Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.


Lessons Learned From Fight Camp

One magical moment in time: the fall 2011 Kwest Kickboxing fight camp.

Hello Dear Readers,

I’m doing something a little different this Monday. My life coach has asked me to write about what I learned from training to fight in 2011.

One of the most challenging things about working for myself has been the temptation to treat it like an extended vacation at times. If I don’t feel like working, I take a day off. I spend way too much time on social media. I should have more time than ever, since I’m in complete (almost) control of my schedule, and yet I feel even more disorganized. Here it is, December 16th, and I’ve yet to wrap a single present. My house is a disaster. The tree is up but isn’t decorated. Getting to the dojo is a constant struggle, although I’ve gotten much better at working out at home.

That said, this year hasn’t been a total loss. I’ve written one new novel, am almost finished a second one, and have nearly completed rewriting a third–a project that’s been hanging over my head for a while. I’ve recommitted to posting on this blog three times a week. I did return to kickboxing after a year and a half, although it hasn’t been nearly as consistent as I’d like. I did an insane amount of journalism work. I gained several new clients. I attended a writer’s retreat, a writer’s conference, and explored Curacao. But I’m uncomfortably aware that I could have accomplished so much more with my time.

I really wanted to be in muay thai fight camp. It wasn’t easy. I had to try three times before I finally got in, and even then I had to argue with my coach and convince him to let me do it, probably before I was ready (sorry, Kelly). Then again, maybe the fact that I was willing to fight that hard for it meant I was ready. Who knows? The only way to get better at fighting is to fight. I could train for twenty more years and still not come close to the lessons I learned in that single fight.

I had to train four to five days a week just to be eligible for fight camp, but once I got in, the hard work really began. There were only six of us in the camp–three women and three guys. If a fighter didn’t show up, one person was left without a training partner. So being a part of fight camp meant showing up every single day, whether I felt like it or not. We trained six days a week, every week, for three months, sometimes for four hours a day, and we all had day jobs. It was physically demanding. We trained through injuries and colds and, in my case, a painful heat rash that came from training in sweat-soaked clothes for hours at a time.

Being a part of fight camp meant being okay with being physically and emotionally uncomfortable most of the time. The bumps, bruises, and sprains were nothing compared to the mental anguish. Throughout my training, I struggled with self-doubt and every possible insecurity my brain could throw at me. I sparred with people I was afraid of, who could and did hurt me. I took classes from people I was afraid of, who could and did hurt me. But the anticipation was the worst part of both–waiting for class to begin, wondering what would happen and if I would survive this one.

Was it worth it? Hell, yeah! To this day, I am convinced that the best part of fighting is training to fight. It took over my life, it made me cry, I was scared as hell, but I survived. I never gave up. I emerged immensely proud of myself, with the feeling that I accomplished something that really mattered. People who haven’t stepped into the ring may never understand what one has to go through to get there, but believe me–the worst fighter in the world has mental toughness beyond what most people would ever dream of. It takes so much inner strength just to survive the training, and there were several times I worried that I wouldn’t.

I focused on my fight training to the detriment of everything else. My boyfriend rarely saw me. The friends who saw me were kickboxing and work friends, because I still went to work, although I’m sure my performance suffered. The Human Resources Director strongly suggested that I give it up. I didn’t do any fiction writing, though I still freelanced. Training completely took over my life, because it had to. That’s what I signed up for when I said I wanted to fight.

So why was I able to stick with something that was uncomfortable, physically and mentally painful, and all-consuming, even when I didn’t feel like it?

  • First and foremost, I promised my coach I would and I didn’t want to let him down. (I’m a people pleaser by nature.)
  • Five other people were depending on me, and I didn’t want to let them down (see people pleaser aspect mentioned above).
  • My opponent was training just as hard, if not harder, than I was. Every day I didn’t train would give her the advantage, if only in my mind. Getting your ass kicked and the subsequent public humiliation are excellent motivators.
  • Sticking to an eating plan is a lot easier when you’re weighed in front of the whole team every week and you won’t be able to compete if you don’t hit your goal weight (see public humiliation mentioned above). It’s a heck of a lot more effective than “I want to get in shape” or “I want to look good on the beach” in terms of motivation.
  • I refused to quit. I’d worked hard to get into the camp, and I was going to see it through, no matter what. This same determination helps me meet insane deadlines and write 14,000 words in two days to “win” NaNoWriMo.
So what did I learn about myself, in terms of how I work?
  • I respond best to external deadlines rather than internal.
  • If I’m held accountable to someone else, I’ll work extra hard not to let them down. I don’t like letting myself down, either, but I’m very forgiving when it comes to me. If I don’t feel like working on my book one day, I will give myself a pass. But I did not expect my fight camp partners to think it was okay if I didn’t feel like training and used that as an excuse not to show up. None of us felt like training. We did it anyways.
  • Sometimes I need a loaded gun to my head. While my goals are important to me, they are long-term goals. Three months may seem like a long time, but it really wasn’t. Every single second of training was precious. If I had someone telling me that in three months, I had to finish my book and submit it or something terrible would happen–for real–I’d probably be a lot more motivated.
  • I will endure discomfort, fear, and illness to persevere when I really want something. While I really want to achieve my current goals, the time frame is loose enough that it’s easy to let days slip away without realizing how much time has passed.
Since I’m not bound to get a coach who will scream at me if I don’t write everyday, or fail to send that query letter, or when I crash with a book when I should be organizing my office, I don’t know how to apply these lessons to my work life.
Do any of you have suggestions? Have you faced similar struggles, and if so, what worked for you? Have you ever done something like fight camp and used what you learned to help you in other areas of your life?
Would love to hear your thoughts! I can really use the help.
The moment of truth: November 5, 2011.
Thanks for reading!
1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.


  1. Ashley Wilhite

    Great job on the post, Holli! Two things I noticed:

    1. You said, “I really wanted to be in muay thai fight camp. It wasn’t easy. I had to try three times before I finally got in, and even then I had to argue with my coach and convince him to let me do it…” and “I will endure discomfort, fear, and illness to persevere when I really want something.”

    Do you feel that same passion and determination with your writing? From your recent track record, it doesn’t really seem like it.

    2. “I focused on my fight training to the detriment of everything else.”

    Is that the kind of lifestyle you want with your writing? If not, you cannot expect similar results. You gave up a lot to become a fighter. What are you willing to give up to become a successful writer?

  2. TAH

    Ah! I know what you mean about the freelancing! I sort of have a love/hate relationship with making my own schedule. I never feel like I get enough done unless I get a specific deadline!:-)

    Oh wow!!!!!!!! Fight camp sounds intense! That is amazing you made it in, and stuck with it! I can’t imagine the mental strain! You = awesome!

  3. Holli Moncrieff

    Thanks for the comments, ladies!

    @ Ashley: I really appreciate the feedback, and I hope this post helped shed light on a few things.

    I actually do feel that same passion and determination for my writing. The difference is, writing never goes away. To sustain that kind of passion forever, every single day, for the rest of my life, is difficult, if not impossible–at least for me. All the things that come with writing–like submitting my work and rewriting–I definitely do not feel any passion for.

    I’ve done fight camp-like stints of writing this year–the 30,000 words on the writing retreat and NaNoWriMo spring to mind. But can I do that indefinitely, with no breaks, for the rest of my life? I don’t think I can.

    As for giving things up, I’ve already given up taking care of my home and myself. I gave up going to the gym for almost two years in order to write instead. I need to figure out how to use my time more wisely so I can fit in time to take care of other things that need to be done as well. Ignoring my bf, friends, and any kind of personal or home life is feasible for three months, but for the rest of my life? Not so much.

    @ Tana: I know, setting your own deadlines and sticking to them can be really tough. It’s one of the biggest challenges I faced this year. I’m great at meeting other people’s deadlines.

    Thanks for the kind words. It was definitely intense. One of the most difficult experiences I have ever gone through.

  4. Melinda O'Neill

    Bringing a gun to a knife fight…

    I think a lot of us are in our “end of year reflection” mode and your post was good input for that.

    The thing that jumped out to me in your post was the word “training”.

    With your writing you are already in the big ring, showing up for the doing and being part, expecting to have world class results like you did in the ring after months of training.

    I guess I would turn it around (and am asking myself a similar question right now). Like you, I’m a type A and have proven in the past that I can conquer big mountains. But this life, this writer life requires a different set of skills for the climb. So how do we identify where are we lacking and how can we get that training?

    Your fight training was sturctured. You had to show up and you had someone guding you through it, helping you see your weaknesses. How can you find a writing mentor who can help you do that in your writing life, who can help you develop the different needed skills?

    Discipline is good and necessary. But I don’t think it’s enough. Building strength in the wrong muscles is as bad as not doing the work at all. We have to devleop the ones we need for this climb up this particular mountain.

  5. Boxing scientist

    That’s really impressive. I thought that only professionals did that sort of high intensity fight camp.

    Most amateurs just don’t have time for it, even if they wanted to, and have the courage and endurance to get through it. But judging by your earlier post on the Good Ol’ Days you have plenty of both http://thekickboxingwriter.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/good-ol-days.html

    It’s odd how addictive combat sports can be but I never had the chance to do a camp like that. I guess we made up for it by getting in the ring often, even three times in the same day.

    Many congratulations on your achievement (have you got more pictures or video of your fight)

  6. Holli Moncrieff

    Thanks for your comments! Much appreciated.

    @ Melinda: Ha! I’m actually far from Type A. If I was Type A, I’d get a hell of a lot more accomplished. But I still do considered myself to be in training–I’m in training when I read, when I write, when I go to my writer’s meetings, when I attend writer’s conferences, when I enter contests. All these things are teaching me to be a better writer.

    I have no idea how one finds a writing mentor. I’ve never had one. I’ve had great teachers, and I have a phenomenal developmental editor who knows when I haven’t done my best and always pushes me to be better. The main thing holding me back right now is a lack of discipline and, more than anything else, a lack of submitting. I can write a million books, but if I don’t let anyone see them, they’re not going to help further my career too much. I hope you find your own answers. It’s not easy to do sometimes.

    @ Boxing Scientist. Welcome back! I’ve missed you. You’re so right about amateurs not having the time, which is probably why I took a year and a half off afterwards. It wasn’t planned, but it happened.

    I have a few more photos and even video, but I don’t think I’ll ever be brave enough to release the video to the public!

    If you got into the ring three times a day, you know way more about fighting than I do. There’s just so much you learn from the real thing that you can’t get any other way.

  7. Michelle D. Argyle

    I just found this article that makes a lot of sense to me. It is basically how I’ve been living my “goals” for the past few years, and I’m really surprised at how much I accomplish and how much happier I am when I don’t pay so much attention to the goals as I do on the process and system. Not sure if it will be helpful to you, but here’s the link: http://m.entrepreneur.com/article/230333

    I think it’s really great that you have that fighting experience to draw on for the rest of your life. We often seem to be harder on ourselves than we first realize. It sounds like you almost expect others to be harder on you … and that function better that way. That’s not always a bad thing, in my opinion. I think it’s really important to be gentle with ourselves, but consistent and diligent too.

  8. Holli Moncrieff

    Thanks for commenting, Michelle. I’ll make a point to check out the link.

    I tend to be too gentle with myself! I let myself off the hook far too often. This year, my goal is to commit myself fully to each moment–whether I’m working or relaxing at the time.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.