Mah Jongg and Writing – What a Combo!

I am learning to play American Mah Jongg. It’s a game with tiles that can be loosely compared to the card game Gin Rummy. Real Mah Jongg is not at all like the matching-of-tiles computer game!
The game can be complicated. My advice is to take lessons, but once you learn the rules about pairs, Kongs, Pungs, and the Charleston—too complicated to explain here, but Mah Jongg players know what I’m talking about—you need to move on to strategy.
Making a Mah Jongg hand that follows the specific patterns of like tiles, numbers, and/or suits is the hardest part of the game. For months I played, picking up and tossing tiles, with no real concept of how to create a complete hand. But I was determined to learn.
Then my friend, Maureen, gave me some hints on how to form hands. She is a physician with a very analytical and mathematical mind, so sorting and organizing numbers comes easily to her while balancing my checkbook gives me a headache! However, I listened and tried to absorb her explanation, and it came to me! I needed to think like a writer! To think like I am plotting a story with an opening act—the bare bones beginning of story, which are the tiles I am dealt. Then I choose the characters, which is followed by rising action and conflict leading to Act II—all determined by the tiles I pick. That leads into various resolution points until I reached the climax or a complete hand of Mah Jongg! Now that makes sense to me!
It’s not a perfect analogy, but thinking about it that way helped me to relax, and instead of making wild guesses and changing my mind several times during a hand, I had a flexible plot. I could go in a different direction if my characters—or tiles—led me there, but I had a general plan. Mah Jongg is a lot of luck along with tactics, but I made the game easier and more fun for myself by thinking like a writer!
So when have your writing strategies helped you in other activities? I’d love to hear from you!
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