For those of you who never bothered to read my bio, I’m a long time martial arts practitioner who writes quite a bit about all facets of fighting and martial arts, including the sport of MMA, or mixed martial arts, popularized by the Ultimate Fighting Championships. I bring this up because I had an interesting conversation recently with a producer from ESPN television who called to pick my brain for an upcoming story relating to MMA.
Toward the end of our conversation, he asked me why fighters are willing to appear in some of the smaller MMA shows that don’t necessarily have a high standard of safety regulation or medical care. I came up with various reasons but my main response was an old cliche, which nonetheless remains a truism: fighters fight. That’s what they do and if given the opportunity to fight, they will take it regardless of crappy circumstances.
One might also say the same about writers. Someone who is serious about writing will write, regardless of whether it’s inconvenient or difficult. Given a chance to do it for money, they will often write on subjects they don’t have much interest in because… well, it’s a chance to write for money! The same way someone who is a true fighter (or at least wants to believe they are a true fighter) will take any opportunity to jump in a ring or cage in order to practice their craft – even if they’re overmatched or the safety precautions are less than adequate – because that is what they do, writers will, quite simply, write because that is what they do and they really don’t want to do anything else.
But after I got off the phone with the ESPN producer, I started to think about my own circumstances as a would be fighter some years ago, when I entered a proto-MMA match in the early days of the sport. I started to think about whether there were adequate safety precautions at this event and, for the life of me, couldn’t recall what they were, which probably means I never even thought to ask about them back then. Now part of that comes from the fact I was young and, like most kids, didn’t give as much thought to consequences as I should have. But another part of the reason I didn’t take too much interest in the safety of the event was, because like most people who fight, I had an unreasonable hopefulness.
Almost no one gets in a ring or cage expecting to lose a fight or get beaten up badly. Even when it is obvious to every outside observer that a fighter has no chance against his opponent, that fighter will still usually approach the bout as if he is the favorite, or at least even money. Now that view can quickly change as soon as you get punched in the face. But at least up until the opening bell, most fighters do have a certain unreasonable optimism about both their chances of winning and of not suffering any ill consequences (like hospitalization).
Once again, I think most writers could be accused of this same attitude in somehow believing things will come out in their favor. After all, how can you spend all those hours writing books, receiving countless rejections, going through the drudgery of the whole self-publishing process, without some sort of expectation that you will eventually meet with success? That kind of hopefulness is probably an unreasonable one. When you consider that tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands or millions?) of books are being published and self-published every year now, to think that yours will gain a bit of notoriety and success is not a wholly reasonable expectation. But that kind of unreasonable expectation is necessary for success, both in the fighting game and the writing game. To believe, that among all the fighters in the world, you can become a world champion is an utterly ludicrous delusion… unless you happen to be one of the few people who really is that good. In that case, an unreasonable belief in your own abilities is absolutely necessary. Without it, it’s too easy to quit when things get tough. Of course, if you’re not that good, at some point your unreasonable expectation meets up with reality and the result can be quite painful.
A writer, too, deludes himself he will achieve success in his field. Unless, of course, he has a whole lot of talent, in which case he needs to believe he is that good, even when the world is telling him he isn’t. But even for the writers who eventually come to the conclusion they aren’t that good, many will continue to plug away at their craft regardless of how much disappointment they meet with. Why?
Because writers write.