I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally consider myself much of an “active” person. My favorite activities are generally pretty sedentary – reading, writing, watching Big Bang Theory, eating great food at cool restaurants, taking my kids to the planetarium. None of those things really require an elevated heart rate.
But the other evening I went to a self-defense class at a Taekwondo studio, and ho—ly smokes! I am hooked. I never thought I’d have so much fun with a group of moms and a big, red punching bag. I’ve been churning the 90-minute class over in my mind, and I just can’t help but notice that Taekwondo and writing have a whole lot more in common than I ever would have thought.
What do you expect to happen when you slam your fist into a punching bag?
Now, I’ve never actually hit a punching bag, but I’d always imagined that I would close my fingers into a tight fist, slam my knuckles into vinyl, and the bag would crash back and forth like a buoy in the water.
First, the coach advised us to absolutely not ball our fist up and strike anything or anyone. We’d probably hurt ourselves more than the other person. Apparently, you have to train specifically for how to hit something with a fist. Instead, she told us to hit with the heel of our palms.
Second, when I walked up to that 5-foot bag and shoved my palm into it with the full force of my 5’4 frame, the bag sat solidly in its place, and I was the one that ricocheted backward.
In my mind, I had created a movie of what I expected it to be like to hit a punching bag, and that mental projection was absolutely false.
What are our expectations of writing?
And I do the exact same thing in writing. I have all of my expectations set ahead of time. I imagine the quiet moment, free of responsibilities, a hot tea steaming beside me, and creative ideas queued up in my mind, just waiting to be unleashed by my speedy fingers on the keyboard. I’ll have 1,000 words typed out in no time!
What actually happens? I’m squeezed for time, in between client work and family responsibilities, my tea was hot an hour ago but is now mocking me with its tepidness, and I had an idea earlier this morning but now can’t remember it for the life of me. Sound familiar?
How do you adjust your expectations?
The only way I was going to improve in this Taekwondo class was to readjust my expectations and try again.
The coach walked over to me and demonstrated how to plant your feet and turn your body so that you can throw more impact into the bag. I watched her slam the heel of her palm into the bag, with her jaw set in focus and all of her momentum channeled into the hit.
I changed my mindset. I knew that if I wanted to impact this giant bag, I couldn’t just put a little bit of force behind the motion; I would have to move all of my muscle, weight, and momentum with that single hit. My next hit was much, much more satisfying. The bag didn’t bounce like a bobblehead, but then again, I wasn’t expecting it to this time.
What can you learn from other writers about the craft of writing?
When writing doesn’t work out quite like you anticipate, don’t jump to blaming yourself. You may just need to adjust your expectations a bit. See if you can learn from other writers what writing looks like to them. You can gather others’ experiences in a lot of ways:
Read a book. (Stephen King’s On Writing, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird… do you have any favorites?)
Pick someone’s brain. If you know someone else (a colleague, a friend, a relative) who writes, ask that person to have coffee with you specifically for a conversation around writing practices and experiences.
Join an online community. Google for online communities around your niche.
Hire a writing coach to guide you through a writing project. (But you knew I was going to say that, right?)
How do you begin to train with discipline?
I am definitely interested in pursuing martial arts training. The only thing that makes me nervous is that I’ll have to commit at least twice per week to a class in order to actually improve. Yeah, sure, I could dabble and sort-of-kind-of do martial arts, but I know that would be frustrating because I wouldn’t truly be steeped in the mindset and discipline of the art. In order for something to really become a part of your life, you have to be willing to devote regular, scheduled, non-negotiable time to it.
Do you practice writing with devoted discipline? I know this one’s hard. It’s so much easier to dabble and say, “Oh, well, I write, but only really when I have a long chunk of time or a really great idea.” Guess how often that’s going to be? Maybe once a month.
The only way to truly steep yourself in the mindset and discipline of being a writer is to schedule, I would suggest, 30-60 minutes of writing time 3 times per week. At least.
What days and times do you write every week? For how long?
If you don’t have writing sessions in your calendar, pull up your calendar for the next month and decide when you’re going to write.
Then, leave a comment in the section below. Seriously, Wednesday evenings? Saturday mornings? Monday during lunch time? Let me know, and just writing it in the comments will reinforce your commitment to your devoted writing time.