What could be further apart than the physical effort of martial arts and the mental effort of writing?
They don’t really have much in common. Martial arts help you to train your body to react without having to think, while writing is about getting very deep inside your own head. Yet, when I bring the focus I’ve learned in Taekwon-Do and apply it to my writing, the words come a lot more easily, and that’s not the only way that studying martial arts has made me a better writer.
Lesson One: My biggest opponent is myself
When I got my black belt in March, 2014, I felt like I had won the greatest competition of my life – over my own fear.
I’m a bookish person who has always prided herself on her brainpower. When I started Taekwon-Do, I had to learn to focus on my physical power. That freaked me out. The thought of being tested on a physical skill, on something I couldn’t tell a story about, was incredibly intimidating. I imagined all the ways I could mess up, and I kept focusing on all the things I couldn’t do.
Eventually, though, I learned that it wasn’t ‘I can’t do that’ it was ‘I can’t do that YET.’ Once I learned to go easy on myself and take it one step at a time, I began to make real progress .
Writing was much the same way for me. I was the biggest obstacle to my own improvement.
Sure, I *could* stay focused on my shortcomings. I could let my inner editor stop me from writing at all. Or, as I learned from Taekwon-Do, I could decide that I am still learning and that I have to keep writing to get better.
Once I got over my fear of being a bad writer, I had the freedom to improve.
Lesson Two: I need regular practice
My real turning point in changing from a black belt wannabe to someone who knew what she was doing was when I started practicing every day. Coming back to those same practices and tweaking them over and over gave me confidence and took me out of my own head. I wasn’t thinking about what the next move in my pattern would be, I just doing it. I had muscle memory and I had faith in my skills.
Building writerly confidence came in a similar way.
I don’t always have time for daily writing practice, but I always seek REGULAR practice. When I write on a regular basis, I can watch myself improve, then my confidence grows, and I get a kind of mental muscle memory.
The more I practice, the more my brain knows what to do when I stand at my computer. It takes less effort to start writing and what I write is pretty good.
Lesson Three: It’s okay to fail
This past fall, I messed up in my Taekwon-Do competition.
I got three moves into my demonstration pattern before I waffled between two moves just long enough to be disqualified. That was horrible enough but then I had to stand there in front of the judges and the audience and just wait for my competitor to finish her pattern.
It was no fun, but for some reason I managed not to tell myself a big failure story about it, I didn’t give it any extra meaning. I didn’t decide that it meant I was terrible at Taekwon-do, nor did I vow never to compete again. Instead, I stood there breathing deeply and making mental notes about how to prepare more effectively for my next competition.
I won’t pretend that I was totally zen about it – I was very disappointed and annoyed with myself – but failure wasn’t nearly as bad as I had thought it would be.
Oddly enough, failing (in front of an audience!) and living to tell the tale was a tremendous boost to my writing. Suddenly, sending work to writing competitions didn’t seem like that big a deal any more. Posting bits and pieces of my writing for other people to read didn’t feel so daunting.
By failing in Taekwon-Do, I had somehow reduced my fear of failing in my writing and that made room for me to get my work out there.
On the surface, writing and martial arts don’t have a lot in common, but for me, the lessons of one apply very well to the other. Whether you are working on a kick or a story, if you want to be effective, you need to learn to get over yourself, to apply yourself in a regular fashion, and, mostly importantly, you need to lose your fear of failure.
I’m not saying those things are easy, but they are do-able. If you are willing to commit to the process of learning, listening, and then tweaking your efforts, you can kick some butt on the page or in the Dojang.
Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when I was four and my parents didn’t believe my tale about water shooting out of my nose onto the couch – they insisted that I had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in my hand. Luckily, my skills have improved since then. I make up stories, share stories, and help people shape their life stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her storyfying at www.christinehennebury.com Read some of my recent fiction at mombie.com/category/writer-dame/storyaday2014/ Chat with me on twitter @isekhmet