A Writing Champ Knows How to Take a Punch

There are many truisms in life. Little nuggets of wisdom that almost universally endure the eroding waves of cause and effect. Basic principals that go un-scortched amid the persistent flames of action and reaction. It's yin and yang. It's up then down. It's "60% of the time, it works every time."



Here are two examples:

1) If you go to Disney World, you're going to have fun. Lots. 

2) If you write box competitively, you're going to get hit in the face. Lots.

"That's my gift. I let that negativity roll off me like water off a duck's back. If it's not positive, I didn't hear it. If you can overcome that, fights are easy." - George Foreman

Let's consider that C word for a moment. Being competitive doesn't necessarily mean you're out to win or conquer someone else. It just means you're in it for more than recreation. Even when it isn't fun or amusing, you'll keep trying. You'll try until you're proficient, even if you fail a bunch of times prior to that point. You'll keep going once you ARE proficient in an effort to snag the uncatchable: perfection.  

Being competitive is active, not passive. You don't wait for (or expect) something to simply happen, you strive to make it happen.

"A champion shows who he is by what he does when he's tested. When a person gets up and says 'I can still do it', he's a champion." - Evander Holyfield

The competitive stuff seems kind of painful, right? It is! In fact, I'd argue that if it isn't hurting, you aren't doing it right. Growing sucks, but it's necessary if you're going to realize your potential--in anything.

You'll never master walking without falling a bunch. No one rides a bike on the first try. The first day of a new workout routine is going to kick your butt, no matter how good of shape you're in. To be the main event means you've fought a BUNCH of undercards along the way.

Life, boxing and writing have this in common: resiliency and toughness are earned--both taking and giving--one punch at a time; success or failure comes with the final blow, not the first. 

"I'm scared every time I go into the ring, but it's how you handle it. What you have to do is plant your feet, bite down on your mouthpiece and say, 'Let's go.' " -Mike Tyson

As writers, what kinds of punches can we expect on our way to the title? I imagine it goes something like the following ...

THE QUICK JAB

This'll be the first real hit you take, probably when you've put your work out for public flogging for the first time. Could be a teaser/excerpt on your blog, could be the reading of a poem at your local coffee house--heck, it might be fan fiction you've posted on a Wizards of Warcraft site.

You'll mostly get the 'it was fun!' or 'good job!' kinds of feedback, but there'll be that one person (Crazy Grammar Lady-CGL) who mistakes your relatively frivolous effort for something more serious. CGL will point out a misspelled word (or six), an egregious run-on or maybe your sixth-grade understanding of the proper usage of there, their and they're. 

What does it matter? Everyone knows CGL is crazy and is as tactless as a tired two-year old. You'll pretend it's no big deal, but in your heart of hearts you thought it was pretty darn good or you would've never put it out there. 

So the punch lands. It hits you square in the nose. Your eyes water. Flinching, you check to make sure there's no blood. This is for real! This is the moment you become a serious writer or not. You'll either put your gloves up or deem the pain isn't worth it and call it quits. 

If you fight on, you'll come to recognize CGL as the first real writer you ever encountered...

THE RIGHT CROSS

You've landed a few jabs, taken a few jabs--you're really mixing it up now! You've joined a critique group of serious writers. After a few weeks of giving excellent feedback on other people's work, you submit your own. You've come to know these people personally, and you respect their talent. You'll graciously accept anything they have to tell you.

A few of them give you some soft jabs. "Keep at it!" "You have great descriptions!" You're feeling good. Then Larry "I've Been Published in a Magazine" Floyd Jr. steps into the ring. You playfully bob and weave as he steps to you. Suddenly he knocks your gloves down and nails you in the chops. POW!

Reading your dialogue is like eavesdropping at a robot cocktail party. Your use of adverbs is pathetically, abominably and relentlessly out of control. Your plot is so well hidden we're more likely to find Amelia Earhart first. On and on he goes until you're left staggered and dazed.  

You realize he's fighting to knock you out, not just to spar a few rounds. You'll consider going down to the mat and taking the ten count. Maybe you weren't cut out for this after all? 

After a few moments (days, weeks, months), your head clears and you get mad. You realize Larry was trying to bully you out of the ring. You didn't even take a proper swing back at him for Pete's sake! You fight on. After exchanging some real punches, you realize you're stronger than before. 

As it turns out, old Larry was toughening you up, not running you over. You'll probably thank him in the acknowledgements of your first book.

THE UPPERCUT 

You think you're well-conditioned now. You've fought the local circuit to a standstill and it's time to step up a class. If you're going to be a title contender, you'll need to land a serious opponent after all. 

There's this agent whose blog you follow. She's perfect for the story you've been hammering away on for the past three years. She's even responded to a couple of your Tweets, so you're practically BFF. You know she'll love it so you stick your chin out and fire off the query ...

SMACK! Thirty minutes after you hit send, she catches you with a form letter rejection to the jaw. You fall back into the ropes, then to your knees. How could this happen? Three years of work shot to hell in thirty minutes! All the training in the world can't fix a glass jaw, you reason. It's the first time you've truly been knocked down and you're humiliated. No getting up from this one... 

THE LEFT HOOK IN THE 12th ROUND

You got back up when you realized all the great fighters get knocked down. You stayed in the fight and learned a few things about querying, writing and yourself along the way. You've developed a reputation as a hard-nosed brawler and you even landed an agent. You're experienced and polished. It's time for a shot at the title.

Your manuscript is on submission, and your agent is working hard in your corner. You've been trading blows. The judges love you. The fans are behind you. Rumor has it you've even caught the eye of a big shot editor at a big shot publishing house. If you can just last the round surely you'll win by decision.

BAM! Maybe it was fatigue, maybe it was excitement, but you let your guard down a split second. The editor took a new job. They no longer want your story. Worse still, your agent decides he isn't the best fit for your work. Maybe you got the book out, but your first major review let you have it like a rented mule. Three months out, and you can't even find your book in the Amazon Marketplace. You're back at square one.

The uppercut set you up, the hook finished you off. You're down on the mat and you feel like you're staring through paper towel tubes. Someone is counting, but you aren't sure who. The world goes black. Cue the circling song birds.  

BOUNCING BACK

Muhammad Ali lost only 5 matches. Joe Lewis lost only 3. Sugar Ray Robinson (voted by ESPN as the greatest boxer of all time) lost only 19 over the course of 202 bouts and 25 years! Though their legacies would defy the logic, in the moment of defeat I'm sure each man felt like an utter and complete failure. The real fighters always do when they falter. It's not that competitors don't get discouraged, it's just that they don't quit.

I'm not suggesting writers have to be physically tough, although I sometimes think it might help keep the critics a little quieter. No, recent experience has just reminded me that we have to have the mentality of a boxer. We're going to get hit. It's going to hurt. We just have to decide if we're going to keep fighting.  

~EJW~

15 comments:

  1. I'm worn out after reading that!
    Can't achieve anything in life without getting banged up and hurt. What is it they say? No pain no gain?

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  2. Great metaphor and you must have seen my bout on pay-per-view!

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  3. Hah, so true! Important to remember that success requires a certain number of failures, and winning means you might be hit in the head a couple times. :)

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  4. I saw Eve's bout. She's tougher than she looks!

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  5. I must admit that I'm the Crazy Grammar Lady, because I teach writing for a living; that's why when I read books and magazines I see grammatical errors...everywhere. But I've learned not to morph into the CGL when I read other people's blog posts, because no one wants to hear from her in the blogosphere.
    I especially can relate to the part about the guy who's been published already and makes you feel like you'll never get to where he is; I've met several writers like that. Some of the more confrontational ones will come right out and say it; some of the meaner ones will say it very indirectly, so that you don't even realize they've made you feel bad about yourself until later.

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  6. Great analogy. Kind of makes me wish I had a punshing bag, though.

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  7. So true, E.J.. Gotta learn to take a punch. Still hurts, but learning you can get back up is an invaluable lesson.

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  8. Well E.j.,

    This certainly "hit home" for me this week with the quarter final results of ABNA. I didn't make it into this round. I read the reviews and one was sterling, the other not so... but what I find funny even in reviews with the SAME reviewer there are contradictions. One moment they loved the beginning and the flair of my writing style, the next they wrote my sentences were hared to read and my descriptions cliche".... go figure.

    But as you said, we certainly have to ROLL with the punches.

    Thanks for the pep talk, E.j.

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  9. I would never have thought to look to George Foreman for advice on writing. But now that I see it in context with boxing, you are absolutely write. Feedback can be like quick jabs to the gut. We have to stay in shape in order to be able to accept these punches and roll with them.

    Great expose Mr. E.J. Your mind has a way of zeroing in on what's really going on, whether it is a sport, or an activity such as writing.

    I guess that proves that life is just a story.

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  10. Fabulous. I love this: "if it isn't hurting, you aren't doing it right."

    Amen and Kapow.

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  11. Why do we do this to ourselves? In my case, I can't NOT write, although life sure would be easier if I could.

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  12. Lovely comparison, and a very inspirational post, EJ!


    ---Damyanti, Co-host A to Z Challenge April 2012

    Twitter: @AprilA2Z
    #atozchallenge

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  13. Glad you're back and hope you're well.
    I love that line from Anchorman-- what a great movie. I am really digging this boxing analogy. It puts things into perspective. We may be bruised and battered. If it makes us better/stronger/tougher... then good. :0)

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  14. That kind of mental toughness will be so important, particularly when it's time for books to be reviewed and out there. You can't please everyone. It's easy to say that, less easy to adapt to the truth.

    BTW, I love that scene! 60% of the time...I'm going to have to quote that on a daily basis.

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“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky