A Writer’s Training

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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