About 30 years ago, ‘going to the gym’ started becoming a socially acceptable activity. Typical gym goers moved from the jacked bodybuilders ubiquitous in one of my favourite movies, Pumping Iron, to decidedly more ‘average’ shaped humans.
Of course, this pudgy wave of gym neophytes had no idea how to correctly do a Pendlay row, a bulgarian split squat or an overhead press. They had the potential to do themselves serious damage. A few savvy people saw a gap in the market emerging – and so ‘resistance machines’ were born, designed for the average shaped person. But what exactly does the average person look like?
These machines are the contraptions you’ll see in nearly every commercial or hotel gym. Try and squeeze into one, and you’ll soon find yourself asking the question: “Who the hell is this built for?”
Resistance machines do seem easier at first. The weights are nicely stacked up for you, the movement pattern is set, and all you have to do is push or pull. But you’re constrained, limited to the movements of a machine built to fit the proportions of an ‘average’ person that doesn’t even exist.
Learning to lift weights properly takes a lot of time and effort. It takes grit and determination to walk up to the squat rack, load up your weights and get to work, without any cables or supports. But it’s worth it. You’ll find your flow, your unique movement pattern. And it will feel right.
From Schwarzenegger to Steinbeck
I think there are parallels to be drawn here with the creative process. It’s why following the advice to the letter of your favourite authors or filmmakers won’t necessarily work perfectly for you. It’s like wearing a gorgeous, bespoke suit – tailored for somebody else.
Believe me, I’m not telling you to just make stuff up and expect it to work. You should absolutely take heed of the advice of the best in the world: listen to their sage wisdom. Trying to understand and distil their work is the whole point of this blog.
But there isn’t a one size fits all approach – John Steinbeck recognised that. After he won the Nobel Prize in 1963, he wrote:
“If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that make a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.”
Don’t expect there to be some kind of magic formula. It just doesn’t work like that (and nor should it). You have to brew your own.