I self-published my first book, Base Strength, at the end of 2020. I’ve since put out two follow ups (Peak Strength and Superior Deadlift) and plan on putting out many more so long as there still exists an audience to read them.
It’s a weird thing, concluding a year on a productive note. I mean, December brings talks of reflection and resolution, making it a reliable piece of my annual angst-filled productivity cycle. The year starts with hope of big things to come and that leads to ambition in the size and scope of life projects. Obstacles predictably manifest and plans get scrapped (or forgotten) and the inevitable result is a long wait for January so that I can resolve to have a new year free of the same stagnation, frustration and disillusionment that concluded all the others.
Ah, to be self-employed.
It’s not as dysfunctional as it sounds. Somewhere in that bi-polar mess of eagerness and depression, a lot actually gets done and I know full well that it wouldn’t if my work cycle didn’t start with high hopes and end with scathing criticism. I’m perpetually propped up by knowledge that I’ve gained considerable altitude since I started and I look forward to that which I’ve yet to gain.
I truly do love the process.
So, I’m a year out from my first go at this thing and I’m reflecting on what went right, what went wrong and how I can clean things up this year. Writing non-fiction is a bit easier than fiction, I imagine. The format benefits from being clean, organized and procedural, though keeping the audience awake through it all is a unique problem. My main struggle was keeping the information relevant to the audience reading it. I feel that there are substantial principles and bits of information that are vital to success in the gym that don’t get talked about or are otherwise misunderstood. Where there should be robust discussion of how to master these principles, there are instead an endless parade of one-off programs and cookie cutter templates.
I wrote Base Strength with the intention of starting at the basement level and building a foundational understanding of why anything in the gym does what it does. In that way, I could demystify all of the other programs out there (including mine) which either look identical to each other or irreconcilably different. Really simple stuff had to lead the conversation to build a foundation of understanding or else every 2nd and 3rd degree principle stacked on top of it wouldn’t hold.
I started with basic stress and adaptation, painting the human organism as a thing that’s designed to get better at living in it’s environment. The important piece that lifters miss, the one that made me believe the book was necessary in the first place, was the understanding of why adaptation stalls. Plateaus are what everyone experiences if they stick around long enough and it’s the reason that there is such a premium on good coaching and programming. That’s what I had to tackle.
Stagnation is a result of mismanaging stress, recovery and novelty in your training and those variables change dramatically depending on how developed you are. The character “Dug” was a perfect avatar to demonstrate this process; a typical sedentary slug, we could follow him from his first impromptu attempts at training all the way up to substantial strength development. Charting out Dug’s journey was fun and I think it addressed the issue of keeping lifters awake during the otherwise boring parts. In the future, I think I could stand to rely on Dug a little bit more to drive the point home.
I wrote an outline for Base Strength in the beginning that had a pretty simple mission statement: explain to lifters why stagnation happens and why we need to chunk training into different phases to deal with it. Fleshing that out was a bigger problem. I was bombarded with self-doubt, “is this too simplistic? Too complex? Too boring? Too obtuse? Is this what the reader signed up for? Is it intuitive and actionable?”. Forget about committing to style, formatting and editing.
After a lot of paralysis I found what I thought was a reasonable voice and I committed to finishing it. I could have kept polishing it for months but I don’t think I would have ever gotten a better idea of what it was supposed to be until it was published. I needed to prove I could finish something and put it out and, more importantly, I needed feedback to know that it was reaching who it was supposed to reach.
As best I can tell, it got the job done. Reviews tend to be positive and it enjoys regular sales on Amazon. For so many people to look past the formatting errors and rampant typos, it must have struck a chord.
After a year of reflection, I have a much better vantage point around the book and production of future content. Base Strength will definitely be getting a face-lift in the near future, as will Peak Strength, so that the publications tie in in a much more complementary way. After I knock out a 2nd edition of each one (look for new chapters, programs and, yes, pictures) production will resume on filling out the “Superior” series. Squatting, Press, Bulking, Conditioning, Competing….. they will all benefit from the attention of their own book.
I’m grateful that I can take something that I genuinely enjoy doing and display enough competence at it that it pays for me to keep doing it more. I wasn’t kidding about the anxiety around being a self employed creator; it’s normal to always feel just a bit behind. But I don’t think I would feel satisfied with anything I’ve done (or productive in the first place) if this came any easier to me.
Thanks to everyone who purchased and took time to post a review or give me direct feedback. That engagement is the reason for everything else I do after this.
So here’s to another year of new projects, along with all of the disappointment and anxiety that follows.
Merry Christmas and here’s to a productive New Year.