Facing the Truth About Your WIP: Advice from Rocky III

Filed in When Writing Is Hard by on September 16, 2014 • views: 2917

Rocky-3CWhat does a writer feel when tackling a new project?

Excitement? Yep, I’m feeling that. Challenge? Definitely, in a good way. Enjoyment? Absolutely—really taking my time with this work and loving it.

But there’s something else that’s a little harder to admit to.

It’s different for me this time around than it was for my earlier works. Then, I was a newbie just trying to break in. Now, I’ve got two books (a fantasy novel and a literary novel) signed with publishers—the first coming out soon (hopefully before the end of the year), and the second in the beginning of 2016.

According to the contract, my literary publisher wants first look at this next work—so obviously, I’m hoping they’ll like it enough to offer a deal on it.

I should feel super confident. The Beached Ones has been named as a finalist in three contests so far this year. I’ve completed the first draft and am working on the second.

But this is the most challenging project I’ve undertaken yet. The process leaves me alternately elated and, well, shall we say, troubled?

I think most writers with at least one novel under their belt will know what I’m talking about.

What are we feeling here?


What to do?

An interesting solution occurred to me this past weekend: How about watch a Rocky movie?

Has It All Been Real?

The movie: Rocky III. (Bear with me—I have a point.) Rocky is the heavyweight champion. He’s living on the top of the world, winning fight after fight to maintain his title.


Rocky says a tearful goodbye to his beloved coach, Mickey.

The setup: When killer fighter Clubber Lang (played by Mr. T) challenges Rocky to a fight, Rocky’s original coach, mentor, and father figure, Mickey Goldmill, reveals he’s been hand-picking Rocky’s opponents to protect him. Clubber is a killer, and Mickey’s afraid for Rocky’s safety.

Rocky is confident and convinces Mickey to go one more fight with him, but just before the big event, Mickey collapses with chest pain. Completely lost without his beloved coach, Rocky is knocked out in the second round. Bloody and bruised, he goes back to check on his friend, but gets just enough time to say goodbye before the man’s heart stops beating for good.

Rocky & Apollo

Rocky gives up the race—essentially giving up on himself.

The scene: Apollo Creed, the former heavyweight champion Rocky beat to win the title in Rocky II, convinces Rocky to go for a rematch with Lang. Rocky agrees, but his heart isn’t in it, and no one can get through to him.

At one point, as part of Rocky’s training, he and Apollo engage in a foot race on the beach. About halfway through, Rocky slows and stops, giving up.

Dismayed, Apollo exclaims, “It’s over.” Finally, Rocky’s wife, the ever-supportive Adrian, who’s been witnessing her husband’s half-hearted attempts to get back in shape, steps up to talk to him.

This is the scene that strikes me as apropos when it comes to writers facing a work-in-progress, particularly that second or third novel, the one that comes after we’ve been published, after we’re supposed to have proven ourselves as writers.

It’s all been a fluke so far, we think. They’re going to discover us this time. They’re going to find out the truth.

“Why couldn’t Mickey tell me where he was really at right from the start?” Rocky says. “He didn’t have to carry me and lie to me and make me think I was better than I really was when I wasn’t.”

Adrian says Mickey loved him and was trying to protect him.

“That protectin’ don’t help nothin’,” Rocky says. “It only makes things worse. You wake up after a few years thinkin’ you’re a winner, but you’re not. You’re really a loser. And so we wouldn’t have had the title as long. So what? At least it would have been real, Adrian.”

“It was real!”

“Nothing is real if you don’t believe in who you are!”

Facing the Demon Again

And so it all comes down to the demon of self-doubt once again.

Even after a couple successes, it returns, maybe even worse than it was before those successes.

Meryl Streep:

“You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie?’ And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?”

Maya Angelou:

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”

Where does this self-doubt come from? Why does it rear its ugly head again after we’ve experienced some success, when we should be more confident than ever?

Rocky’s convinced he’s finished. Adrian knows something else is going on. She pushes him. What’s the truth?

“I don’t want to lose what I got,” Rocky says.

“What do we have that can’t be replaced?” Adrian says. “What? A house. We got cars. We got money. We got everything but the truth. What’s the truth, dammit?”

“I’m afraid! All right?” Rocky says. “You want to hear me say it? You want to break me down? All right. I’m afraid.”

Do It for You, Alone

How often do we shy away from the blank page? Find something else we have to do instead? Go for weeks without writing?

What is the truth, dammit?

You’re afraid. I’m afraid. The problem is we rarely admit it. We rarely identify our avoidance behaviors as fear.

Adrian tells Rocky he has no reason to feel guilty over the way he carried his championship. He did what everyone expected him to do. But in the end, she tells him, it doesn’t matter what she believes or what she tells him.


Adrian asks Rocky: “What’s the truth, dammit?”

“Apollo thinks you can do it. So do I. But you, you gotta wanna do it for the right reasons. Not for the guilt over Mickey. Not for the people. Not for the title. Not for money or me, but for you. Just you. Just you alone.”

“And if I lose?”

“Than you lose. At least you lose with no excuses. No fear. And I know you can live with that.”

If you’re a writer, your story stays in your head. You can run away from it all you want, but it stays. The characters wait, impatiently. The theme taunts you. The empty pages mock your cowardice. It doesn’t really matter if you feel like you’re up to it or not. If you don’t get back in there and give it all you’ve got, what will you be left with?

The fear. The self-doubt.

And who wants to live with that?

[Note to self: Insert “Eye of the Tiger” music here and get back to work.]

Rocky III Victory

Rocky battles it out for victory.

Have you faced fear when working on your WIP?

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Comments (5)

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  1. So good, Colleen. I feel like I just got my own private coaching session. I’ll read it again tomorrow. Thank you.

  2. Joey E says:

    What an awesome article! I am not a writer per se, but I have several creative outlets that I tend to neglect when I get too busy or feel too tired. This article was like a shot of adrenaline for me! Thank you for motivating me to get my creative juices flowing again; I look forward to exploring more at Writing and Wellness…

  3. Elizabeth Brooks says:

    Thanks for the comment! ‘The Beached Ones’ sounds really intriguing too, can’t wait to read the finished product…