Cara Sue Achterburg: ​Being a Writer is Like Being a Boxer…..Kind of

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This summer while scraping the bottom of the barrel on Netflix, my husband and I stumbled upon a quirky movie about a writer. I can’t remember much of the plot or the name of the movie. (This happens frequently; stories and titles rarely stick with me. I think my brain is too full of them. Embarrassing problem to have as a writer.)

​This forgotten movie opens with a writer musing that being a writer is like being a boxer. You have to put all your talent out there in the ring all alone for everyone to see.

I agree about the putting yourself out there, exposed. It does feel like that sometimes. But beyond that the analogy fails for me. Taking this analogy another step would mean beating up another writer or being beaten up by readers. Basically, being beaten up by somebody. I’m not a boxer. I don’t watch violent movies or read thrillers. I’m pretty much a pacifist.

Giving credence to this analogy would mean that when we get in the ring, one writer’s success could only come at the expense of another. And as much as that can sometimes feel like the case- it isn’t.

Maybe a better analogy would be the Initiative & Confidence courses of my youth at summer camp. We ALL had to get over that wall. And then we ALL had to work together to make it along the tight rope, the monkey bars, the wiggling logs and plenty of other exercises designed to threaten and then build your confidence. The entire course involved working together through what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles (at least to those of us less coordinated and less confident participants).

Maybe that analogy is lacking, too. But we writers LOVE our analogies, so we’ll go with that one instead.

Writers need each other. We’re the only ones who ‘get it.’ We know all too well, the sting of so many rejections. We understand how you can love being a writer and hate writing at the same time. We know how brave you have to be to write well – the risk, the gut-honest truths, the embarrassing habits, the painful memories. We know that vulnerability is not optional and you really do have to kill your darlings.

I remember standing at the bottom of THE WALL on the I&C course one summer when I was about thirteen. I was cripplingly self-conscious, convinced I was fat and weak and terrified at the idea of my campmates having to haul my big, pathetic butt over that wall. I contemplated every kind of escape, wishing I knew how to throw up on cue since my stomach was in knots and my face was beet red. In the end I had to trust my teammates to help me over that wall. I had to let them see my weakness, expose my fear. No other way over that wall. Same for writers. Until we can share our weakness and stop trying to be something we are not, our writing has no authenticity.

Wow, that analogy went much further than I thought it would. I could continue to write about how the writers who have made it over the wall need to look back and haul the rest of us up, but maybe that’s a little desperate. Maybe.

Writing is mostly a solitary sport, but publishing is a team event. I’m in the midst of rewriting a novel I love, having taken my hits, put an icepack on my black eye, and gotten back to work.

It’s the process. So maybe writing is like boxing. Now I’m back to training and polishing and getting better, so the next time I toss my manuscript in the ring, it’ll be a winner. But it’s also like those I&C courses, too, because I know I’m not really alone. The best thing I can do for my writing it trust the advice of other writers, trust my reader with my honesty, and trust my heart to share my story.

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On February 8, 2016
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