Editor’s Note: this is a guest post by writer, poet and musician Conor Ebbs.
I took up Olympic wrestling at age 18. Having played various sports since I was 7 years old, I thought I would be up for any challenge.
I was wrong.
Wrestling remains the most demanding sport I have ever been involved in—as a competitor, and later as a coach.
Writing sometimes feels like wrestling: staring down a blank page and attacking it explosively with the goal of pinning down a passage of prose to be proud of.
Here are just 5 ways wrestling made me a better writer:
Wrestling Made Me Self-Reliant
No matter how much you train as a group, when it comes to a match, you are on your own. You walk onto the mat, head high and heart pounding, to fight not only your opponent, but yourself.
Support is important, but self-belief and self-reliance are paramount for the writing life. When you release your words into the world, you open yourself to criticism, misinterpretation, and misunderstanding.
You need to deeply believe in what you write, and how you write it.
Rely on yourself.
Wrestling Taught Me The Importance of Goals
It is hard to stay motivated without something to work towards. Sometimes I would show up to my wrestler’s training tired. But I knew what I had to work on. I knew my weaknesses, and what I was working to achieve.
When you sit down to write, it’s good to know what your goal is.
My daily goal is to progress the piece I am working on—a stanza of a poem, a page of a story, or a verse of a song. Depending on how agreeable my mind is on the day in question, I may finish the piece on that same day.
Small goals then feed larger ones. I’m working on my second collection of poetry and my second music album—so the streams of small goals feed the rivers of larger ones.
I can almost smell the salty air of a sea of accomplishments.
What are your writing goals?
Wrestling Taught Me Endurance
The most physically demanding aspects of wrestling are also the most mentally demanding. Even the wrestling warm-up involves gymnastics and calisthenics, contorting your body in very awkward ways.
The more you get used to being uncomfortable, the more progress you make. Give up too early, and you stagnate.
Pain is temporary. You must learn to endure.
When I am writing, and I feel almost emptied out, I always stay a few minutes longer. It trains my mind to not give in to my body’s first request. As if by magic, ideas and metaphors appear in those last minutes. It feels like my mind is rewarding me for sticking it out.
Embrace the feeling of being uncomfortable. Endure.
Wrestling Showed Me Why I Should Leave My Comfort Zones
When I first started wrestling, I couldn’t tumble correctly, complete diving rolls, or fall properly. I was afraid of the unknown, and made several half-hearted attempts, with little success.
When I finally got out of my own way and took risks, I quickly developed the basic skills and gained a willingness to try tougher moves.
Here’s another example of leaving your comfort zone:
I was recently at the shore of Lake Superior with my family. Two young guys in swimming shorts were standing on the rocks. After much posturing, one of them jumped in to the icy waters. His friend wouldn’t follow. Excuses were plentiful. Finally, the first guy shouted:
“Shut up and stop thinking!”
Finally, the second guy jumped in and after a while seemed to enjoy his time there.
Fear of the unfamiliar is a survival mechanism, but it also holds us back. The only way to grow is to leave our comfort zones and try new techniques.
I regularly change my rhyming structure with my poems and change my vocal style with my songs. It feels strange at first, but the results can be as refreshing as leaping into Lake Superior—which I did, too, by the way.
Diving into uncomfortable icy waters certainly woke me up and it’ll wake you up, too.
Embrace the unknown, and if you’re hestitant: “shut up and stop thinking!”
Wrestling Taught Me The Importance of Mentors
My first wrestling coach, Craig, was an inspiration: he was consistent, tough, understanding, empathetic, and kind.
When I qualified as a coach, I applied much of what I had learned from Craig and brought it to my coaching sessions.
Had I started out without Craig’s guidance, I would have spent a long time learning those hard lessons on my own.
A good mentor helps you avoid pitfalls and mistakes.
All writers have invisible mentors. Every book we read is teaching us something. However, connecting with writers who are further down the writing road than you are (“visible” mentors) can be hugely beneficial.
They give you constructive criticism, writing prompts, and they point out roadblocks before you reach them—these are only some of the benefits of having a writing mentor.
Mentors help you avoid mistakes that might suck your time further down the road.
Now Go Out And Become A Tough, Badass Writer
Today, I spend more time wrestling with words and rhyme than I do on mats, but I hope the lessons I have learned and shared with you can help you further along your writing journey.
How have non-writing pursuits made you a better writer? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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