In the January 2011 issue of Clarkesworld Magazine, novelist Walter Jon Williams, author of This Is Not a Game and Deep State, says that writing has taught him “that practice and diligence will bear fruit.” It’s a lesson Williams brought from his writing life into the dojo.
“I worked at writing for years before I made a professional sale,” Williams adds. “This taught me that working toward long-term goals is possible, and in the martial arts necessary.”
Below, six writer/martial artists add the importance of self-expression, the value of hands-on experience, and the need for mental and spiritual balance to the list of lessons learned from writing.
There are many ways to write a short story or novel. Each story requires something new and different of the writer. While the study and practice of martial arts may be more systematic than that of writing, martial arts require no less flexibility of the practitioner. As novelist Stephen Leigh says below, there is not a single right way, but many right ways, to write a story or novel.
Right before my daughter was born I returned to the martial arts. I’d have a child to protect, after all, and I wanted to be able to do so. My first belt test had me rattled. I hadn’t been tested physically for more than fifteen years. I’d become increasingly bookish and sedentary since my teen years. So I did what I do well, I read the manual over and over. I studied. I took notes. I took notes and practiced and studied… and studied some more.
Even though there would be no written component, I studied for my belt test the same way I’d study for a history or science exam—read, memorize, recite, repeat.
Moments before the test began I ran through everything in my head. Moments after I’d bowed in and the test had started, I forgot everything. And I do mean everything—basic kicks, basic strikes, basic techniques. At one point, I even blanked on my instructor’s name. My brain simply emptied of everything except anxiety and fear.
Studying a martial art may teach a writer the mechanics of a fight scene. Continued practice and discipline may give that writer insight, a subtler understanding of the physicality of confrontation, of the head game, the philosophy, of wellness and well-being. It is hard to separate out how one discipline informs the other. Hard, but also interesting.
Below, Steven Barnes, Stephen Leigh, Susan J. Morris, Steve Perry, and Thomas T. Sullivan talk about the complex relationship between practicing martial arts and writing. They talk about writing action, facing fear, splitting the reader’s attention, and accepting that there is no end to learning.