First off, let me just say that the intent behind this post isn’t meant to be a self-plug in any way, shape, or form; but rather, my purpose is to provide you with a behind-the-scenes look at my writing process (and the accompanying struggles) that helped me tackle this book from start-to-finish.
Writing a book isn’t an easy undertaking—especially when it’s your first. Before embarking on this journey, I used to wonder how authors could do it; how they possessed the continuous stream of motivation, talent and drive to take a substantial project like this from ideation to execution; from something intangible to tangible. I assumed they were inherently gifted, even prolific at their craft. I was lucky, however, to stumble upon some generous writers who shared their process, tips & tricks, and relatable struggles—all of which helped shape my own unique process and reminded me to be kind to myself throughout this entire experience.
I learned so much throughout this process and think it would me extremely selfish not to share what I learned—especially with those who also have a goal to write and publish a book of their own one day.
So whether you’re here to learn some hard tips to apply to your own writing routine or because you’re genuinely curious, I hope this post helps you in some way.
A Quick Background
Before we go into action-based takeaways, I’d be remiss without mentioning that Find Your Stride was not the first book I attempted to write. In fact, I started writing a book on my #RUN70 half marathon challenge back in 2017. I followed a rigorous 500 words/day target and after a few months, I ended up writing ~100 pages. However, what I realized after writing the first 100 pages was that the book’s contents were complete garbage, and that’s being generous. I was writing the book solely to feed my ego; to just slap “author” under my Linkedin profile and capture more attention—to try and fill a void left from my 74 day challenge. My talented sister did the first pass of the edit (as she does with all my blog posts) and slapped me with the hard truth—telling me, without hesitation, that the book was shit. She said it in a nicer way, but you get the gist…it wasn’t good. I decided to toss the project in the trash and work on my writing skills through short-form content, like producing blogs posts (on my personal blog) and articles on Medium. I’ve been writing since 2017, but for the first few years it was a bit sporadic.
It was only within the last couple of years (since 2019) that I’ve been publishing more regular content on my blog, Medium, and social media. I wanted to preface with this little blurb because I’m not new to the writing game; I’ve been doing it for quite some time now. Writing a book was a natural progression after years of writing shorter-form blog content which I think, made the process a bit more streamlined with a writing routine and foundation.
So as I mentioned, I’ve wanted to write a book for a while now and after a series of fitness-related posts I published on Medium that went viral, I had a pretty good idea of a) the information people were seeking and b) the type of format that captured and held people’s attention. My style of writing is a mix of research with a sprinkle of anecdotal experience. I like to share how the information I’ve learned has been applied to my own life, and the subsequent results I obtained thereafter. Some writers like a more journalistic approach (writing more about others), but I prefer the former.
With that being said, in December of last year when I was still living in Calgary, I was undergoing my yearly ritual of writing out my big goals for the upcoming year; my biggest goal being to write the first draft of a book. In the weeks following, I purchased the writing tool, Scrivener (which was a bit of a learning curve, but seemed like a great app to write my book in). After consuming a few hours of YouTube tutorial videos and playing around with the software, I drafted a rough book outline. In late January, a relationship unfortunately ended and I moved back from Calgary to Ontario, back in with my parents. After the initial shock wore off, I prioritized my mental health by engaging in self-care activities that nourished me and made me feel good. I was surrounded by my loving, supportive family as I sorted through my inner turmoil. I decided to take a minimum of 6-months off drinking alcohol and re-allocated my time spent festering in my sadness to reading more, writing more, signing up for a course on creative productivity, and finally chipping away at my book project.
Let me start by saying that I had no idea how to write a book. When researching where to start, there were so many differing opinions on the best way to approach such a huge task. Some individuals spent months or years researching first; other’s just dove in and researched as they wrote; some just jotted everything down (think word vomiting on a page) with the intention of cleaning everything up after (AKA Hemingway’s famous shitty first draft ethos).
My Evolving Process
Sometimes the best way to navigate new terrain is to consult with those that have already been there. My first step before putting any words on the page was to lean on those in my life who could help shed some light on the process. I started by talking to both my friend Kristie and cousin Sara who were both undergoing the process of writing their own books, albeit in different ways; Kris was focused on self-publishing and Sara, the traditional publishing route.
Talking to both of them helped me shape some initial ideas on how I wanted to structure my own process. But man, let me tell you…I struggled. I struggled hard. The first month I really floundered. I felt like everything I wrote was absolute shit and it seemed like my ideas were all over the place. Worse, I couldn’t even bring myself to actually sit down and write. The procrastination hit me hard. It felt like I had to exert so much will power; everything felt so forced.
The biggest game changer for me was signing up for a course by one of my favorite self-development bloggers, Steve Palvina, called Amplify—a course that, by the way, I can’t recommend enough for creative professionals who struggle with uncovering sustainable forms of motivation to actually get down to doing the actual work. Early in the course, I learned about the concept of framing; that is (in relation to doing creative work), repositioning the desired outcome of the task with the goal of extracting sustainable forms of motivation to show up and get er’ done. What I realized with this new book project (and all my blog posts for that matter) was that more egocentric frames were running the show. I wanted my writing to improve my social currency, to help open the doors up for opportunities and when I started to make a bit of real cash on Medium, money slowly became the focal point. While I always had a desire to share what I learned with others, I shamefully admit that this goal moved a bit to the backburner (compared to the other frames that started to take a more prominent stance).
Decades of research demonstrate that external rewards used to power motivation (fame, status, power, money) can be a powerful mechanism from the get-go, but its shelf life expires pretty quickly—the effects tend to taper off over time. Ego-centric rewards, generally speaking, are ephemeral. One lesson in particular (which Steve Palvina called “The Frame Game”) sparked some serious introspection. During the journaling prompts, I looked deeper into myself—taking more of an analytical approach, conducting an audit on my last 4 years of blog writing, and putting on my detective hat to figure out what parts of writing deepened my long-standing (and somewhat inconsistent) relationship with the discipline.
What I realized in those few days was that I had three frames that not only applied to my creative work, but to everything in my life. My inner driving forces included:
1. Competency/Mastery – watching myself get better at writing was highly motivating for me.
2. Curiosity – exploring/researching a new topic and experimenting with various lifestyles through 30-day challenges. I’m highly driven by my own curiosity—the inner drive to explore unfamiliar territory.
3. Helping others – this one has always been there for me, but as I said, it did take a back seat over the last few years. Helping others is my most powerful driver. The joy of giving freely of oneself is palpable. “Giving”, in Eric Fromm’s words, “means being rich.”
Before we turn pro, our life is dominated by fear and Resistance. We live in a state of denial. We’re denying the voice in our heads. We’re denying our calling. We’re denying who we really are – Steven Pressfield in Turning Pro.
Once I figured out my inner motivational frames and reminded myself of same, that was it for me; I finally started feeling more like a writer and started showing up consistently every day, for 2 hours.
Steven Pressfield writes, “what changes when we turn pro is we stop fleeing,”and although I would still describe myself as far from a “pro writer,” this exact phenomena happened to me too. I still felt fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and all those emotions every day as I chipped away at my book, but I realized even the most prolific writers felt (or feel) the exact same way. This shared experience provided me with a sense of calm. I was able to disconnect from the emotions holding me back and continue forward regardless of how I felt. The more I showed up, the better I became, and the less resistance I felt when starting my writing each day. It became cyclical, in the best way possible.
Writing the Book
One of the things I hate most about the fitness industry is that it usually operates in binaries—whether that’s presenting contrary plans, controversies surrounding macronutrient splits, the best “fat loss diets” and which to steer clear of, etc. Fitness is so full of nuances and thus should be distinct based on your individuality; we all have different personal preferences, experiences, and natural aptitudes. Using my own personal story of self-discovery through the mindset I describe in Find Your Stride as the explorer mindset, I decided this would be the basis of the book; the overarching theme, if you will.
The only way I’ve been able to achieve any of my aesthetic and non-aesthetic fitness goals was from letting go of pre-existing ways of thinking and embracing my innate curiosity. That is, letting go of old routines no longer serving me, and being open to trying new training and nutrition plans. It was only when I practiced humility and suppressed my ego that I was able (and willing) to run more formal self-experiments where I discovered the answers that were right for myself—personalized to moi.
While the initial ideas of the book weren’t as well formulated as I had just laid out, I had the basic thesis and framework of the book. After reading several of Ryan Holiday’s articles on book writing and active reading, binge reading articles on writingroutines.com, and taking in as many books on writing as I could (ie. On Writing Well by William Zinsser, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, On Writing by Stephen King, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, etc.), I began to feel more reassured of the negative emotions (fear, anxiety, etc.) that came from writing. I felt more equipped to tackle the task as I was learning from the experts.
My Writing Process
My mind is the most productive, creative, and sharp in the early morning hours, so it was important that I capitalized on this prime writing time. I created my own writing ritual that started at 5:50am, which I still stick with most days even as I write this. The two most important determinants for me to allocate ~2 hours/day to dedicated, focused work was a) turning off all distractions until my writing was done and b) creating my own writing ritual.
Each night before bed, I turned my phone on airplane mode and didn’t turn it on until around 9:00am or so the following morning (once all my morning rituals were complete). My ritual went as follows: upon waking up, I made my bed, meditated for 15 minutes while the coffee brewed, read for an hour (either fitness books, articles, or PubMed journals) and jotted down notes in the research section of Scrivener (as depicted below):
Sometimes I would read books on creativity and writing for the first 30 minutes, and then switch to fitness/nutrition literature for the remaining 30, which helped ease my way into writing. At around 7:00-7:15am, I would use the research I just conducted and write until around 8:00-8:30am. One of the tips I learned on writing that I found helpful was to stop before your tank is completely on empty. Not all days were smooth sailing, but for the most part, I stopped when I was starting to fatigue, but still felt good.
You don’t want to over-exert your efforts so that it starts to feel like a chore. I didn’t go back and edit anything I wrote that same day; I just left it. From ~8:00-9:00am, I would then switch focus to my blog or social media content. Writing a book is such a long process and I wanted to share bits and pieces via my blog and social media as I went along—allowing me to “tease” the book a bit. I got the instant gratification of hitting publish, which allowed me to test out the book’s content and see what resonated with folks. After my 2-hour writing window was done each day, it was done. I didn’t devote any more time to it for the remainder of the day. At 9:00am I would take a break and train for 1.5-2 hours. During that time, the work I did in the morning would seep into my subconscious and I started generating more ideas for the book, how to restructure sentences and ideas. The attentional space while working out was another integral part of my routine. It allowed time for self-reflection, generated ideas on how to improve the book, and my next steps forward.
It wasn’t until I was fully immersed in the book writing task that I understood what creative professionals talk about when they start to get into a “flow.” It’s difficult to understand, but once you’re fully in it, you just know. Plato looked at types of art (specifically poets) as a “divine possession;” that is, when we create something, we get overtaken by something else. Call it a divine entity, muses, whatever. For me that meant, ideas from past things I read (years ago), applicable analogies, and random jokes seemingly came out of nowhere. I continued to remind myself every day that my main goal was to help others—contributing my knowledge, insights, and subsequent mistakes I’ve made in the hopes to make the world a slightly better place. In turn, I feel like I had tapped into some sort of higher form of creative power—It was weird and not something I’ve ever experienced before. I learned to tap into some creative energy I didn’t even know I possessed.
Find Your Stride is broken out into four main sections: Mindset, Nutrition, Training, and Sustainability. After I wrote each chapter, I did a rough/light edit and when I finished each major section, I did a heavier edit before moving onto the next one. I never wrote and edited in the same day—a fresh pair of eyes is so important for perspective. My edits were mostly substantial, but I also did a bit of a clean-up on syntax, grammar, etc. to the best of my ability.
So from late February until May, I followed this process religiously (even on weekends)—never taking a day off. Writing and researching for 2 hours a day adds up quickly. Again, remember that I’ve been writing and blogging for years so I had a writing base to begin with. I’ve also been writing more research-backed fitness articles over the last few years. I say this because yes, it took me 4 months to create the first full draft of the manuscript, but for many others, especially those that are newer to the writing game, it will likely take much longer. Just an important little caveat there.
I’m going to end part I on that note. In Part II, I’ll detail the publishing process and the hybrid publishing route I decided to take for this particular book so stay tuned for that 🙂