Writing What You Know: Learning to Fight in order to Write

When I left England in 2012 I spent thirteen days at sea (literally), and all of them writing. I was finishing off Bane of the Lich Lord, the fifth Nameless Dwarf novella, which went to make up The Complete Chronicles (my first bestseller).

When I arrived I never stopped.

Throughout 2015 it only got worse when I began to work with my agent; we decided to try pitching a complete Nameless Dwarf storyline, which amounted to four novels. I already had The Complete Chronicles (renamed Revenge of the Lich), and I’d more or less finished Return of the Dwarf Lords. But this project involved going backwards and writing the origins, then lifting the Nameless Dwarf’s involvement in the Shader series and telling those scenes from his perspective. Finally, I need some bridging scenes that took us from the end of Shader 4 (The Archon’s Assassin) to the start of Revenge of the Lich.

What this meant in practical terms is that I was writing 8-10 hours a day, seven days a week. It was a huge project but one I’m proud of. The downside is that it threw me off my usually rigorous exercise regimen, and even my incidental exercise was reduced to virtually zero. At least in England I had walked miles every day; but in the US everyone drives, especially in the heat of Florida.

I gained a whopping 40lbs in weight. By the time I had finished with the series, I decided something needed to be done about it, but then came the rejection letters: most of the publishers (9/11) loved the writing, the story, and the characters, but they all agreed on one thing: dwarves did not sell!

I went ahead and self-published the series, which went on to be my biggest seller of all time, and it paid for my mortgage and family living expenses while my wife was out of work for a year. Go figure!

Nevertheless, I needed a new book, one that would appeal to publishers, and so I immediately set about writing The Codex of Her Scars.

This meant another year without giving the much needed attention to my physical health. But once Codex was in the bag, I began martial arts training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai. I also resumed my regular weight training routine, focusing on heavy dead lifting, squats, and upper body compound moves. Pretty soon I began training with a partner and we spurred each other on to greater efforts. I lost about 20lbs during this time.


I worked with a nutrition coach for a month in order to reset my healthy eating habits. This involved me going ketogenic for 6 weeks and shedding another 10lbs.

Recently, we discovered a boxing coach and began Rocky style workouts, while learning how to fight. After a few weeks we got to spar, and I learned how to enjoy being hit in the head.


The weight has continued to melt away–my diet is still low carb, but I do occasionally eat oatmeal and sweet potato, depending on how I feel. Mostly I eat leafy green vegetables, good fats, and protein.

The reason I chose combat sports is largely due to the maxim, “Write what you know.” Most of my books involve heroes who know how to fight, and fight well. I’m fairly comfortable writing fight scenes, largely because I grew up reading Sword and Sorcery, and later David Gemmell. But to really excel in this field, I felt it would be helpful to experience the true art and craft of combat.

Already, it has helped. There are injuries, attitudes, mental approaches to fighting among the characters in my current work in progress, Immortal, that I wouldn’t have considered before: small things that not only make the action more credible and immersive, but which afford scope for better character development.

The other benefit is that with my increasing health, my energy levels have gone up massively, and I spend more time in the evenings writing and editing.

My current schedule is fairly full: prayer, cooking for the family, boxing/weight training, taking my daughter to classes or on outings; back home to cook some more; homeschooling; then off to the writing house for a few hours. Rinse and repeat.

Without the training, I’d probably be another 50lbs heavier by now, and unable to do anything but… well, write.

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2 thoughts on “Writing What You Know: Learning to Fight in order to Write”

  1. very interesting.
    Have you tired any weapons orientated arts?
    If not it is totally different than hand to hand.

    And your writing of fight scenes is very feisty.

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