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What a Fitness Coach Needed to Write a New York Times Bestseller

Peter Nevland and Mark Divine's muscles


I wasn’t excited when I walked in the room.  Only four people had signed up to take my “No One Told Me How to Write” workshop at Wizard Academy (it’s not a Harry Potter theme park) in Austin, TX.  Half of them were missing.  Dennis and Mark sat expectantly.


“Hey guys!” I said, trying to mask my disappointment.  “Looks like you guys are gonna get one very personalized writing workshop.”


“Looking forward to it…  Mark Divine,” he said, locking my hand in his grip more than shaking it.  Lines creased his tan face, running into a mouth filled with braces.  I guessed his age at somewhere close to 50.  He stood about 6’2″, 200 pounds, and nothing short of a train could have knocked him out of his ramrod straight posture.  He turned out to be a former Navy SEAL commander who owned and operated several businesses.


Dennis greeted me with less authority.  At least fifteen years older than Mark, his posture slouched more, but his eyes twinkled just as brightly.  He’d served in the military and been involved in Austin politics for the last 30 or so years.  Both had oodles of stories.  “Maybe this class will be fun after all,” I thought.


After the first exercise, Dennis had clearly outwritten Mark.  I could tell he read novels for fun.  He mixed themes and imagery like a well-trained chef.  Some of his sentences were a bit long and complex, but he had serious writing talent.  Mark’s writing was far more basic.  Being verbs dominated his sentences.  Unnecessary connecting words cluttered his creative imagery.  Every once in a while a sharply defined image would pierce the haze, but I could tell that he needed practice.  I called an audible.


“Edit the first piece you wrote so that no sentence has more than seven words.”  They began chopping and rearranging.  Then they read.


Dennis had improved his first attempt.  Mark’s piece had undergone an extreme writing makeover.  Action grabbed me by the ears and forced me to listen.  Dennis and I sat open-mouthed, in awe of his transformation.  Throughout the next two days, I noted how Mark attacked each assignment.  He didn’t become Hemingway, but he definitely improved.  By the time class ended on the second day, both Mark and Dennis had outlined the next book they would write.  They both had the stuff.  I wondered if they would follow through to finish what they’d started.


While eating sushi, Mark told us about his SealFit training center, his online Navy Seal gear website and his plans to write three new books.  “If I hadn’t already agreed to work with another co-writer, I’d ask you to help me write Way of the Seal.”  I thanked him and grimaced internally, enjoying my sushi just a little bit less.  Before he left Wizard Academy, Mark recorded this video…



A couple weeks later (February 4) I received this email from Mark showing me a section from Way of the Seal:


Peter, I am working with a co-writer on this one…would be awkward to have major changes – but your insights will be very helpful.  HOWEVER – I have ANOTHER manuscript due to McMillan on March 17 – called “8 Weeks to SEALFIT” – it is a very different book – a fitness training book with a big dose of mental toughness.  It has been edited, but I would love to have you review it, and if you think you can significantly improve the enjoy ability – public’s response – best seller status of the book I would be thrilled to engage you to edit it!  let me know thoughts.


A week later I sent him my no-holds-barred feedback:


1. Great topic.  Big market potential, especially if you get the right marketing strategy behind you.  Do you have that?  Are you seriously committed to making this book soar?  Can your publisher swing the hammer?  If not, don’t bother reading further.  It’s not worth the amount of work it will take me or the amount of money it will cost you to have me edit it.  Great writing won’t get people to initially buy it.  But it will make them recommend it to others and cause the publisher to get behind it and put everything they’ve got into it.  If you’re committed and have the resources and understanding to promote this book, continue…

2. You’ve made a very compelling topic boring.  Stop telling them what you’re going to teach them and teach them.  You spend way too much time talking about your life and explaining why stuff is true.  That’s not what attracts people to SealFit.  Plunge them into the experience.  Tell them what to do.  Then illustrate the why afterwards with a great story and mental understanding.


Mark hired me to be his writing coach with about a month to completely rewrite and edit his next book, 8 Weeks to SEALFIT.  After rearranging the chapters and charting out what we needed to do, I began giving him assignments, one chapter at a time.  I gave him a specific writing process (I’ll outline it in detail in my next post) to keep him from over-thinking any of his writing.  He sent me completed writing tasks within a day or two.  Once I received them, I immediately gave him his next assignment and began editing what he’d sent.


The chapters and days ticked away.  A day before our March 17th deadline, I sent him the completed manuscript, and he sent it to his publisher.  They were thrilled.  They scheduled it to release sometime in the middle of 2014.


A couple weeks ago I looked up Mark Divine on Amazon to see if 8 Weeks to SEALFIT had come out yet.  It had, so I asked him what had happened with our book and whether I could get a copy.  The reply he sent made me do my happy dance:


NYT Best Seller list. I have gotten great feedback for it as well.


Short and sweet as always.  A fitness book that’s a New York Times BestSeller.  Way to go, Mark.  It’s one thing to take a workshop and learn powerful techniques.  It’s another to apply them until what you’ve dreamed stands sparkling in front of you.  Mark didn’t have the talent that some do.  But he had 3 things essential for writing success…


1. A Platform

I had no idea when he walked into my workshop that Mark had built a successful crossfit business and Navy Seal website and amassed thousands of email followers.  It’s why a publisher had already agreed to distribute his book before he ever wrote it.  They knew he would put in the work to make his book a reality just like he’d done to serve his customers.


If you don’t have a group of people who’s already following you online or listening to you give talks or lectures, you need to develop one.  It’s called a platform.  Start posting interesting material or even the content for the book you want to publish online for free.  It’s as good as copyrighting it.  No one will steal it.  And even if they do, you’re a great writer.  You can write a bunch more, right?


2. Willingness to Improve His Writing

With all the people who followed him, Mark could have easily written his book and published it.  He would have sold plenty of copies to his followers, but that’s as far as it would have gone.


Instead he committed to improve his writing.  He worked at it.  He signed up for a workshop, took a week off work and paid a couple thousand dollars to travel across the country to attend.  There was homework.  He continued working when the class finished.  He made mistakes.


If you’re not willing to practice and fail, you’ll never find the joy in writing.  That always comes after failure and buckets of sweat.  And once you relish standing on top of that mountain, you see other bigger mountains to climb.


3. Humility to Ask for Help

With less than a month to improve his book, Mark knew he needed an outside perspective to make a real difference.  He asked for help.  With an ally to train, encourage and improve his work, it became something he was proud to publish.  He got behind it.  The publisher got behind it.  His platform got behind it.  It became a New York Times Bestseller.


You don’t always have what it takes.  Asking for help may be what you need to breathe life into whatever dream you’ve kept to yourself.


My hats off to Mark Divine.  Now what about you reading this?  You’re not going to let anything stop you, are you?



How To Write Awesomeness and Get Away With It Writing Workshop - Unit 1PS: You can learn and apply the same principles Mark and Dennis did in Peter’s new online, interactive writing workshop, “How to Write Awesomeness and Get Away With It” for individuals.  By the end of Unit 1 you’ll have learned what makes writing powerful, what doesn’t and a technique to overcome writer’s block.  You’ll have produced your own writing and get feedback on it.  Your imagination will find new inspiration.  Just click on the link above for a preview and the link to the course.  Everyone who reads your writing will thank you.


PPS: “How to Write Awesomeness for Teachers and Classrooms” will be available soon.  We’re just finishing editing it.  Then we’ll produce Unit 2 and Unit 3 for individuals, teachers and classrooms.  Our plan is to finish them this Fall.  We’ll let you know when they’re ready.



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1 Comment

  1. This is great Peter! As a small business owner who has to turn his hand to copywriting, I’ve found your video resources and advice the past few years invaluable…I even use your videos to coach our staff and clients

    My businesses have increased turnover by over 50% year-on-year since 2010 and I know hand-on-heart I could not have done this without your guidance and input. Thank you

    Congratulations on this NYT Best Seller