Monday, February 18, 2013

martial art of writing

I like to think of writing as a martial art. I did martial arts for seven years. I had to learn how to make my body do things it was reluctant to do and I had to get in very good shape to have a chance at doing certain moves. Writing is like this. It is not just intellectual. People who try to think their way into manuscripts often end up with unsuccessful work. I know a lot of very intelligent people who just can't find their way to writing good fiction. Why? In martial arts some people can talk very intelligently about the intricacies of a movement, but they can't actually do the moves. You can know in your mind how things should work but not be able to make them work. This happens in writing to many people.

I like to say when I start writing something new that it is always hard and it always feels like I'm doing it for the first time. I always wonder if I can do it again. I always wonder how I ever did it before. BUT it is also like going out on mat and doing martial arts--sparring with someone. If I know the moves, I can't think about them in order to do them while I'm doing them. I just have to do them. In writing once I get into a story, get into the moment, the moves come back even if I don't/can't consciously think of them. Years and years of constant hard work and conscious effort on aspects of craft and practice and struggle come back so that I make the right choices.

You can't think your way into a manuscript while you're writing it. Later, in revision, there will be plenty of time and need for analytical thinking. But when you're writing it's best to pay attention to something Annie Dillard once wrote. "You’ve got to jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down.”   You have to write from that place deep within you and beneath your conscious mind which is all too interfering in the intuitive connections stories require—then you will be jumping off some cliffs and building your wings on the way down.

            Good luck.
            Wear a helmet and kneepads.