Ernest Hemingway once wrote a long article in which he compared writing to boxing. As his career progressed, he imagined that each novelist was like an opponent in the boxing ring, and as he wrote, he struggled to knock them out one by one.
When I read it, I remember smiling at the analogy. I certainly didn’t think of myself as being in competition with folks like Faulkner and Tolstoy. It all sounded so bloody and violent.
But now that I’m older, I like the analogy better.
I find that when I meet new writing students nowadays, I often like the ones who have come out of the military. I like their courage and discipline.
You might not realize it, but writing takes courage. I heard a statistic a few months ago. I don’t know how accurate it is, but someone suggested that of the people who want to write a book, only about 3% ever actually write one. That sounds correct. A survey years ago suggested that about 40% of the women under 32 said that one of their life goals was to write a book—meaning that I had well over 100 million competitors.
Most people lack the discipline to actually write. They may get excited for a few days and start writing a novel, but they don’t have the willpower to keep it up. (Which is why I usually try to have writing workshops that last for a week or more, so that I can start turning writing into a habit, instead of an act of excitement.) So out of every hundred million people who write a book, only 3 million complete it.
Of the people who complete a book, only about 3% ever actually send it in to publishers.
Most people look at their first draft, read it in despair, then hide it away in a drawer. They’re afraid to submit their works for fear of criticism or outright rejection.
Yet if you look at it historically, many of the bestselling books of all time—even from Nobel-Prize Winners—got rejected over and over.
So you have to beat that fear of rejection.
You have to get up every day and go to work. You have to write like a warrior.
As silly as it sounds, when I get up to write, I try to put all hesitation behind me. I sometimes even imagine myself strapping on my magic Armor of Indifference. I don’t give a crap what editors and critics think, I’m going to write a scene, or two scenes, or three today!
Then I take your sword in hand (my computer) and march onto the battlefield.
I can’t hesitate to write. It doesn’t matter if my throat is a little sore today or my wife is distraught about work—it’s time to perform. It’s do or die.
And so I pick a target (maybe a scene by Frank Herbert or a setting by J.R.R. Tolkien) and I have to wade into battle, ignoring the warriors and dragons threatening on either side, and begin dealing blows.
I can’t let myself get tired. The battle may be long and hard, lasting days or months, but I cannot rest until I’ve done my best.
Never rest until you’ve done your best.
Ideally, when you challenge one of the greats, you’ll study that person before the battle and you’ll study others who have also fought. You’ll go in and write your work, and when you’re done, you’ll know that you’ve won. You’ll imagine your favorite authors lying bloody, mangled and headless at your feet.
Now that I think about it, Hemingway’s analogy just wasn’t violent enough for me.
Below is a link to the Amazon page that has the pre-order for Writers of the Future Volume 36.
Pre-order the book and receive free a booklet containing advice from me and the following New York Times bestselling authors (who are either the founder of the contest or were or are a contest judge)
- L. Ron Hubbard
- Frank Herbert
- Kevin J. Anderson
- Larry Niven
- Nnedi Okorafor
- Anne McCaffrey
Once you have place the order on Amazon, send your proof of purchase to:
They will send you the e-book version of the booklet full of brilliant advice or, if you prefer, they will mail you a hard copy.
Please mention in your e-mail request that it came from me.