On Writing and Weightlifting: Love Labours



By: Nicole Donadio

When I’m not writing, working, or managing the Mom-sched, I may be lucky enough to slip in a workout a few times a week. Last year I started to imagine how the practice of physical training and writing require similar pillars (i.e. nutrition is for CrossFit as reading is for writing). I realized my extracurriculars were not all that different – actually, writing and weightlifting are kindred.

Both practices require training and patience, and both may appear easy but are anything but. I’ve been a CrossFitter for nearly three years and Olympic lifting (the clean and jerk and snatch) continue to be the most gratifying and the most technically demanding facet of CrossFit (I think of it as the sestina of the athletic world). Lifting is, at its core, not about brute strength. As I’m discovering, too, writing is, at its core, not about intelligence or vivid imagination. Lifting and writing are about desire, about following something inside you that insists that you keep going.

Coaches and Mentors  

I have no doubt of the invaluable importance of coaches and mentors in shepherding our development as athletes and writers. Try to imagine improving at your sport or craft without the help of a seasoned coach, someone who tunes into your strengths and weaknesses. They recognize their role is about more than the improvement of our skillset. A really good coach or mentor will teach us about the appropriate thought patterns and life habits necessary to our success.

Developing Calluses

Ask a lifter to see the palms of their hands and you will likely see calluses. Calluses symbolize dedication. Writers, too, grow calluses: as we open our work up to criticism, we build a bit of a hard exterior to it. In maturing, we don’t take criticism as a personal affront but rather an investment in becoming a better writer.


When loaded with enough weight, a barbell will literally bend when you lift it. This flexibility, in really good writing, appears when writers take risks. The words bend to them: their meaning takes a new shape. Well-practiced writers are also admired for their willingness to break away from the limits of form, and they bend literary genres as we understand them into something new – something not quite definable within the boundaries that genre imposes.

A Lift is a Page

Lifting and writing are alike because they are things we create. Writing has its shitty first drafts, lifting has its missed and/or ugly lifts. We know these are necessary, because without shitty first drafts and ugly lifts we would never get to a more polished eighth draft, or hit a new personal record. Every lift, and every page, are not just solitary forms in isolation: in doing them, they become steps towards mastery of craft (in my case I am far from a master, but happy to be on track towards something!)

Sometimes our pages and lifts are not impressive, but they are always good in that they exist. We have created them from nothing — they are ours, they come from us, and we continue to make them, not for volume, but for our endearment to them, because we are human, and we need to make things. And in making things we make ourselves.

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Cath Rovina
Cath Rovina
8 years ago

I loved reading this article Nicole!! Thank you for that reminder that our lifts and movements take time patience and lots of trials and errors just like writing the perfect article.

Nicole Donadio
Nicole Donadio
8 years ago
Reply to  Cath Rovina

Thanks Cath! Yes, so many things we love in life are technical and tricky but also rewarding.

Ann Casey
Ann Casey
7 years ago

Good article. I lift too, bodybuilding is my training of choice and I write as well. Your article is spot on!