Great Writing Advice Learned from Pro-Wrestling, Part One

Unless you’re a wrestling fan, you’ve probably never heard of Al Snow. He was a wrestler, and a damn good one, and he’s spent years behind the scenes training new wrestlers and talking about wrestling and generally holding forth on the state of the industry. Basically, Al Snow is a smart wrestler whose fond of a good rant, and as a fan of wrestling in general I’m okay with paying twenty bucks for an entire DVD full of his rantings.

Some of his rants about wrestling contain remarkably good advice about writing.

For starters, Al Snow never lets you loose sight of the fact that wrestling is a business. It may be fake – it’s always been fake – but the wrestlers job is to get in there and put on a match that allows fans to suspend their disbelief and buy into the illusion that it’s real. This is no different to fiction, at all, and it’s one of the reasons I’m always perplexed when people look down on pro-wrestling.

In Al Snow’s wrestling world, “good” is less valuable than “profitable.” He looks at Wrestlemania III, arguably the biggest and most-watched wrestling show of all time, and challenges the conventional wisdom of wrestling critics that suggests that the technically brilliant match between Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage was better than the headline match between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. The critics aren’t wrong. You can find both that matches on YouTube if you search, and there’s no doubt that watching the athletic display of the former is far more interesting than the plodding actions of the latter.

But people paid to see Hulk Hogan – a charismatic bodybuilder with a five-move arsenal – bodyslam Andre the Giant and that makes it the best match on the card in Al Snow’s world. Hulk-Andre made the company money, it kept people coming back for more, and it had casual fans invested even if the hardcore wrestling fans would rather watch the guys in the midcard.

Replace “Hulk-Andre” with “Twilight” and you’re probably seeing the analogy I’m making. I may not enjoy Twilight as a reader, I may find it enormously problematic, but that doesn’t mean I want it to ease existing. By some objective standards it may qualify as the best book in publishing – it’s not only a blockbuster that generated new readers, but it’s now spawned a second blockbuster (equally maligned) in the form of 50 Shades of Grey.

It’s all very well to get caught up in the art of writing, or in producing the best work you can, but at the end of the day writing and publishing is a business, and business has a pretty useful way of figuring out who wins and who loses.

If you’ve got the most money, you’re the winner on that day. If you’ve got the most money and people are *hanging out* to see what you do next, then you’re the big winner overall.

Given the choice of being Ricky Steamboat or Hulk Hogan, I’d still probably choose to be Steamboat. He was smaller, faster, more  athletic, and over the course of his career he drew plenty of money as a wrestler. People paid to see him wrestle, to see him gain and defend championship belts, to see him face down nemesis after nemesis. He coupled quality matches with the ability to make money, and while he never became the star Hulk Hogan did, you’d be hard pressed to say that he didn’t do okay for himself.

But it’s stupid to look down on Hulk Hogan when what he’s doing works. When what he’s doing is bringing other people to the show, and creating the platform that allows everyone else to earn money as well.

It’s okay to create art, but treat your fucking business like it’s a business. Figure out how it’ll earn you money, ’cause paying rent is one of those things that needs to be done and it’s no fucking fun dying alone and broke in the gutter.

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