The Secret to Doing Pushups is the Secret to Writing a Book

by Mark Levy

When I was in college I had this notion that being able to fire off dozens of pushups would mean I was a powerhouse. At the time, I could only do a couple of reps.

I asked a friend if he knew easier exercises I could substitute for pushups that — at the same time — would strengthen my ability to do pushups.

He looked at me like I was nuts, and said: “The way to get better at doing pushups is by doing pushups.”

At the time, I didn’t appreciate his advice. Now I do.

I’ve since worked at pushups, and can now do hundreds in a single session. I can even do demanding variations, like clapping pushups and knuckle pushups. How did I accomplish these feats? Not through alternate training methods. Awkwardly and incrementally, I simply did more pushups.

Learning by doing — or, perhaps, doing by doing — doesn’t just work for pushups. It can help in other situations, like when you want to write a book.

A person will tell me they want to write a book, and I’ll ask, so what are you doing about it? They’ll tell me they’ve been writing stories, plays, essays, and poems. They’ll boast about having kept a journal for years.

They think these shorter literary forms ease them into the writing of a full-length book. Could be. Trying different forms stretches the mind, and gives one more tools to use. But if they never get around to tackling their book, these forms serve more as a clever means of procrastination.

If you want to write a novel, write a novel. If you want to write a screenplay, write a screenplay. If you want to write a one-person show, write a one-person show. If you want to write a history of international banking, write a history of international banking.

By writing the thing you want to write, you’ll learn how to do it. You’ll learn as you go.

Now, I’m not saying that what you write will be good, or  that writing it will be easy. At times, you’re going to feel self-conscious, stupid, and angry.

But, for you, writing a book is likely a necessity. It’s something, ready or not, you must do.

Learn on this one. The next one will be better.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer Wong

Mark I love love love this post….it’s so true! Writing a book can be overwhelming…but in smaller doses you soon find you’ve accomplished your goal. Love the anaolgy of the pushups…that reminds me—gotta go teach my yoga class 🙂

Great post–and great info!



Debbie Weil

Touché. No better way to say it: in order to write, you have to write. I find your freewriting technique to be the single most helpful way to get started, BTW. 🙂


Mark Levy

Thanks, Debbie. You’re so right.

Freewriting is a great tool to help one get started. That’s because you don’t need to know what you’re going to say beforehand. The writing itself generates thought.

There have been times when I wanted to write an article and said: “I don’t have a single thing to say.” Then, after an hour of freewriting, I came up with enough ideas for ten articles.



I guess I could live with that, as long as it’s the writing side. Maybe I need to buy a stronger pen. Enjoyed your post and look forward to reading more.


Mark Levy

Thanks for the kind words. Much appreciated.



hmmm, wonder if I can learn to do push-ups with pen in hand…


Mark Levy

Good thought, mikidemillion. You could build your body while getting your book done simultaneously. Of course, you’d want to switch writing hands occasionally, otherwise you’d overdevelop one side.


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