Tattoos and Rocky

My first tattoo was no small flash in a fleshy part of the body or a tribal band around a low-nerve region: it was thick, dark, and required the needle gun to run up my collarbone. The vibration scraped down to my sternum. All of this was manageable as I’d zoned out like the body and mind mandates when undergoing sustained pain. Then when my artist pulled the gun away and turned her back I relaxed and smiled, pleased we were done. Not too bad.

Of course, I was wrong. She was just reloading. The next minutes were excruciating as I worked to get back to that happy place but my mind wouldn’t make the leap. Like it was saying “boy, this wasn’t the deal. You bamboozled me and now we both have to hurt for it.” But I didn’t know: one, this was all new to me, and two, I couldn’t see to verify (try looking at all your clavicle without a mirror). But after all the pain, it was worth it—my next dozen tats serve as confirmation.

If you want to see the rest you’ll have to buy me dinner. I’m cheap, not free.

If you want to see the rest you’ll have to buy me dinner. I’m cheap, not free.

The life of a writer (or my life as a writer, anyway) is full of rejection. Sharp needles jabbing into your ego, over and over again. Like that first tattoo, I don’t know when the pain will end. Worse, I can’t be certain it will turn out like I want—or that I’ll even end up with a visible result. As though there’s no ink in the gun, and I’ve endured it all for nothing.

It stings. Especially when you go through the proper process: you read the blogs and articles that preach proper etiquette, you do your research and find agents who rep books that are similar but not too similar (and, of course of course, when you’re not writing you’re reading lots of books in your genre to know those matches), you meet them at conferences or query them on the basis of their MSWL or their recent interview or their tweets or agency profile that shows you two should be like peas and carrots and you tell them all this while sounding totally professional, not at all obsequious or stalkerish. You do all of this and it works, s/he requests the first 10 or 50 pages or even the whole damned book and you think, finally it is in a professional’s hands—I’ve made it through the hoops and now the writing will speak for itself.

And they say they like it, just not enough. But keep going, they say, because certainly another agent will see it differently.

Rejection hurts, especially after you believed.

Rocky’s down on the canvas and it’s not the first time this fight. His nose was broken rounds ago. His eyes are swelling shut. He’s so battered that his own trainer tells him to stay down. Everyone has lost faith in him. But he gets back up. He wants it so badly that he has his cutman cut open his eyelid so that he can see for one more round (they don’t usually do that, you know—it’s like a firefighter setting a fire).

Rocky goes the distance. The scorecards are irrelevant because all he wanted was to go the distance. To know that he was good enough.

I find meaning in that. Rocky had one advantage over me though: he knew what the distance was. 15 rounds, they announced it up front, it was the standard length for championship fights at the time, even Lady Liberty carried around glittery numbered cards to remind you what round was coming (helpful as Rock was probably sustaining a large percentage of his overall brain damage).

submittable  is great because it lets you see lots of your failures on one page. Not one screen, mind you—this goes on for 72 entries. On the bright side: two of these stories have since been published.

submittable is great because it lets you see lots of your failures on one page. Not one screen, mind you—this goes on for 72 entries. On the bright side: two of these stories have since been published.

I don’t know what round I’m in. And these shots I’ve taken of late are a lot harder than the jabs from lit mags passing on my short fiction, or the glancing blows struck when agents respond to my slush pile query with a form letter or no response at all because I was all in on this. I was feeling like a contender, a somebody. Getting representation for my novel isn’t the title belt, but it’s a lot more than fighting Spider Rico. Is it going the distance? Because that won’t be enough. Of course, Rocky changed his mind on there not being a rematch and… okay, the analogy becomes a little tortured since success is a succession of fights, some lost, some won, all instructional.

It’s hard to not write a cheesy inspirational close about getting up off the canvas when you’ve been knocked onto it, just like Rocky. And I sure as hell won’t link to that awful 1990’s song that said something similar to that in the hook. Instead I’ll go to a different sport:

The montage

The Rocky Trope.

I love Rocky and enjoy most of the sequels. The original can even bring me to tears.

After everything Rocky's been through, after all he's fought against just to get here, and he's so battered that even his coach is telling him to stay down... sorry, but if that doesn't stir the emotion in you then there's something wrong with you.

Anyway, this isn't about that scene. The Rocky Trope can be described as:

1. Rocky's living his normal life

2. A problem or opportunity disrupts his life

3. He must decide on a solution to that disruption--and one solution presented to him, invariably, is to fight.

4. People and situations in his life support or complicate his decision

5. He decides to fight.

6. He trains for the fight.

7. He fights, and his life becomes a new normal until the sequel.


But what about #6? If the films were true to life, this would be by far the longest, and most boring, section. Day after day of the same thing--sweating in the gym, punching a heavy bag, jumping rope. In a year, a high-level boxer logs ~1000 hours of gym time, plus road running, watching fight video, etc. By comparison, in the last year, the World #1 pound for pound Canelo Alvarez has spent 62 minutes and 24 seconds actually boxing.

So, to keep viewers from falling asleep, Sly Stallone and company gave us The Montage:

The Montage turns Rocky into a movie rather than training film, because nobody (except for other boxers, maybe) wants to watch training film. But boxers will tell you it's all that stuff that gets montaged out that leads to hoisting that belt. 

So what's that have to do with me and you?

Because the last couple of weeks it's been pretty silent here on The Next Episode, and that's because my life has been mostly outwardly boring stuff. To ensure some stability in my life and make more time for writing I've secured an apartment--no more hopping from hotel to hostel. 

everything I need, nothing I don't

everything I need, nothing I don't

And while I've also made plans for a couple of upcoming trips, most of what I've been doing of late is reading, and writing the fiction I came here to write (and if you think watching boxers train is boring, imagine the excitement of watching what I do--there's a reason that there's no reality show called "Who Wants to Be the Next Great Novelist"). That isn't a slight against the blog, because it is writing--it just can't be the writing I prioritize for now.

So you'll likely see fewer posts here for the next months, though when the message fits this medium I'll be sure to share--I do have more things I want to say and show. In the meantime, just imagine me drinking raw eggs, chasing chickens, and running through the snow to elude KGB agents on the way to the top of the steps.

That's how the best writers are made.