How to Be a Better Writer: Turn Struggle Into Success

How to Be a Better Writer: Turn Struggle Into Success

Writing was something I’d always been drawn to, but had put off using one excuse or another.

The time for excuses was over. Butt was in chair and my new Windows 95 PC was fired up. I was nervous, but I took a deep breath and began to type.

There were only about a thousand words when I was done and they were horrible. I had taken a first step on a journey I knew I would be on for the rest of my life.

It felt a little like my first Krav Maga class.

I sat in my car seriously contemplating not attending that first class. I’d been fascinated with the deadly Israeli martial art for years, but never worked up the courage to attend. I had finally gotten past all my excuses, and now here I was, parked outside the dojo, nervous and intimidated.

But, I said to myself, I was here, so might as well try it.

Famous last words.

The warm up left me wishing I were dead. I was horrible at the techniques and got hit and thrown more times than I care to remember. Still, I loved every moment of it and knew that despite my pain, I would be back. I’d found something that I wanted to master and that I would do as long as I was physically able.

It’s been a long time since those early days, and I’ve gone much further in both writing and Krav Maga. I’m not where I intend to be in either practice, but I continue to strive.

Here are some things I’ve learned from the continuing (and often painful) effort to master both arts.

1. Sometimes you’ll get hit

One thing that’s guaranteed in both Krav Maga and writing is that you will get hurt. In Krav, it’s physical. I’ve been hit in the face multiple times, suffered a detached retina, sprained or twisted just about everything, and as I’m writing this a bag of ice is sitting on my swollen left knee.

In writing, the blows aren’t physical but the pain is quite real. Rejections, bad reviews and the sheer effort to write well day after day can leave you bruised and tempted to tap out. I have a drawer full of rejections and each one left a scar.

In both disciplines, you have to pick yourself up after each blow and get back to work with the knowledge that hits are a natural part of the art we’ve chosen. Each blow, each rejection, each bad review is an opportunity to rise stronger and improve your art.

2. You’ll have great sessions and terrible ones

There have been times in Krav that I’ve been on fire. I remembered every technique and during sparring, none of my classmates could touch me. There have also been times when I’ve been hit so hard my teeth rattled and all the combatives I’ve painstakingly learned flew out of my head.

Sometimes I write no effort. The words come easily and I can hardly type fast enough to keep up with the flow of inspiration. At other times, you couldn’t pull the words out me with a chain and a monster truck.

I used to think that those occasions were a sign I needed to give up, but I’ve come to realize that on those bad days you have to take a moment (or five or ten), gather yourself, and jump back into the fray. Even if all you do is continue to get hit and thrown or all you produce are a couple of hundred measly words, don’t give up.

When success doesn’t come easily, you have to work extra hard. But you persevere, and refine your art in the process.

3. Trust your teacher

Your teacher is the teacher for a reason. He’s been there and done that. In Krav Maga, you’ll learn the proper way to fall, to hit, to defend. The lessons those instructors teach might one day save your life or the life of someone you love.

Even if you don’t have a formal writing teacher, the books you love can serve as your instructors. Trust them. Examine how those authors write, and emulate them. Read about your favorite writers’ lives, their struggles, and how they overcame them (or didn’t). Chances are, there are valuable lessons that you may apply to your own writing practice.

4. Nurture the talent you never knew you had

I once submitted a few chapters of a novel I’d been working on to an agent. She wasn’t looking for that particular genre at the time, but she wrote me a nice note telling me she thought I had a gift for dialogue. (Cue my cheesiest smile.)

Meanwhile, in Krav Maga, there’s a time when you learn how to fight on the ground. Well, as it turns out, I have a talent for “floor fighting.” In both these instances I had no clue I had a particular talent, but you can be sure that I work hard to nurture and develop those newly discovered strengths.

You might find the same in your writing practice. Whether you’re adept at dialogue or great at plot or descriptions, recognize your talent and nurture it.

5. Celebrate your accomplishments

Many writers are introverted and quick to downplay our accomplishments. That’s exactly what I was tempted to do when my first post got accepted to The Write Life — and also when I passed my first Krav Maga belt promotion test. On both occasions I was on cloud nine and very much wanted to announce my accomplishments to the world, but the part of me that hates any kind of self-promotion quickly reared its ugly head.

But then I thought, why the heck should I be shy about taking pride in what I’d done? I’d earned my accomplishments through hard work, sweat and pain.

I bit the proverbial bullet and announced my accomplishments on social media, to my friends and family, and to anyone else who would listen. I will never be as comfortable with self-promotion as I should be, but in the future I won’t be so quick to shrug off my hard-earned accomplishments.

If you’ve accomplished a writing goal, tell the world! Tweet it, Facebook it, tell the mailman and the guy pumping your gas. It’s not just for you, but for others out there as well. The struggle is real, and you never know who your accomplishments may inspire.

Do you participate in another art, sport, or activity in addition to your writing? How has it enhanced your writing practice?

Filed Under: Craft
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  • Trish O'Connor says:

    Both my own experiences of writing and my experiences as an editor of spiritual books have taught me that writing is a deeply spiritual exercise, putting us in touch with depths we didn’t know we had.

    When it comes to expressing these depths, writers are masters of metaphor, and obviously the Krav Maga metaphor is deeply meaningful to Hugh. Others may respond to less combative metaphors. Every writer must find the facets of his or her own life that serve as powerful metaphors for the spiritual experience both of writing and of BEING a writer. For example, a runner might see each project, each writing session, or the total process of growing as an author as a “race,” while a hiker may see each of these as a “journey.”

    Journaling is a good way of exploring the spirituality of authorship, and of trying on various metaphors until you find at least one that “fits.”

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Freelance Editing and Author Coaching

  • Jason Bougger says:

    Love the post. Truly inspirational. I did Shotokan Karate for a year (had to quit once we started having kids) and I’d say it definitely helped my writing. For one thing, the discipline it taught me transferred over to writing, and the ranking tests helped me learn to better deal with the stress and risk of potential failure that comes with querying and submitting fiction.

  • Adam Colwell says:

    Hugh, I love your comparison between the training and disciplines of Krav Maga with those of writing. If I may make an addition to your list, playing off of celebrating your accomplishments, it would be to “Solidify Your Self-Confidence.” As writers, we can tend to underplay what we achieve. Simply by fighting the daily battle, winning through the task of writing, and then recognizing those times when others read our work, you are so right – our victories inspire others. As a writer coach, I encourage my clients to understand that every word they create, published or not, is a remarkable achievement in and of itself. Writing is a wonderfully fulfilling craft, and words are a powerful expression. No, we won’t please everyone, and critics will criticize – but we’re not writing for them, are we? We’re writing for our readers and ourselves…and when a reader expresses their appreciation for something you’ve created, there’s nothing like it. So, Hugh, let me add my voice: Thank you for inspiring me with your post. You have encouraged and empowered me.

  • Donna Ornduff says:

    Thank you so much for this blog.. I am just getting started in this new venture and the things you mentioned are exactly how I feel. I have always been good with words and could not believe how exhilarating it was to be able to write down my feelings on paper. I too am an introvert and I do not like to bring attention to myself. I also have always been afraid of taking chances and I know that this will be a roller coaster adventure, that there will be many potholes in the road, but what good is life if we don’t try to make a difference, especially in our own lives!! Again,thanks. Donna

  • Kathy B says:

    Hugh, I have just subscribed to the Write Life and yours is the first post I have read. I like your humorous, informal style very much. Your experiences with both writing and Krav Maga sound like metaphors for life. I particularly mean the part about taking the hits and getting back into the fray. Just living this life can be an exercise in discipline. I am looking forward to reading about everyone’s experiences and to appreciating and applauding their efforts! I have never been afraid to make a change in my life and some of them have been quite dramatic. This foray into writing is something I have also thought about for many years and I am finally taking the leap! I do admire people with the courage to try new things and I am very excited to become a part of this great community!

  • Karen Williams says:

    Very inspiring post! I can truly relate to this….thank you for sharing. You story had been the little motivation I needed to keep me going. Some days I wonder about my writing journey, but I remain hopeful that one day I will “rejoice in the fruit of my labor”