Everybody was Kung Fu Writing
Okay, so I’m actually studying Sanchin-Ryu, not Kung Fu, but I liked the subject line. I spent Sunday afternoon at our first spring workshop. Hundreds of students, lots of senseis and masters, and three hours of instruction and workout.
Lately, I’ve been thinking more about the parallels between writing and martial arts. I riffed on this a year ago with a Writer as Martial Artist post at SF Novelists. Both writing and martial arts require a great deal of practice and discipline. With both, while many people dabble, far fewer stick with it to the point of mastery.
What I’ve been noticing a lot in martial arts lately is that I’m walking away from classes feeling lost. Back when I was a green belt, I had a pretty good idea what I was doing. I was learning the moves, getting the forms down, and feeling pretty confident.
What a foolish little green belt I was. I’m now at third brown (which is the lowest rank of brown belt). Remember those forms I thought I knew? Now we’re breaking them down. It’s one thing to do choreographed movements. It’s another to perform part of a form with speed, power, and proper technique against someone who just grabbed your gi and hauled off to punch you in the face.
It’s frustrating. My brain wants concrete right answers, and that’s not what I’m getting now. Two masters will show me the exact same form, but they’ll do it differently. Is one way right or better than another? That depends on the situation, the effect I’m trying to create, and how much I’ve practiced.
Sound familiar? Tell me, what’s the right way to write a story? (Seriously, please tell me. I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and I still don’t know!)
One of the lessons I learned yesterday was that I think too much. My partner throws a punch. I step in, strike the arm, throw the kick … and stop. The kick didn’t go where I expected it to. So I pull back, trying to figure out what to do differently. The master we were working with jumped on this. Better to do something than to do nothing. The last thing you want to do is train yourself to stop while fighting. Throw the kick, and if it misses, follow up with something else. Misses can open up opportunities as well.
Strange how well this matches my personal writing process. I can’t revise when I’m working on a first draft. I’ll think about the story on the road, or lying in bed, but when I’m writing I write. If I write crap, that’s okay — keep writing, and see what I come up with. Some of that crap will have to be fixed. Some will create new ideas and opportunities.
They say the more you learn, the more you discover how little you know. It’s a pretty saying. In real life, it’s frustrating as heck 🙂 It’s also true. Will I ever reach a point of mastery, in either Sanchin-Ryu or in writing? I have no clue. But I have to trust that I’m getting better, even when I feel completely overwhelmed by it all.
Especially when I feel overwhelmed.
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April 26, 2010 @ 10:58 am
At my dojo (kempo), if we stop in the middle of a technique on a test, we have to do push ups. They tell us it’s better to do a technique wrong than to stop in the middle of it. I usually have to do some, because I’m a thinker, myself.
Twostripe is reading Taijiquan: Through the Western Gate to Bug and me while Bug eats, and in the first chapter, he talks about being “In the Zone,” mostly for athletes, but also for “normal” people. One of the things he mentions that’s a physical thing that people can excel at without thought is high-speed typing. I hadn’t thought about writing as a body-mind-spirit effort before (only really mind-spirit), but the author’s comment made me think about how, when I’m “in the zone” writing, there’s just a flow, and I don’t think about the words and I certainly don’t think about my fingers hitting the keys. Relating the *physical* process of writing to the martial arts was mind-blowing, and I’m excited to read more.
(That said, I suspect that being “in the zone” for martial artists and other athletes is just as inconsistent as it is for writers. I can’t say that I’ve yet experienced being in the zone as a kempo student, but I hope to have one of those moments someday. *g*)
Jim C. Hines
April 26, 2010 @ 11:16 am
Oh, that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about typing as a physical skill, but you’re right. I type much better when I’m not thinking about it. (Even though it disgusts my coworkers when I type without looking at the keyboard 🙂 )
Of course, thanks to your comment, I’m now consciously thinking about it and can’t seem to stop. D’oh!
I suspect I’d be doing a lot of push-ups right along with you…
April 26, 2010 @ 7:43 pm
Ahh, your advice is sage indeed, wise sensei! The only way to write a book is, well, to *write* it, and no amount of hedging and second-guessing is going to get that book done. I guess it’s just that would-be authors like me are so afraid we’re going to get it wrong–that the story we imagine in our heads will come out incorrectly on the page and it’ll be stuck in stone as is.
Which is complete tripe, of course–the power of the second draft, right? But it’s weird… it’s like once a scene is “solidified” by being written, I feel hesitant to throw it out and completely rewrite it. Slighly crappy prose I can edit into presentability, but if the entire scene is wrongly conceived from the start? Hmm…
Ah! Actually, I had an extra purpose in coming here today. I just saw a lovely picture of you, John Scalzi and Patrick Rothfuss over at Pat’s blog today: http://blog.patrickrothfuss.com/2010/04/signing-in-the-detroit-area/ You guys are SO DAMN CUTE. XP But I can’t even imagine what happened to lead up to this… ^^;
Jim C. Hines
April 27, 2010 @ 10:06 am
Heh. Before that photo, Scalzi and several women had just adopted a similar pose. Being me, I watched this and decided it must be taken to the next level. So I grabbed Pat and we jumped into the poses you see there, along with a few others.
I know what you mean about not wanting to throw away the work you’ve done. You worked hard getting all of those words down! I’m currently going through draft two of Snow Queen, and there are chapters and scenes that have to go. I hate it. Bits and pieces I can salvage and work in later, but even so, there’s a fair amount of time and effort that just gets tossed into the trash.
April 29, 2010 @ 11:17 pm
Lovely analogy 🙂
It’s been explained to me that one never really loses one’s insecurities when learning martial arts, the insecurities just move to a different level. It doesn’t seem to matter what the martial art in question is.
I also totally agree that it’s better to do and screw up in writing and the martial arts, than stopping to correct things in the middle or beating yourself up over screwing up in the middle of something. You can always fix it on the next run though. There are always new and more interesting mistakes to make the farther one heads along in a story or in the martial arts. Besides, with the proper mindset, one can admire the innovative mistakes one makes along the way. 😉
Heh, now I want to do Nano Wrimo again. 😀
Jim C. Hines
April 30, 2010 @ 8:01 am
Sometimes I think the whole purpose of life is to learn to make bigger, better, and more exciting mistakes. Better than repeating the same ones over and over, I guess 🙂