English: Print circa 1824 of the boxer Tom Spring. This image has been modified and edited by the uploader from the book cover of Tom Spring, Bare-Knuckle Champion of All England by Jon Hurley. ISBN: 0752424041. Original work is public domain by virtue of age (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Sometimes when people talk to me about writing, they’re not really talking about writing. They don’t want to know how I get story ideas, or write believable characters. They want to know how I worked up the huevos to step into that weird publishing world. I suppose there’s some pat answers available. The hackneyed “just do it”, or the accurate but kinda snarky “I just don’t think about it”. There is a little more to it though if you want to know.
I trained for several years in Krav Maga, an Israeli developed system of fighting and self-defense. It’s a no frills system, no forms or meditation, just straight forward techniques designed to end fights quickly. The basis of the training is drilling those moves over and over in increasingly adrenalized/physically tired states.
But then there were the fighting classes. These were full classes dedicated to contact sparring. They were brutal and they were awesome. You never knew quite how a class would go. One night might be all stand up handwork, the next might be kickboxing, another might be anything goes. Yes, that includes groin shots.
I’ll never forget my first class because I got my ass handed to me. There’s just no way to be prepared to fight twenty other people for an hour. I think Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the face.” There’s so much going on, so much to learn that it’s overwhelming. So what do you do?
You get hit. There’s no point in sugar coating it. You’re going to get hit. But taking a hit isn’t the end of the world. When you realize that, you can stop worrying so much about it and concentrate on doing things that make you get hit less often. Some of the hits you take as an author are inevitable, a bad review maybe. Some will be on you, say a bad book cover. Work on the ones you can and ignore the rest.
You are scared. The fight or flight reflex is one reflex for two different outcomes. There’s no value judgment. Your lizard brain feels the same whether you stand and bang or un-ass the area. Since you’re going to feel that regardless, don’t let it rule you. Let it happen and keep moving. I’ve only got two titles out there. Maybe when I have ten it’ll go from sheer terror to anxious excitement when I hit the publish now button. But there will always be some kind of nerves.
You don’t get it all the first time…or maybe even the second time. So, don’t try. Pick one thing to focus on per class. You can still do everything else, but really get that one thing down. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it could be as simple as keeping your guard up, but do it with intent.
If you know you don’t write great dialog, really focus on that. If you want to have consistent output on your blog, focus on that. Write a list of things you want to learn or improve. Start at the top and give time to each one. I don’t care if it’s a month or a day, as long as you focus on getting that one thing right.
You stay positive. If you’re working on your guard while sparring here’s what you shouldn’t say to yourself, “Don’t drop your hands, don’t drop your hands.” Instead you should be saying, “Keep your hands up!, Keep your hands up!” It might sound like a small difference, unimportant. The difference in mindset is huge, and the difference in performance is out of all proportion to the change in wording. Learn how to stay positive even when it doesn’t seem warranted. That can keep you going when you want to stop.
You don’t do it alone. Not if you’re smart anyway. I lucked out and had some truly great instructors in Krav, but it wasn’t just the teachers. The students were all there to learn together and make each other better fighters.
I’ve written about the community out there for indie authors. Take advantage of it. Join some discussion groups and talk to other authors, trade war stories. Subscribe to writing podcasts, or hell, make one of your own. Watch the Books and Beer Hangout and get in on the Q&A. It might be cool to be a brooding loner, but friendly folks have more fun (and get more sales).
You never stop learning. If you go to a fight class for a year, you’ll be an entirely different fighter from when you started. Possibly no longer recognizable. But there will still be a ton to learn, or infinite ways to refine what you have learned. You’ll have to learn how to fight a southpaw, or someone a foot taller than you, or how to use your footwork to take control your opponent’s reach. It never stops. That’s a good thing. How would you feel if one day you realized you had it all down, there was nothing left to discover?