* I gave the following piece as my closing reading at VONA 2010.
“Roll with the punches” is probably the most overused boxing proverb to get us through tough times, but I’ve spent far too many hours in stuffy gyms around the world to settle on a cliché one-liner.
In many ways the Sweet Science is like writing. It’s a lonely affair. You may have your coaches and gym mates beside you, but come fight night, you’re the only one in that squared circle. Stepping through the ropes for the first time is much like publishing your first piece. You’re naked out there. You’re vulnerable. That’s what makes the experience both frightful and exciting. That is the reason we live.
Fighting pushes you to the extreme limits of being human. It is in those moments of pain and despair, of confusion and desolation that you truly know what you’re made of, and your training makes or breaks your survival. Ali once said “The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road; long before I dance under those lights.” And that’s true. Preparation is everything and the difference between talent and skill is self-discipline.
Most readers will never see those countless hours toiled while the rest of the world slumbers. They will never understand how cutting out a paragraph can be just as agonizing as self-amputation. And they will never appreciate how after the critics tear us to pieces on the public sphere, we slowly learn to love ourselves again.
But writers, like boxers, learn to grow tough skin. We might fall, but we get up and come back stronger. It becomes instinct to “roll with the punches” and soon enough, we learn that it was never really about winning or losing in the first place, but all that ever mattered was that we showed up and fought well.