How Boxing Can Make Us Better Writers—Lesson One

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of familymwr

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of familymwr

Many, many moons ago I was in martial arts (I started Tae Kwon Do when I was 13). Because I’d had roughly eight years of dance, I tended to rely a bit too much on kicks when sparring, and I knew this was a weakness (especially since I was the only female competitor back in those days).

In short, I wanted to get better with my hands. So, when I was 19, I joined a boxing gym. This was 20 years ago, but the lessons learned in the boxing ring are useful for anyone in a creative profession, but particularly writers.

Toughen Your Soft Underbelly

Our profession, by its very nature, is delicate and connected to our soft underbelly (our ego and feelings). Our soft underbelly is exactly where critics will seek to strike.

Think of this job like boxing. We’re in the ring. Outside (and even internal) critics are going to seek to gut-punch and knock the wind out of us. Their objective is to drop us to our knees and make us give up.

These opponents might be nasty reviewers, mean critique group members, jealous people with too much free time, or even family members who will tell you you aren’t a “real writer.”

As a NF expert, I just know to expect the “you are really just a poseur fake and not a ‘real’ expert” jab.

Now, I am human. My first instinct is to raise my shield (my resume, my list of credentials in fiction and social media, my Mom’s sworn testimony that I’m awesome, cute and adorable), but we have to move beyond that and just learn to take the hit and keep moving.

“Roll with the punches,” so to speak.

I recall my first time doing an exercise with the medicine ball. My teammate, a giant black man who was apparently fathered by a Mack truck, stood over me. His job was to toss this “ball” at my stomach as I did my sit-ups. Of course, I just saw a ball, and didn’t put two and two together that this “tiny ball” WAS TWELVE FREAKING POUNDS.

Wasn’t pretty.

I curled over on my side gasping like a goldfish out of its tank, all the while wondering why I didn’t take Jazzercise instead.

Yet, after a few months of this, I swear someone could have hit me in the stomach with a crowbar and it wouldn’t have phased me. It’s because those exercises (which hurt, btw) toughened me up. In short, I learned to take a hit.

In this business, we must learn to take a hit.

Hits Can Reveal Weakness

If someone strikes, and it hurts? That might be an area of weakness we need to actively strengthen. Clearly, if I’d possessed abs of steel when I began this boxing class, the medicine ball wouldn’t have rendered me into a weeping ball of wimpy. Thing was, I hadn’t trained and strengthened that area. 

When I was in critique and received a brutal punch to my WIP? It showed my weaknesses. When I was a new writer, I was notorious for overwriting. I never met a metaphor I didn’t love. What did I do? Cry like a sissy little girl?


But then I started writing flash fiction to train myself how to employ economy. I wrote flash fiction until I started winning awards and being published in flash fiction. Being forced to cram an entire story into 500 words or less trained me to appreciate that less is often more.

When I wrote my first novel and was bashed by my beta readers for lack of structure? I started reading every book I could find. Scene & StructurePlot & Structure, Story Engineering, Save the Cat, and The Writer’s Journey are all must-haves. I started working as a line-editor first, then later as a content editor. I’ve critiqued hundreds of plots. I also kept writing until I finally had two novels win major contests.

Even then, I had more to learn. I won because of good stories and witty dialogue, but judges kept telling me that I wasn’t hooking early enough. This led me to Les Edgerton’s HookedI started studying beginnings in books and movies. I took classes and soaked up every bit of knowledge possible.

I’m still learning and growing and always will be. My next challenge is to publish my novels. Winning contests is great, but I want that next challenge.

Hits are Valuable

Yes, getting hit sucks and can even make us suck wind; but hits that hurt show us where we need to focus. Hits weed out the uncommitted, those who are in this writing business for the wrong reasons. Hits save time and help ramp us up to the professional level faster. People who can’t take a hit, won’t grow. They won’t know where they are weak and they won’t possess the toughness to endure this profession.

So the next time someone hits you where it hurts? Walk it off and just remember.

It’s all part of going pro ;).

Has someone hit you where it hurt? What did you do? How did it make you stronger? Did you nearly give up? Why didn’t you?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of March I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!


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  1. this is a life lesson, not just for writing. Sometimes we tend to soften up and let our guard down. Thanks for the reminder.

      • Theresa on March 27, 2013 at 5:06 am
      • Reply

      Thanks for the great lesson.


  2. Totally agree. I’m walking it off 🙂

    • Tamara LeBlanc on March 26, 2013 at 10:36 am
    • Reply

    Hi Kristen!
    I love how you compared boxing with writing, the punches, the ring, blow after blow. They’re very similar.
    But I have to say, I’ve been pretty fortunate as far as punches go when it comes to writing (at least as of today). I’ve finaled and won contests, and gotten rejections over the years that I wouldn’t classify as painful.
    These things helped me move forward. They got me where I am, working on my second round edits for my agent.
    But one day when my book is on the shelves and reviews are being read, I’m sure I’ll get a gut shot or two. And hey, before the book is even accepted I’m figuring an editor or three won’t get my voice,,,a rabbit punch to the kidneys.
    But as I’m doing in real life, with my husband’s health and our many trials, I’m picking myself up off the mat and getting back into my stance, ready for more blows.

    I think it’s so cool that you boxed. I took a few classes with my gym years back and LOVED them.
    Hopefully one day I’ll be able to do it again.
    Until then, I’ll continue writing and learning.
    Thanks for your wisdom!
    Have a great afternoon,

  3. Terrific post. I remember once, in the olden days, I got a ms back from a publisher with a form rejection, but tucked inside the pages of the ms was a sheet of notes the reader had forgotten. When I read the very harsh, blunt comments written there, I actually felt eviscerated. It was the most crushing blow I’d ever received; I wandered around in a depressed fog for days. I guess the good news is that I don’t now even remember which publisher it was or what the actual notes said (maybe blocked from my memory?) but the book was subsequently published. I must have learned something from it!

  4. This was amazing. Good comparison to being hit. When I write it’s from the inside out and yes…it both hurts and helps. That’s why those one line critiques that are painful are also completely worthless.

  5. Too many times I let those hits send me to the darkest corner, protecting my softer self. In life as well as in writing. Life just kept right on, leaving me in that dark corner until I got myself a spine (they were on special that month, two for the price of one…I needed several so I stocked up)
    Life’s not going to slow down for me, I have to keep up.

  6. Great post! I was a martial artist too, and even did some ring fighting, so I know exACTly what you mean about those medicine balls, lol, (I also had a sparring partner built like a Mack truck, but that’s a story for a different day…and I ended up being a good boxer because of it). I have to say, the timing is good for me professionally, too. The only thing I would add is that I’m not sure those hits ever become “painless,” or even really slow down much. I think it’s tempting to think there’s an end point, when we’ve “made it” as artists, where none of this will be an issue anymore. People will start to respect what we do and no longer try to tear us down, and all we’ll hear is praise and appreciation and all of our naysayers and detractors will have to eat crow (I hear my bestselling writer friends laughing hysterically at this one). Sadly, that’s just not the case. I also keep thinking I’ve toughened up to the point where certain things won’t hurt me anymore, but that’s simply not true, either, and I’m beginning to think, isn’t even really the point. In the same way that courage is being afraid and going forward anyway…I think perseverance is saying “ouch” but then picking yourself up and doing exactly what you were doing before they hit you. Sure, you can and absolutely should train yourself to blow off critics on a certain level, and put your own voice and instincts above that of others. But feeling nothing is its own kind of own kind of danger, so it’s not about learning not to say “ouch” but more about learning not to change course solely because someone made you feel bad about yourself or your work, or letting negative people gut your self-confidence to the point that you give up or stop listening to yourself. Sadly, there are just too many people who get their self-esteem off tearing others down. There is a lot of jealousy and repressed anger out there, too, often by people too paralyzed to do the kind of things they’d *really* like to be doing, for emotional reasons or financial reasons or whatever else. For some reason, those of us who are optimistic and having fun are the easiest targets, which is where you get that whole cult of “get a real job” and “no one makes a living at writing/art/whathaveyou” crap. To me, those are the truly dangerous ones, the societal “truisms” that are more about repression and conformity than reality, and designed to cause idealistic people to give up on themselves. So, yeah. Onward!

    • SweetSong on March 26, 2013 at 10:49 am
    • Reply

    Hehehe, suck it up, princess, work harder! Love the post!

    • J. F. Smith on March 26, 2013 at 10:52 am
    • Reply

    Hi Kristen, I loved this one! I completely agree with you – and the fitness / boxing metaphor resonates with me, too. (I make sure to sweat every day. It saves my sanity and allows me to eat Nutella.)

    Funny that I’ve employed the same flash fiction as you. I actually challenged my readers to do a 100 word story yesterday. I recently published a 50 word story, too – that was insanely difficult. Feel free to check it out!

  7. Talk about a well timed word! I just got one of those sucker punches yesterday from my husband of all people! OUCH!
    I saw the ball coming, just didn’t fully realize that it weighed TWELVE POUNDS! Did I cry like a wimpy little girl, yes I did. But then I picked myself up off the floor, pulled up my emails and read the pages upon pages of them all from people I barely know telling me how great of a writer I really am and how much my writing means to them.
    I’m finding that as a writer we have to have that soft underbelly to really write effectively and connect with the audience, yet still have the strength in that belly to withstand the blows that will come around. The two CAN coincide in the same belly, strength and softness. It’s just knowing when to use which belly. 😉
    Thank you so much for the time you spend here schooling us newbies! Your words are encouraging and FUNNY!
    GOD BLESS YOU!!!!!

  8. I received an embarrassing comment about a grammar mistake. Grammar is my nemesis, and I worry myself sick about misplaced commas and hanging verbs. Now I view sentences as the enemy, and I size up each one and look for bombs. I’m overdoing it, but eventually I’ll relax.

  9. Wow Kristen, you know how to heave that ball. Not crying this time. I know every word your typed is true, and I’m working diligently to achieve my life’s dream of this novel being published. Going to purchase Les Edgerton’s book “Hooked”. That’s one of my weak points too. Thank you for your blog.

  10. Great post – informative and entertaining – my favorite kind! 🙂

  11. I just started writing three years ago. I was not a closet writer, but an artist After telling a story one day, my friend suggested writing it down. I started slowly, but once I started blogging two years ago, I really found my passion.
    I took my hits early. I used to blog at and wrote flash fiction there as well. I would get critique in comments and learned a lot from it.
    I think because I am so new to the craft, I don’t take it personally at all. We’ll see how I feel after betas read. I just know that my book club has been reading best sellers for years, and not once has everyone liked a book. Why would I put mine above Ian McEwan?

  12. Ha! I just wrote about this same thing with a little different twist:
    And you are right….the jabs do hurt.

    • Aerisa on March 26, 2013 at 12:04 pm
    • Reply

    Great stuff as always! I never thought of hurting places just being somewhere I need to strengthen. Will be working on building those areas up 🙂

    • Kris Lynn on March 26, 2013 at 12:05 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Kristen – I love your blogs. You’ve helped me a lot with your words of wisdom, so well written and timely for where I am in my journey from amateur to pro writer. I guess it’s lucky for me that I have a great group of writer friends and critiquers AND that I am a member of RWA and a local chapter – hence my thicker-that-would-be underbelly. Lots of stories about blows to the ego and upper cuts to the confidence from others who have been in the ring have prepared me somewhat for rejection (emphasis on somewhat!;-) ).

    But seeing myself as sparring with success (not failure–) is a good metaphor for the strategizing one should do to break through and deliver that final punch – an undeniably good story.. Thank you!

    1. It is a SUPER TOUGh journey, and many outsiders really don’t appreciate what writers go through to become professionals. So many people believe because we have command of our native tongue then novels must be EASY. I am thrilled I can keep you encouraged. So much of this job is mental.

  13. Hey Kristen, I wait for your blogs every now and then as a boostful energy tablets. Wonderful post, I believe you are blessed with the art of identifying writer’s pros and cons with the daily routine. The way you relate pity topics to writer’s subconscious mind is overwhelming. Keep producing such brilliant pieces.

    1. Well, it’s comments like yours that keep me going. I love serving and encouraging you guys and I breathlessly await the stories of your success :D.

  14. You are impressive, Kristen, boxing training is not trivial. My neighbors are professional boxing trainers and promoters. I understand the pain you went through.

    Every critique hurts a little and I really liked the “Hits can reveal weakness” reference. Great lessons to learn.

    • Paul on March 26, 2013 at 1:39 pm
    • Reply

    You are right on target with this comparison, Kristen. I’ve started seeking various kinds of reaction ranging from the plain reader to the highly critical and I’ve found the hits beneficial to seeing my weak points and improving as a writer.

  15. I was an ex-dancer in martial arts too and totally get the kick thing! This is so timely, since I’m working through “hits can reveal weakness” phase now and learning to strengthen my writing core. Thanks for the great book tips, Kristen.

    1. We are always strengthening or we are dying ;). Keep pressing!

  16. I agree that an epic fail is often the best way to learn. 🙂 You gotta shrug off the bruise and learn in order to keep building your career.

  17. Excellent analogy wrapped in wit and humor. Advice to keep handy and practice. Thank you.

  18. Kristen, better than I could have written it. I use boxing as a metaphor all the time. I sometimes get funky looks because people bring up the brutality of boxing.

    1. Yeah, because writing isn’t brutal, LOL.

      1. True. What I like about boxing is the idea of getting up when you are down. The writer Joyce Carol Oates wrote a book years ago called On Boxing. I would love to do a workshop with you one day again!

    • stephscottil on March 26, 2013 at 3:31 pm
    • Reply

    Great points about learning to take a hit and also learning from it.

    Flash fiction is TOUGH. Especially 500 words. I’ve tried a few times with mixed results… but definitely a good tool to sharpen writing.

  19. Kristen you are sooooo right. I learn along time ago about taking punches. I also learned that if I don’t write, my head will explode.

    I always learn something from every post, you go girl!

    1. Thank you, William ((HUGS))

  20. Dang, I should have taken that “Flash Fiction” course in college! Oh well, I’m off to learn how to tighten up my prose. THANK YOU!

  21. Reblogged this on a spoonful of snarky and commented:
    Cause Kristen always has amazing advice!

  22. Great analogy. I’d like to link to this on my Facebook page, if I may…

    1. Link and share away!

  23. I have never taken Martial Arts of any kind; I enjoy watching it in movies. But I would think; the legs are stronger and it could cause more damage. Steven Seagal used mostly the hands and arms and upper body with Aikido. He is a big guy and he shoves people around in the movies. I had to look up “poseur” on the search textbox of Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. I am not worried about being punched in the stomach. I guess; I can go back doing bended knee toe-touches. I hate sit-ups. Power walking helps getting a flat stomach and some people add moving the arms around while walking. Note the added “power” and not leisurely walking. You did have a fear filled childhood if you studied Tae Kwon Do starting at 13. It is popular with the children at the Philippines because of constant talk of invasion from China to Americans (take back Subic and Clark) and Japanese for food probably like WW2. They are tired of eating only tuna and no energy to cook it. They need our coconuts for 100 percent coconut cooking oil and the coconut shells for charcoal grilling. Martial Arts are mostly self-defense like Aikido and Kung Fu, but Tae Kwon Do is intended for attack or offense. Anyway, back to writing. Psychological Warfare does not bother me because I know it is psychology. I usually say something like; I am not impressed with your success. And I am not. I prefer my solitude. Social Media is like TV. I can turn it off when I want my solitude. In person, I ignore them.

  24. I relate to this on multiple levels. A very harsh critique group writer trashed my story early on, which set a fire under me that served me extremely well. (That’s not to say that I didn’t shed a few tears in the interim…)

  25. Funny this post appeared today. I got hit with my own medicine ball. I’ve written four erotic romance for one publisher and things have gone very smoothly and probably contributed to my feelings of complacency about my writing abilities. I wrote another book in a different genre and subbed to a different publisher. It was accepted and I’ve been waiting for edits. Today the email comes saying, “The person who recommended this book to acquisitions doesn’t work here anymore and now that we’ve had other people look at it, we’re kind of regretting having entered into a contract with you.” I’m paraphrasing, but only slightly.

    Many of the comments quite rightly pointed out some weak writing. I’ve matured a lot as a writer since first writing this book and I knew it would need work. But having it called dull and unsophisticated, and suggesting that the readers would be drifting to sleep by the end of the 5th page? Wow.

    So this is my wake-up call. And it hurt like hell. But I’m determined to see it through, and being able to read your suggestions is a huge help. Thank you!

  26. Great advice Kristen. It is about rolling with the punches, and coming back up – better and stronger.

  27. I will agree that we can learn plenty of lessons for all areas of life from boxing. I see this is “Lesson One” so I hope that my “punching things really lowers my stress level” will be included in an upcoming post.
    I’m still working on those “abs of steel” but if it didn’t hurt, I wouldn’t know I was still breathing.
    Thanks for the inspiring words. Your willingness to help all of us “wanna bes” (or maybe I’m the only one) reach our personal best makes you my hero!

  28. The trick with awful comments/reviews is to put it aside until the crying/anger dies a natural death, then see if the comments had any merit. If they don’t, they can be tossed in the round file. If there is a grain of truth, that’s the time to sit and decide whether you do something about it. Never do this when you’re still emotional – everything gets round-filed then, even the useful gems, and your learning will take even longer!

    Good post, Kristen. Thanks.

  29. This post is awesome! (And makes me want to take up boxing or some similar sport, I’ve been wanting to for a while …) I’ve been ‘hit’ about some of my writing being a little too abstract, or the language too dense so that meaning gets lost. Generally that sometimes or in some parts it’s hard to understand. I know it’s a weakness because there is that voice in my head saying *you’re just stupid for not understanding, other people get it!*, and that voice oughtn’t to have a say at all. Just because some people get it doesn’t invalidate the opinions and feedback of those who are just as into reading/writing and offer me the viewpoint that I might need to work on my writing’s density and abstractness. 🙂 I figure it’s about finding a balance so I can keep writing in the way that people who do get my writing can keep on getting it and incorporating new techniques or little changes to my style so that more of those who don’t understand can begin to. I’ve gotta work on it so more can get it, is what I think. I would like to reach a wide audience someday, after all, who wouldn’t like to?

    I might filch your idea to write flash fiction regularly in order to learn economy with words/language – I imagine that would help me work on this particular deal.

    This post, again, awesome. 😀 Have a great week.

  30. Reblogged this on hic sunt verba.

  31. The Olympic Committee changed the rules for the upcoming Summer Olympics, doing away with headgear (for the male boxers, not the female.) They determined that headgear in fact decreased safety. Lesson? Eschew the safe route, it will only hurt in the long run? Padding your word count comes at the expense of your story’s clear vision? Anybody?

    1. Good analysis and I HATED head gear. Totally wipes out peripheral vision so you get hit more often.

    • kjwaters on March 26, 2013 at 10:06 pm
    • Reply

    Getting myself in shape to avoid the hit to the underbelly. Loved your post and thanks for passing along your words of wisdom. Now back to writing!

  32. l also love tae kwon do and your analogy is great. The school of hard knocks does wonders for keeping the ego under tight rein. Appreciate your encouraging posts.

  33. As a newbie I guess I can be compared to a bleeder in boxing terms. I’m still learning this craft and all the complexities of the writing industry so I know I’m vulnerable to the occasional sucker punch. But I’m learning to bob and weave and throw a good counterpunch. Your blog has become a part of my training regimen. One day I’ll be able to go the distance. One day I’ll be a contender! I loved the boxing analogy Kristen. Your posts are always so interesting!

  34. Awesome stuff. I think those hits can be plotted as the turning points for us. But do those turning points go up or down? A high school teacher told me she didn’t believe I wrote my term paper, and gave me a zero. Then, I became a writer. A college prof told me maybe college wasn’t for me. So, I didn’t finish college, but I got off academic probation. ha!

    Now I need someone to tell me Kirsten Dunst will never fall in love with me. I’ll show ’em.

  35. It’s helpful to get these reminders. A proverb on this–“If you get kicked, let it kick you forward.” Thanks

    • Rachel Thompson on March 27, 2013 at 9:35 am
    • Reply

    Somebody hit me please. The problem with many critique partners in my 180 member writer’s group is they don’t hit with precision. Vague, powerless jabs or ill informed punches aren’t helpful. (BTW I was a kick boxer. I know what a good hit is.) Inexperienced critique partners soft peddle or punch at things that aren’t there like dust bunnies. Critique is good , bad critique is pointless.

    1. Rachel, in defense of those lightweight critiquers. all too often if you do use a hard punch to review you get pilloried by people who want only unicorn poop and rainbow fart critiquing. Or even worse, people who are so far behind in their skills they don’t even understand Point of View.

      1. LOL, I love the “unicorn poop and rainbow fart” critiquing. We don’t grow with that stuff for sure!

    2. This is why I recommend reading good craft books. If we understand the rules, we know good critique and, if worse comes to worse, we can use those tools for self-critique.

  36. Oh, I loved this today! Many years ago, I stayed in the ring a long time but not long enough. I had many reads, a lot of rejections, took many hits but kept going..for a while. 10 years later, I’m back, older, wiser and with skin that’s slightly thicker but there are days where it would still be all too easy to walk out of the ring. What a great reminder that the difference between achieving my writing goals and not achieving them has a lot less to do with *them* ie, the agents and publishers, and much more to do with *me* and my endurance. Thank you.

  37. Reblogged this on Life is a story. Write it. and commented:
    Succinct post on how to take writing like a man (or woman who can beat up said man)!

  38. Kristen, thanks for the reminder of the importance of soaking up learning from all sources. I can easily persuade myself that I’m too busy or too educated or too SOMETHING to need to keep reading good books about writing. I’m going to look up some of those titles.

  39. . Scene & Structure, Plot & Structure, Story Engineering, Save the Cat, and The Writer’s Journey
    I bought them two weeks ago. The Writer’s Journey arrived yesterday. I’ll remember “hooked” for when I’m finished with these!
    Great post. I might want to look into some flash fiction next. I definitely need to become better at tightening up. But I think I first need to get better with structure to be able to prepare my stories before I write them. Haha.

  40. Kristen, writing can be a long, difficult journey and like you said, one that will reveal weaknesses. I worked with a former editor from New York until I learned that she loathed romance–my genre and that it was a bad fit. I took my lumps there and a huge loss to my wallet. Now I have someone who understands romance and can give me pertinent feedback. Still, in my latest WIP, she said chapter 13 should be chapter 1. That’s hard to recover from and even harder to make it happen. Another time I’ll need to suck-it-up and take my lumps. Thank you for your words of inspiration and encouragement.

  41. Kristin, I just took my first hit. I am working toward my “pro” status and feeling that I might have stepped into the ring without enough training (and this is not like me!–I am an OVER TRAINER!) I am quoting your blog in my next blog (“FREE WATERSKIING”) because I don’t know exactly how to link back to your blog! Thanks for all your words and VERY helpful advice. You’re words are getting me through this–hoping to be a stronger and more determined writer.

  1. […] « How Boxing Can Make Us Better Writers—Lesson One […]

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