What Writers Can Learn from Boxers (and other Pugilists)

I was watching Jerry Seinfeld’s great series on Netflix called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee where he interviewed Seth Rogen. Something Rogen said stuck with me, and I immediately thought of writing books–of course.

Seth Rogen was talking about being a stand-up comedian, and why he decided to quit. “It’s like that famous quote, ‘I wanted to be a boxer until I fought a guy who really wanted to be a boxer.’ ” You don’t really know how good you are until you size yourself up against the competition, and you don’t really know how much you want it until you’re knocked down a few times. What will you do when you get those rejection slips? Give up? Whine and complain? Write a nasty letter in response? Or start on your next project?

Here’s another one from Mike Tyson, along the same lines: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” So many wanna-be writers have visions of finishing their rough draft, spending a week or two in rewrite, then sending their manuscript off for a million dollar contract. What if you can’t get past page seventeen? Or worse, what if you are on page three hundred and you realize that you have written something that someone else has already written? Just remember that you learn more from mistakes than from successes, and writing is all about learning and growing.

Finally, here’s a good one from Muhammed Ali: “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses — behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” It’s fun to visualize getting published, seeing your name on a book cover, in a bookstore or even on the New York Times Bestseller list. But before that happens, you have to commit to many, many solitary hours in front of a blinking cursor on a computer screen not only creating a story, but rewriting, editing, and doing all the other mundane things necessary to hone your craft. Worse, the first, second and maybe even third story may only be practice for you. You might have to write for a while; correction, you WILL have to write for a long while before you can say you know what you’re doing.

Is it worth it? Only you can say for sure. Boxers, actors, artists, and even writers don’t do it because they think it’s their ticket to become rich and famous. They do it because it’s who they are. You have to ask yourself whether you feel the same way.