  2. Beryl Singleton Bissell on February 11, 2016 at 9:47 AM

    Oh Rachel. You’ve hit it in all the right places. Preparing the marketing analysis was sheer agony.

    I feel the same way about some forms of exercise, probably because I’ve refused to partake.

  3. Gwen Tolios on February 7, 2016 at 6:34 PM

    I find this rather funny because writing IS my me time. But I don’t have it as a career, yet, so that might play into it. That said, zumba classes always make me feel good. I love dancing, and such classes allow me to do so without the crowded nature of dance floor.

  4. Neurotic Workaholic on February 6, 2016 at 5:41 PM

    Step classes were hard for me; I was always “out of step,” so to speak. But I liked zumba because I got to dance and the instructors were funny; it’s easier to exercise when I’m dancing.
    It’s definitely harder to get something done when you don’t want to do it. Then it becomes even harder to get it done the longer you put it off (believe me, I know).

  5. J.Willis Sanders on February 5, 2016 at 3:04 PM

    Rachelle, I really admire your exercise-ethic. Now … to be able to bottle and sell it.


  6. Craig Terlson on February 5, 2016 at 1:27 PM

    For me it’s the patience of the rewrite thing – but just recently that started to open up for me.
    One of my writing heroes George Saunders talks about the rewriting process (and he does a ton of drafts). He says that in each rewrite, the story becomes more like him. That is to say the truth of the story he is trying to tell begins to crystallize in each revision. When he explained this in an interview, a lightbulb went on in my head. I’ve begun to have not only more patience with rewriting, but actually, ulp, enjoy it.

  7. Elizabeth Varadan on February 5, 2016 at 11:34 AM

    Nice post as usual. I suppose marketing is what is a chore for me. In some ways I love networking, but as a social activity with friends and family. I love connecting.

    As far as query letters go, I don’t really mind them that much. And I do feel the queries are much better than they used to be. I’ll be looking long and hard at querying this summer for a new book I hope to finish revising by then, so (laugh) I may not be so enthusiastic about the query letter then.

  8. Caroline McGraw on February 5, 2016 at 10:55 AM

    What a great series of comparisons! I too am an exercise devotee, and I love when experiences at the gym fuel insights into the rest of life.

    For example, I started a weightlifting regimen this year that has made me both physically and mentally stronger. Patiently lifting heavy objects over and over again has changed my attitude and my pace as well.

    So thank you for this post, Rachelle – it gave me the boost I needed to dive into some uncomfortable tasks I’d been putting off!

  9. Barb Roose on February 5, 2016 at 10:28 AM

    I love how you used exercise as a metaphor for doing the things we struggle with as writers. Goodness! Your observations were so personal to me at this newbie stage when everything seems hard and like the step class, my efforts seems laughable at times. Yet, I love your encouragement to step out of the comfort zone, prioritize! prioritize! prioritize! and then, give it time. Thank you. Needed this today!

    • Rachelle Gardner on February 5, 2016 at 10:40 AM

      Barb, truly you are one of MY inspirations! Keep up the good work!

  10. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on February 5, 2016 at 7:07 AM

    Interesting parallels…and exercises! I always did the running-pushup-situp-chinup thing, since you could do them almost anywhere (though I would not recommend chinning oneself on a tree branch with a large ant population).

    I can’t say that I disliked any exercise, and do not dislike any part of writing. ‘Liking’ is really immaterial, and it’s all part of the job.

    And yes, muscles that have not been exercised do hurt. Pinterest gives me a headache. But I’m learning.

    • Rachelle Gardner on February 5, 2016 at 10:41 AM

      Ha! Great analogy – Pinterest exercising those unused muscles. 🙂

  11. John Wells on February 5, 2016 at 7:02 AM

    Ahh, the writing life! Please let me vent. It’s not the flow of the exciting creative juices, but the logistics of it that tax my mini-brain and injure my ego. Logistics (query, proposal, bio, etc. etc. ad nauseam) are drudgery, pure and simple. Important? I’ve been told. Never to be published is something I may have to live with—and that’s all right, I suppose, because it doesn’t rule out Heaven—but never to be examined, never to arouse enough interest to have my creations read and judged and found wanting, never mind rejection with which I can live. It hurts, dang it, it hurts. Would just one LA have the honesty to say, “Johnny, you’re writing stinks and you ain’t ever gonna see anything in print. I know because your stupid query is literary trash. I ain’t read your work, but your sample tells me you ain’t for me.” So you agents (God bless you all) go to the gym and work out till you drown in sweat; your heart will thank you for it. But on the whole let me say, “No wonder Vincent cut off his ear.”

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on February 5, 2016 at 7:11 AM

      I actually DID have an agent say that to me! He had requested a full, read a chapter, then sent a note saying the above, and that he had destroyed the MS. He did have the courtesy to return the SASE postage I’d sent.

    • Rachelle Gardner on February 5, 2016 at 10:43 AM

      John, there are many reasons agents don’t say that, but primary among them is… I could be wrong! It’s all so subjective. I might mistakenly reject a literary masterpiece, but I DON’T want to be guilty of calling it a piece of trash!

  12. Avery K Tingle on February 4, 2016 at 5:14 PM

    I’ve never thought to focus on specific parts of my writing while doing an exercise. Mostly I freemap in my mind. I’ll have to give that a shot.