A Writer’s Training
John Irving is the author of twelve books, including “The World According to Garp,” “A Prayer For Owen Meany,” and most recently, “Last Night on Twisted River.” Over his career he has won a National Book Award, an Academy Award for his adaptation of “The Cider House Rules,” and many other honors, and has been translated into over thirty languages. A former competitive wrestler, he splits his time between Vermont and Montreal.
Question: Has wrestling helped your writing career as well?
John Irving: Well, I've been more successful as a writer than I was as a wrestler, I never won a major tournament as a wrestler. I got close, but anybody who has done any sport knows that close doesn't make you happy. I did it for a long time. I competed as a wrestler for twenty years, from the age of fourteen until I was thirty-four, maybe too long given the arthritis in my fingers and neck. But it was the first discipline I was exposed to. It was the first thing that I applied myself to with a tremendous amount of focus and determination. And as a young kid, you know, as an early teenager, you can be more proficient athletically at a younger age than you can ever expect to be as a writer as a fourteen, fifteen, sixteen year old.
My pursuits of wrestling and writing were simultaneous, they happened simultaneously. They came together. I began writing and wrestling at the age of fourteen. But for a number of years, of course, I was rewarded as a wrestler, I could see my progress as a wrestler long before I recognized any discernible progress as a fiction writer. But it was terribly useful to me to apply myself to this discipline. There was so much repetition involved that I think it has helped me, the wrestling, as a writer, because of how much revision, rewriting, is a part of my writing process and I think I have developed the stamina or the expectation that rewriting is part of the job, an essential part of the job. I think that comes from my training as an athlete.
Recorded on: October 30, 2009
While John Irving may have never won a major championship as a wrestler, his experience in the sport has equipped him with the stamina and discipline necessary to struggle through the repetitions and revisions of novel writing.
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