On Writing

On Writing and Persistence

May 23, 2013


What does a writer need to succeed? In addition to talent and hard work, I’d say persistence – and supportive friends – are key ingredients to “making the magic happen.”

With this in mind, here are two sports anecdotes for aspiring writers:

The 2006 Dodgers versus Padres game – It was the 9th inning and the Padres were winning 9-5. What was at stake? First place in the National League West.

It looked so bad for the Dodgers that Dodgers fans started to leave the stadium. But, as hopeless as the situation appeared at the bottom of the 9th, the Dodgers weren’t up for defeat. From that point on, they hit a near impossible four consecutive home runs to win 11-10. There were four batters, and four home runs; there were three pitches, and three home runs. The 9th inning comeback was only the fourth time in Major League history that a team hit four consecutive home runs. The last time it had happened was in 1964 – 42 years prior!


Jack Dempsey vs. Luis Ángel Firpo

Jack Dempsey vs. Luis Ángel Firpo

The Jack Dempsey vs. Luis Ángel Firpo fight – On September 14, 1923, Jack Dempsey fought Luis Ángel Firpo for the World Heavyweight Boxing title. At the start of the first round, Firpo – known as the Bull of the Pampas –  dropped Dempsey with a right hand. Dempsey bounced back, but Firpo dropped him seven more times before Round One was over. (This was before the “three knockdown” rule was in effect.) Toward the end of Round One, Firpo trapped Dempsey against the ropes, and landed a right on his chin – a blow that hurled Dempsey out of the ring. A photographer snapped a photo of the fighter, legs upward, hurtling into the arena. Dempsey’s friends helped him back into the ring just before the referee called a victory for Firpo.

Despite sustaining a severe cut in the fall he’d taken, Dempsey came back slugging, dropped Firpo twice in Round Two, and knocked him out in that round to win the match.

The takeaway for writers – The Dodgers versus Padres story illustrates the need for persistence, persistence, persistence no matter what “appears” to be the reality. Are the fans walking out of the stadium as far as your writing is concerned? Tough. If you know in your heart you “have the stuff,” keep at it even if success hasn’t arrived “by the 9th inning.” Trust me. The fans will scurry back to their seats once you find your stride – no matter how late in the inning.

Fate constructs a unique timetable for each writer. Some writers advance from success to success. Their numbers are few. Most writers’ timetables feature switchbacks and loop de loops.

I love the Dempsey/Firpo story because it illustrates another truth about persistence. Each of us needs a friend or two for those times we get knocked out of the ring – receiving one rejection too many, say. It’s invaluable to have friends* who believe in our talent and lift us back into the fray. No matter how ruggedly individual a writer may believe herself to be, no one achieves success without a little help from a friend, or two or three.

A final sports thought. Legendary football coach Knute Rockne said, “I’ve found that prayer works best when I have big players.” In other words, it helps to have players who have been equipped by nature to play the game. I do believe that some of us are “born to write.” But it bears repeating: Natural talent will take you only so far; writers who aim to succeed need to do their part to further “equip themselves to win.” How does a writer equip herself to win? By reading constantly, by practicing the Craft, and by – you got it – persistence.

* By the way, lest my more curmudgeonly writer buds despair, I count spouses, significant others, supportive family members, teachers, coaches (including those who “speak” from the pages of books on writing), and anyone who knows how to boost a writer’s spirits in the “friends” category.


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