Creating Content and Writing Style: An Introspective On Arguably the Most Boring Topic Ever

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 Photo Credit: Seth Morabito

I received an email the other day from a good friend of mine, Jon Goodman, whom many of you may recognize from The Personal Training Development Center (an awesome, FREE, resource for any trainers out there reading), as well as such book as Ignite the Fire, Race to the Top, and his soon-to-be-released project, Viralnomics, which he’s currently writing in Hawaii.  On a beach. While starring at the ocean. And probably being hand fed grapes and coconut milk.

I hate you Jon.  I hate you so much……;o)

Anyways, he reached out to me the other day with an interesting query, and I felt compelled to use it as blog post today as I know there are a lot of trainers, coaches, and exercise enthusiasts who read my site on a daily basis (thank you) who often contemplate and express interest in writing.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, many wind up dragging their heels out of intimidation or frustration.

Anyways, here’s Jon’s email he sent in its entirety:

Hey man,

I’ve got a question for you because it’s something that I’ve struggled with a lot and continue to struggle with. Perhaps you can lend some insight.

I’m asking you because you are the most consistent blogger out there. You pump out quality content multiple times a week and have been doing it for years.

So here’s my question:

How do you not get bored? You manage to keep the information fresh and always write in an inviting and entertaining tone but let’s be honest, how many articles have you written about deadlifts, and women lifting weights, and shoulder health etc.

I seem to lose interest really quickly.

Any ideas to ignite my fire?

Note:  what follows isn’t (entirely) what I sent to Jon. Some of it is, but I also added a bit more knowing that 1) I had more to add and 2) I knew a fair number of people reading would hopefully benefit from it.

First off:  how in the heck am I supposed to “ignite the fire” for a guy who wrote a book titled Ignite the Fire?  Talk about pressure!!!

Your question is a good one, and it’s something that I’ve struggled with myself all…..the……time.

I get writer’s block just like everyone else, and often find myself sitting in front of my computer screen thinking to myself, “I have absolutely no idea what to write about today.”

I’ll load up on some caffeine……nada.

I’ll put on some classic music to inspire some creative juices……nope.

Hell, I’ll even talk to my cat who’s usually lying there right next to me….and that generally leads to nowhere. Except for a slight detour to Snugglesville, USA.

 

While it rarely happens, it happens.  And when it does, sometimes I just call a spade and spade, admit that I don’t have anything to say that day, and go make a tuna sandwich.

Typically, though, I somehow I manage to fight through it, and feel the following strategies and insights are what help the most as far as helping me continue to stay consistent with my writing:

1.  I write!  I’m stubborn like that.  Giving full disclosure:  the whole process of writing does not come easy to me. I used to struggle quite a bit just to type 500 words.

500 words gave the impression that I was writing my own version of War and Peace.

While that’s a bit of an exaggeration, it’s what it felt like back in the day.

Sometimes it’s still an arduous task, and I feel like throwing my face through a wall.  But as with anything, it’s about setting a schedule and sticking to it.

For the most part, every morning from 7-9 AM, I sit in front of my laptop and write.  That’s what I’m doing right now, and it seems to works for me.

Some people on the other hand, like John Romaniello, prefer to do the bulk of their writing at night.  That’s when he feels he’s most productive.

Everyone operates differently, and maybe it’s just a matter of finding out when you feel you’re most productive and your creative juices are flowing?

2. I think one of the things that keeps me “fresh” is that I’m not scared to go off-topic when I want to.  I mean, I have Miscellaneous Miscellany Mondays which allow me to write about movies, books I’m reading, hot chicks, and/or discuss cool restaurants that my girlfriend and I go to.

Take for example this past weekend. While I ended up NOT making this part of some random blog post, I easily could have.

Feeling absolutely drained from the previous work week, I had absolutely no intention of doing any work at home. Sometimes I carve out a little time on Sunday to catch up on programs I need to write or any articles I need to work on.  This past Sunday, however, I was a complete sloth.

Instead I decided my time would be better spent watching a Michael Mann marathon.  In succession I watched The Last of Mohicans, Collateral, and The Insider.

All of them were ones I’ve seen before – repeatedly – but I love Michael Mann and always enjoy watching his films and dissecting every nook and cranny that come with them. The man is a perfectionist to the “t,” and it’s not unheard of for him to use 50 takes for any one scene.

I think Collateral is one of the most underrated movies of the past decade, and I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve reacted the scene from The Last of the Mohicans where Daniel Day Lewis’s character screams, “You STAY ALIVE.  I will find you, no matter what occurs.”

I give an Oscar worthy performance every time – except, you know, instead of Madeline Stowe saying her lines back to me, I use a pillow, and I don’t end everything by plunging through 50+ foot waterfall after the fact.

But other than that, it’s uncanny how spot on I am.

 

And while I can’t say for sure, I think some of what makes my blog and writing style so “successful” is the fact that it’s relatable and that it’s not uncommon for me to talk about non-fitness stuff.

I’m not just some strength and conditioning cyborg that does nothing but talk about deadlifts and how to address glenohumeral internal rotation deficit.

I think much of what keeps me engaged and interested in my own writing is that I’m not apprehensive to go off-topic, take myself too seriously, and throw in the occasional poop joke from time to time.

Make sense?

So, with that, maybe you just need to write about other stuff?  Not that you need to go into heavy detail on your personal life or anything, but don’t be scared to open up just a teeny tiny bit and give people more of a taste of your personality.

I find that when I do that, I get into a sorta “flow,” which makes transitioning into what I ACTUALLY want to write about – fitness, training, making people more badass – easier.

3. But I’ll be honest…..I’m lucky in that I live in a perfect bubble where I’m surrounded with a lot of bright people at the facility.  I have Eric (Cressey), Greg Robins, Chris Howard, and all of our interns (who are always eager to talk shop) by my side all day, and we’re always bouncing ideas and thoughts off one another.

If anything, this environment serves as the perfect “incubator” for coming up with new ideas and things to write about.

Along the same lines, we have staff in-services every week. We tend to alternate on a week to week basis where we discuss anything from assessment, program design, case studies, or why Eric is so obsessed with Linkin Park.

Too, we’ll often have people come in to perform in-services.  Case in point, Mike Reinold came in a few weeks ago and discussed which is more important to establish first: stability or mobility?

That’s actually a trick question, because neither matter much if someone is out of ALIGNMENT.

As Mike noted, if you stretch into mis-alignment, you create more instability.

Conversely, if you strengthen into mis-alignment, you create more muscular imbalances.

This is easily something I may turn into a blog post in the near future.

Additionally, I have any number of clients and athletes who ask me questions (or say something completely asinine) that I can use as ammo for blog posts or articles.

I can’t advocate going out of your way to surround yourself with more like-minded individuals enough.  Even if it’s just going to observe someone else coaching for a day or heading to a local commercial gym to watch people train is enough to spark some kind of fire.

With the latter, you may even be lucky enough to find blogging gold like this:

 

You’re welcome.

4.  Another thing to consider – and this will definitely pertain to Jon (it’s not unheard of for him to write 8,000+ words per day) – is possibly thinking about writing LESS.  Just like people in other careers who tend to burn out and go “postal,” the same can apply to those who engage in a fair amount of writing.

I make it a point of posting a blog 3-5 times per week, which can easily stock pile the word count on a weekly basis.  And this doesn’t take into consideration all the time that goes into answering emails and writing articles.

I’m sure there are some out there who may feel otherwise, but I “think” I’m able to provide solid content with each and every post.  But I don’t consider it the end of the world if I truly have nothing to say on any given day.

If that’s the case, I don’t write.  Simple as that.  Or, I just find someone to write a guest post for me instead (Holla!).

To that end, maybe for some it’s a matter of CUTTING BACK and reducing their writing frequency.  Sort of analogous to a deload week from training.

I’ve often found that when I take a day or two off from writing content-heavy posts, I’m able to come back with a bang.

5.  Lastly, this doesn’t necessarily pertain to Jon, as I know he’s well read guy.  But for others out there who are still paying attention and have made it this far (which is saying something), go out of your way to read.  A lot.

I’ve stated on numerous occasions that I’m reading anywhere from 2-4 things simultaneously – most of which are related to my field, but not always.  I’m always reading some non-fiction (Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Ariely, Michael Lewis, etc)  and fiction too (anything but Twilight).

I’m constantly in awe (and envious) of certain writers, and often gain valuable insight and pick up on lesser known things like style, sentence structure, and how to use a semicolon correctly.  Still learning that last one.

And all of this isn’t to say that I know what the hell I’m talking about.  I don’t really even consider myself a “writer,” but in the 6+ years that I’ve been doing it, I like to think that I’ve picked up a thing or two.

Anyways, I hope that helps somewhat.  Certainly nothing earth shattering, but hopefully it helps shed some light.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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  • Barath

    Apropos of nothing, I give you this – the best commentary ever given on lifting:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zJ3HOY27_10

    • Lauren L

      Thank you, THANK YOU for that gem. I’m filled with new inspiration to get out there with my paper towels and do some bad A lifting ;D

  • Jon_PTDC

    Thanks for taking the time on this Tony.

    • TonyGentilcore

      My pleasure Jon. Thanks for the blog content….;o) As I said, I know some of what I wrote won’t apply to you directly, but hopefully some of it resonated.

  • I saw Gentilcore write a blog with his mind, from the gym floor. Some people will just never reach his level.

    • TonyGentilcore

      I was probably eating eggs at the same time, too.

  • I had to stop the bosu bro after the one minute mark, it was just too much.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Yeah, I think I made it to the 17 second mark….;o)

  • Nick Christian

    Bosu Boy Makes me want to dive in a shark Tank. Hopefully that kid is playing in traffic right now!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Well, he’s trying…..;o)

      • Sean

        ahh! this guy is literally 15mins away from me…

  • This is great insight, Tony. I admire that you are able to take daily aspects of your life and turn them into educational tidbits on your blog. You are so observant in your work and I can really tell that you are thoughtful as a coach because you find so many amazing teaching points for other coaches as you work with your clients.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks Kellie. I often wonder when you read my stuff how many grammatical errors you see….hahahaha.

  • RS

    Tony,

    Interesting that the prolific Jon Goodman had this question. The dude is everywhere, and always putting down great work.
    You hit the nail(s) on the head as regards becoming a better writer and how you keep it interesting.
    As someone who has read EVERY blog you have ever posted online (I know; that’s sad), I’ll add this about you and other hyper-popular bloggers/writers: One of the biggest reasons you are so successful is you don’t disappoint. I’m not saying you don’t have blogs that don’t rate highly in your book.
    I’m saying your readers have come to know and love your style, and no matter what, you give them that style, attitude, humor in every post. I liken it to folks going to watch a movie because it’s directed by someone whose work they know and enjoy. Those folks don’t judge so much the overall quality of the film as much as they look to get what they expected from the director upon walking into the theatre.

    A professor in college told me a story about a minister that all the theologians were making a big deal out of after hearing the crowds he was drawing. What he told them was simple: “I tell ’em what I’m going to tell ’em, I tell ’em, then I tell ’em what I told ’em.”
    You do a great job of staying out of your own way, not over-thinking things, not taking yourself too seriously and providing us all with some much-needed entertainment.

    In other words, bro’, I like your style.

    RS

  • Last I checked there is an “L” in the middle of Kettlebell swing. Great Post Tony. Scheduling time to write during the day/week is definitely something I’ve struggled with and it’s too easy for me to tell myself I’ll start during my free time. As I tell my a lot of my clients that strategy never works cause there is always some other more enjoyable distraction available when that free time pops up. Time to take a dose of my own medicine and carve out that time consistantly!! Thanks for the awakening!!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Glad it helped Robert.

  • Krista

    I skimmed, because I’m not a blogger and frankly, I don’t care how bloggers come up with their content. Just wanted to say that I consistently read your blog above all others because you do go off topic. I like reading about other things going on in your life because it makes you relatable and approachable. You also write like you’re talking to friends and not lecturing to the minions and I appreciate that too.

  • That video of the bosu ball kettlebell swing blew my mind! Oh the insanity!

  • Jake

    Awesome post, especially for those who are looking to become successful fitness bloggers (like me!).

    Getting started is one of my weak points as well. However, lately, coffee + coconut oil has done the trick :).

    I am definitely working on doing more reading as well, as I know that it will make me a better writer while simultaneously making me more knowledgeable in the field.

    Also, that video is hilarious! The things some people do…

    Thanks again for the post.
    Jake

  • George

    Holy Mackerel!

    For years I felt alone in the wilderness, but now I know there’s someone else out there….I believe Collateral is one of the most underrated movies out there! It absolutely drives me insane when I ask someone if they’ve seen it and they give that blank stare, or worse, they ask, “Oh that Arnold Shwarzenegger movie?”

    Anything by Michael Mann is worth the time to watch…repeatedly.

    Good insight on writing by the way.

    Give Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art a read. Pressfield absolutely owns the discussion of “resistance” and what holds people back from being creative, being successful and being who they really want to be. There’s no psycho-babble, but wisdom gained from years of drifitng and failing before finally reaching the big time. Pressfield wrote Gates Of Fire and a bunch of other great novels.

    You’re welcome.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Did we just become best friends??????

  • One aspect which I think you sort of touched on (albeit indirectly) when you mentioned stepping away from writing for a little bit is that of giving yourself ‘quiet time’ – time spent not engaged with phones/computers/TV/people/books or anything stimulate.

    This is when ideas take hold. For me personally, driving without the radio, walking outdoors and dancing in nightclubs (yes, really) is when I have my best ideas.

    Most people would do well starting not using their phone on the toilet…

    • TonyGentilcore

      You know what Nick: that is a FANTASTIC point. It amazes me how “plugged in” people are at times. It’s not uncommon when my GF and I are out to dinner to see entire families at the table on their respective smart phones not even interacting with one another.

      As far as quiet time: I read every night before bed, and while I have a 40 minute commute to and from work every day, I don’t mind as it allows me time to veg out if needed.

      You’re right. More people need to take advantage of unplugging themselves.

  • Lauren L

    Forever having goosebumps from that LoTM vid.
    Can you address “relative alignment” with your future alignment post? Maybe that’s not an actual thing and maybe I’m totally off here. But aren’t there people who will never be “truly aligned” for one reason or another (structural scoliosis, etc.)? Do you just get as close as possible and move on from there? I would hate to never have someone pick up something heavy because we can’t quite seem to get them to center.
    I hope I’m not too late with my question. I’ve only been able to stop by your blog every couple of weeks lately.

  • Lauren L

    ps- I was disappointed that the trainer didn’t do swings WITH the BOSU