The martial and literary arts have more in common than you might think

My kung fu school now offically offers Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Today I spent my lunch hour doing BJJ with one guy who weighs 225 and has a green belt in judo and our sifu, who weighs less but knows more.

2014-09-21 12.17.55So far, these have been my stages in doing BJJ:

  • I don’t know what this guy is doing and it might hurt. Better tap.

  • I know what this guy is doing and it hurts. Better tap.

  • I know what this guy is doing and I try to get away. But he just cinches in tighter. I tap.

  • I know what this guy is doing and I try to get away. But he gets me in a different position. I end up tapping.

  • I know what this guy is doing but I have a game of my own. I try something. He gets away. He tries something. I get away. But eventually I can't escape, and I tap.

  • Just like the above, only sometimes I get the other guy to tap!

As in kung fu, sometimes the best thing seems like the worst idea. Like getting closer to the guy holding the knife can be the best thing, or rolling toward the person who was just behind you choking you.

After class, Sifu asked me how many books I had written and how the process has changed over time. The answer was 17 published + 2 done but not yet published + 1 half-done + the 3 I wrote before I got published + the 4 I wrote after I got published but that never found a home (none were mysteries or thrillers, which might explain why. Maybe).

That equals 27 books! Which explains why I can now write a book in a compressed timeline and without a super-clear idea of where it's going and still pull it off. So the more you write, the more you know about writing. And the more you grapple or do kung fu, the more you know about grappling or kung fu down in your marrow, deep down past thought. The more you trust the process.

Like in my current WIP, The Girl I Used to Be, I needed this character Jason to be a tweaked-out trucker. And I could write him tweaked out and paranoid or I could write him talking to his ex-wife about who might have killed their old friends years ago, but I couldn't write both parts of the chapter. They refused to go together, even though it said in my outline that that should happen.2014-09-20 10.37.02 And I realized I had to listen to my characters. Like there was no way if Jason acted that crazy that Heather was going to give him the kids for the week, no matter what their custody agreement called for. Also, they wouldn't have discussed anything. They would have been at each other's throats. And once I trusted my gut and stopped thinking and stopped insisting the book had to follow my outline and just wrote, it worked itself out. Just like going into grappling and thinking I am going to do this cool butterfly choke no matter what and missing plenty of opportunities to do other great things and never even doing your butterfuly choke.

Every day or at least every month, I'm getting to be better at kung fu/BJJ/writing.  But I don't think I'll ever be this good: