A man who’s found success both as a novelist and as a skateboarder says the two diverse professions actually have a great deal in common. Bret Anthony Johnston , an author and a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, is now the director of creative writing at Harvard University. Johnston’s also been a skateboarder for more than 20 years.
Johnston says: “The skills required to be a successful writer or a successful artist of any kind are the same skills that are required for being a successful skateboarder. You really see the world differently than everybody else does and you have a patience and a perseverance and maybe a penchant for masochism in ways that most other people don’t.”
Johnston says he’ll be back in Iowa City in July to teach two courses at the Summer Writing Festival, and is rarely far from his skateboard. He continues the comparison between creating fascinating stories and perfecting your skills on a four-wheeled board.
Johnston says: “You have to be able to stay there, hour after hour, and hurt yourself, do splits on the banister, whack your shins and stay there bleeding and sweating until you can make the trick that you want to make. It’s the same thing for writers. You have to log the hours. You have to look at the world in a different way and be prepared to sit in a chair as long as it takes to render that world and the characters in your imagination truthfully.”
Johnston’s latest book is called “Naming the World,” a collection of writing exercises from 65 people he considers some of the nation’s finest living writers. He says it’s a way for writers to jumpstart their stalled “next great American novel” and hopes it’ll become something of a professional writer’s handbook. Johnston explains the book’s title.
“Without trying to sound too grandiose, I think that’s the job of the writer. I think that’s the job of an artist, to name the world,” Johnson says, “you’re trying to find the absolute ideal combination of letters to make sense of the chaos of existence. You’re trying to name the world in a way that only you can.” The book includes writing tips from a host of acclaimed authors, including: Richard Bausch, Elizabeth McCracken, Joyce Carol Oates, Ann Packer, Tom Robbins and dozens of others.