There’s a new featurette for King Arthur, the Guy Ritchie-directed retelling of the Arthur legend, that highlights how star Charlie Hunnam’s training involved sometimes throwing 1,000 punches a day. It’s an interesting factoid and certainly shows how Warner Bros. is selling the movie as an intense action flick. But it also resonated with me as a writer.
Each word we put after the previous one, each sentence we string together and each paragraph we construct is a punch. We’re swinging left and right and just trying to connect. We’re hoping that this one is a little better than the ones that preceded it, that this one is going to connect with our audience in a way that previous ones might not have. We take stock of what’s before us, take aim and take our best shot, just hoping to make contact.
Some of us are better than others, to be sure. Most anyone can throw a punch, but only some have real talent to make that connection. It’s hard to really make an impact, though, and that’s where you can tell who really has the talent and who’s just throwing wild haymakers all around them with no rhyme, reason or training.
When a boxer enters the ring or a fighter enters the battle, the ideas is to hit the person in front of you. The best punches aren’t the ones that are thrown without care of where they land but the ones that are specifically directed to make the biggest impression. Similarly, the best writing has a very specific target in mind. I can say from experience that the best pieces I’ve ever written have been those where I had someone very specific in mind as the audience. I wanted it to connect with X person, or at least someone like them. Those are the punches that work best, not the ones launched indiscriminately into the world in the hope they land somewhere useful, though you’re not sure what that means.
The idea that repetition leads to improvement isn’t a new one. Malcolm Gladwell certainly didn’t invent the concept, though he popularized it for a bit. It’s more about doing the same thing over and over again, though. It’s about learning a little something from each punch you throw, each word you write, that makes the next one better. Reviewing old work is rarely a pleasant experience for any writer, but it’s a useful exercise just like reviewing tapes of past fights or games or whatever it is you’re doing. There’s something from the past that will help you tomorrow.
Go throw your (metaphorical) punches and make what you’re doing today better than what you did yesterday.