August 20th, 2013 | by Beth Barany
In today’s post, Author Faith Van Horne discusses discipline for writers. Enjoy!
In my first guest post for Writers Fun Zone, I talked about starting where you are. In brief, that means accepting your current skill level, realizing that especially in the beginning you’re going to flail about looking ridiculous, and going for it anyway. In karate, for me that meant being physically wobbly, off-balance, inelegant. In writing, it meant the same thing, but in the form of the written word: awkward phrases, or dialogue that no human being would ever say.
Having the courage to get going when you have no idea what you’re doing is the first step in any venture. Of course, once you’re started you run into the next obstacle. Namely, to make progress, you have to keep going.
In my experience, the most difficult part of writing a story or novel isn’t craft, art or technique. To get to the point where I have to worry about those things, I have to have a product onto which I can examine craft, art, technique, etc. Before I can shape my story, I have to finish the story. And while writing exercises help, and motivational websites can get me excited about my project, ultimately it comes down to doing the work. Sitting and writing. Discipline.
When I started karate, I gaped at the black belts. I watched the grace and speed with which they performed kata, the control and strength present when they worked with partners on drills and sparring. I struggled to maintain a horse stance for any length of time, let alone move through stances and strike at the same time. So I thought, “No way will I ever get there.”
Writing was similar. I would read a fantastic novel by one of my favorite authors. Daniel Pinkwater springs to mind; whenever I read Pinkwater, I’m always struck by how effortlessly elegant his writing comes off. It reads so naturally, so simply. Then I’d look at my own clumsy efforts and say, “No way will I ever write like Pinkwater.”
Well, I still don’t write like Pinkwater, and I don’t do karate exactly like any of the other black belts in the class. But I got through learning a kata, and then another. I wrote a short story, and then another. I refined the kata and edited the stories.
The strength is in the refinement, in going back to the practice over and over. Revisiting the words. Moving through the strikes. Only in repetition, muscle memory, mental reinforcement, did I begin to approach the place I want to be.
What I found through this was not only technical improvement, but voice, both in karate and in writing. That may sound odd; after all, how can physical movement have voice? But I found that everyone expresses themselves through their bodies differently. Even when everyone in class is doing the same moves, we’re putting our own emphasis on them, twisting our own way. Same with how writers shape our stories. In karate, we tell the story with our bodies, and each story is unique.
But the only way I could begin to understand this was by working through the repetitions. By having the discipline to sit (or move) and continue to be awful, I’ve begun to become less awful in my own way.
What has discipline taught you about your writing? How about your movement practice?
Faith Van Horne is the author of the young adult fantasy novel Slideways. Her collection of offbeat horror stories, Super Sargasso, is now available. She is currently working on another novel. In her free time, she practices karate, and even helps teach it a little. She also blogs at Scribatious (faithvanhorne.