John Irving is an American writer and award winning screenwriter. Author of The World According to Garp and Cider House Rules, to name a few, he is also a member of the collegiate wrestling Hall of Fame. In the video clip above, you see how, in his mind, wrestling can be compared to writing.
For writers, the opponent is a blank sheet of paper or computer screen. In it's pristine blankness, it cries, "What?" We fill it with our words, and it responds, "Not even close." Thus, the writing wrestling match begins.
John Irving says, "You have to earn an ending. You don't just fall into one."
I raised two wrestlers. My oldest son moved on to choir and drama in high school, leaving his wrestling shoes to mold and stink-up his closet. My youngest, Mike, was more determined to hone his capabilities. He lived, ate and breathed wrestling, just as I'm living, eating and breathing writing these last two years.
In his junior year of high school, Mike was quoted by sports writers as the wrestler with the Cinderella season, coming from no where to qualify for States (a big deal in Pennsylvania high schools). He medaled in his senior year and attended college on a wrestling scholarship. His life revolved around the sport--as did mine (mountains of gross, sweaty laundry, special diets and endless butt-numbing hours spent on gym bleachers waiting for him to wrestle).
Now he coaches youth wrestling--and his son. My grandson earned third in the Maryland Youth League this year (Pardon the shameless grandma bragging.) The legacy lives on.
Mike earned his ending.
Hours spent in the gym working out. Eight-mile runs in the snow. Learning moves until as his assistant college coach once told me, "Watching Mike run through moves is like watching a clinic. He's poetry in motion."
Now it's time for me to earn my ending.
So tell me, John, do three nights of fitful sleep, agonizing over how to end my book, earn me an ending? At 86,000 words, I'm gasping for air, wondering if I have enough endurance to write the happy ending my couple deserves. True, I have some terrorists to apprehend. Then, too, I have their emotional baggage to deal with--old scars and insecurities. All of which I'm wrestling with during wakeful and sleep-hazed hours, aka 24/7.
I think John would tell me to earn the ending one word at a time.
Often, as writers, we want the easy way, even though we never take it. Instead, we spend hours on self-promotion, pour over books regarding our craft, delve into online writing courses and we research until our eyes cross. We write. We delete. We try again. We revise. We cut and paste. We read it outloud and moan because what seemed so perfect on the computer screen sounds like crap when we hear it. And so we rewrite.
We earn our endings, too.
I challenge anyone to say we don't. Say it in my presence and be prepared to endure a head lock, a single-leg take-down and pee-in-your-panties pain while I crank a chicken-wing. Oh, yeah, this grandma knows how to put the hurtins' to ya. Now, if I can just do the same thing to my characters...