What Georges St-Pierre Taught Me about Writing

Georges St-Pierre, UFC fighter
Georges St-Pierre: (c) Wikipedia

A few weeks ago, I watched the documentary “Takedown: The DNA of GSP”, which was released last year as a treat for fans of mixed martial arts fighter Georges St-Pierre (who stepped away from the octagon at the end of 2013. There’s still a lot of buzz as to the reasons, although he has discussed some of them in interviews). I knew I would find the documentary inspirational and I wanted to find out more about this fascinating man’s background, but the thing I didn’t realize is that things really got interesting when he started losing.

At one point, GSP tore his ACL and the documentary shows in painstaking detail what the process was like for him: everything from going through the injury to surgery to how incredibly long and exhausting his recovery was.

When he was ready to go back into the ring again for practice, his coach put him against guys he called “amateurs” who were smaller than GSP and Georges got tired within three rounds. He couldn’t do his superman punch. He couldn’t move as fast as he used to be able to move. He couldn’t do all the things that he used to be able to perform so flawlessly before, so in a lot of ways it was like he lost his “super powers”, if you will.

That resonated with me because I have felt like since 2011, I got an ACL tear without knowing it when it came to my writing. It’s possible I may have gotten the fracture or the first small injury that led up to the ACL tear of 2011 a few years prior to that, but I felt like the worst thing had happened to me. I stopped feeling like myself. I started to feel like I couldn’t perform my equivalent of a superman punch. I started to feel like I couldn’t go past 3 rounds–in fact, I couldn’t even walk inside the ring. That’s how hurt and defeated I was.

I’m not sure if it was because rejection after rejection kept grinding me down, the ‘almost’ acceptances, day job unpredictability, home life woes, insecurities, my expectations and perfectionist tendencies, or my streamlined focus on book reviewing and book blogging. I think it was a combination of many different things.

Even though I have done quite a bit of writing between 2011 and now, there were many times where I knew deep down I wasn’t giving it my all and I wasn’t giving it my best and I was saying to myself that I only had energy for one draft and nothing beyond that. Revision meant “Now I have to fix it only for multiple people to reject it again and again and again.” But that’s the writing life.

Even though I suffered a massive injury, I don’t think I realized the real impact and even though I’m on the road to recovery now, it’s slow, painful and brutal. I did, however, have a turning point in late 2015 when I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo if only to prove to myself that yes, I can still write. The first day that my most recent contract expired, I forced myself to write the werewolf WIP that I had been wanting to write but couldn’t muster the energy or strength for. It was painful, but it got me back in the game.

Getting back to the documentary, Georges St-Pierre had “forgotten everything” when it came time to do his recovery–all his training, his techniques, and everything that made him the best UFC fighter in his division. He was out for 9 months and had to very slowly start back up again.

He wasn’t coordinated. He wasn’t able to perform takedowns on his opponents. He wasn’t able to stop their takedowns. He had forgotten everything.

GSP says in the documentary that with each fight, he is afraid to be knocked out and submitted, not to be able to deliver as much as he thinks he should deliver or as much as people expect, and to lose. This humanized him even more for me because there’s something refreshingly honest when someone who is at the top of their game says that they struggle, too, and that their craft or sport or whatever it happens to be doesn’t come as naturally to them as others might assume.

The ACL is a career-killer. Not many people have come back from the ACL injury. Some fighters feel great for a few months after surgery only to suffer another ACL tear in training, which makes things even worse so the fact that Georges came back so triumphantly after his injury is truly amazing.

GSP’s head coach thought about counselling GSP not to take the now infamous Nick Diaz fight and admitted that if Georges had lost that fight and had a bad go of things, his career would be very close to over. Thankfully that turned out not to be true and he went on to fight another day (although many fans, myself included, await the possibility of his return with much excitement).

And as for me? I’ve got a long recovery ahead of me. I’ve “stepped into the ring” again and I’m taking things one day at a time with my projects. The difference is that I have a bit more patience now. I’m a bit wiser. I’m aware of how short-sighted it is to say I want to get published because I’ve got something to prove.

I’m also learning not to equate my sense of self-worth on my successes and failures as a writer and to look at myself as a human being. The Georges St-Pierre documentary taught me that even when a person thinks that they have “lost it” or that they’ll never be able to perform as well as they used to or that they can never recover from a particular setback, all we can do is pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and try again. And keep trying.

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