How Martial Arts Prepared Me for Writing

How martial arts prepared me for writing

In my late high school/ early university years I trained in martial arts. More specifically I trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. BJJ is a grappling martial art, one that is extremely complicated and technical. It can take years, decades to become truly proficient at, if ever at all.

When you start, it is like you are drowning. You have no idea what the other person is trying to do, all you can do is try to keep you head above water and survive. You fail, over and over. Get submitted, over and over. Hundreds of times. Every other person in the gym is better, almost unfathomably so.

Yet day by day you learn, you improve slowly, one thing at a time. The progress is so gradual you don’t see it in real time. It creeps up on you. Fast forward six months, a year and you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come.How much better you are now then when you started. The current you would mop the floor with past you.

All you have to do is keep grinding and getting better. This mindset helped me prepare for the challenges of writing. It’s hardest at the start, almost insurmountably so. Each sentence is a struggle, so much so that you can hardly see past it.

Yet if you keep at it, it gets easier, you get better. Time passes and you improve, slowly.
You look back on your first writings and realize how far you’ve come and how far you still have to go. The impossible task suddenly seems doable. There’s hope, light at the end of the tunnel.

You can do it.
You just have to keep going. Keep improving.

You can follow me on twitter at James Bee

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Inspiration Box #2 There are No Laws

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I write fantasy novels. Just writing in that genre comes with a lot of baggage. Rules, tropes, norms, expectations, are all a part of it. It’s near impossible to look at my writing and not compare it to those that came before, that inspired me. To scour and examine to see if my books are conforming to these unwritten rules. When I begin to worry about this, a quote by Doris Lessing puts me at ease.

“There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.”
—Doris Lessing

Writing is a creative endeavour. You can do anything, write anything. Yet as human beings we seem to crave structure, rules to stick to, to follow. These can be as mundane as the acceptable number of viewpoint characters or varying sentence structures. Yet perhaps, to think this way is to miss the point of the exercise.

Limitations can be useful but they should not be absolute. Libraries are full of books that people would have thought shouldn’t be. Books that broke some rules or went against the grain. Yet the world would be a poorer place had they not been written.

The internet is rife with advice for new writers. Tips and rules for what you should and shouldn’t do. All is well meaning and useful but can be overwhelming. Especially when taken as a the word of law. Thus, Lessing’s words should be kept in mind. There are no laws, no absolute rules to what you should and shouldn’t write. To keep yourself shackled, constrained, does yourself and the world a disservice. After all, rules are made to be broken.

You can follow my writing adventures on twitter at James Bee

Inspiration Box #1: Write What You Want to Read

 

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I have a box of quotes about writing and life that I look to for inspiration. Usually, I read one before i start writing everyday and try to keep it in mind as I work. Right now I’m in the editing stage of my current projects so i figured I would look through and see if I could discuss some of these quotes and break down what they’ve taught me.

The one that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is by Toni Morrison.

It goes like this, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

This has been a guiding principle for all of my novels. I think of a interesting story that i would to read and i try to write it. Though honestly, this has led me astray at times.I’ve pursued an impractical idea that I had little chance of pulling off.

But it has also brought me comfort. No matter what you creative endeavour is, you will inevitably compare yourself against the works of others. You’ll wonder why yours isn’t like theirs. The differences can gnaw at you make you think that you’re doing it wrong. That you should do what they do instead. Taking your own path can be scary because you have to find it.

It can be hard to remember that likely everyone felt the same as you do now at one point in their lives.

Thats what I like about this quote so much. It gives you permission to do your own work.
More than that, Morrison implores you to. Without you the book will die, will never be made. Thus you must write it. You owe it to yourself to stay true to your vision and create what you set out to create.

You can follow my writing adventures at James Bee

The Useful Futility of Striving for Perfection

Nothing can ever be made to be perfect. Anyone who has undertaken any artistic project has probably heard some version of that thought. Everything will have flaws, imperfections. That’s just the way of things.

This notion has been weighing on my mind lately. I’ve entered the editing stage of my current novel. While this can often be fun and more rewarding then the slog of the first draft, It can also be painful. Every clunky sentence hurts, the desire to improve almost overwhelming. I want the novel to be perfect like it is in my head.

Yet this will never happen. If I follow that road I will never reach the end of it. That journey will be in vain. It will never be perfect, far from it in fact. There will be flaws and weaknesses, despite all my efforts.

The question then is, when to stop? When to move ahead with it and stop fussing? A book is never truly finished, only completed. As some point it has to be let go, so that you can move ahead on other things. Striving for perfection can be an anchor that holds you fast in one spot. It is a double edged sword. It can make you work harder, your work better, but it can also root you in place, trapped in the past.

The knowing when to stop is likely different for every project and every person. Identifying when something is as good as you can reasonably make it can be nearly impossible. Yet it is vital if one is to keep moving and growing.

You can follow me on twitter at James Bee

Top Five Favourite Movies

I’ve been writing about some heavier stuff lately and life has been getting in the way so I decided to go a little more relaxed and do some quick writing about my five favourite movies.
1.The Big Lebowski: This is a movie I didn’t even really like that much the first time I watched it. Then i heard you have to rematch it, so i did. Thats where the love began. Each time I watch it I find more things that i like about it. The characters are amazing, theres so many quotes and it’s just hilarious.

2.Pulp Fiction: Unlike The Big Lebowski, this is a movie I feel in love with at the start. It’s probably the most watchable movie i’ve ever seen. Due to its structure you can come in at any time and just start watching. For it’s length it doesn’t drag and has some of my favourite scenes in any movie ever.

3.Fargo: This one is a movie that I can’t really put my finger on why i like it so much. The characters are charming, the plot is hilarious but maybe it’s the accents and dialogue I like so much.

4.Fellowship of the Rings: LOTR had a huge impact on me as a youngin’, both the movies and the books. They ignited my love for fantasy and put me on the path of writing that I am on today. While the whole trilogy is fantastic, FOTR is my favourite. Most of the people I’ve talked to have said they like TTT or ROTK but FOTR holds a special place in my heart. While it lacks the big set piece battles of the ones that came after, it’s just so damn charming. Watching the fellowship come together and ultimately break up never fails to send shivers down my spine.

5.Super Troopers: Super Troopers is in my opinion, one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched it at least fifteen times and it never fails to crack me up. Just the opening scene alone is worthy of making the list. It’s ridiculous, its hilarious, it’s just straight up shenanigans! Super Troopers is my go to movie when people ask for a suggestion.

You can follow me on twitter at James Bee

Remembering to be Grateful

 

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Sometimes I forget that there are so many things in my life to be grateful about. I get stuck in a rut and find it nearly impossible to look past the thing that happens to be bothering me that day. Thus it can be helpful to look past these struggles and be grateful for all the things that you forget about. I’m not talking about loved ones, that goes without saying. I’m talking about the stuff that is buried even deeper in the background, that I never think about.

1. My chances of being eaten are nearly zero. Other than a rouge bear deciding that I look like his next meal, I probably won’t die by a wild predator. This wasn’t the case for a large part of human history and many people around the world still find themselves not at the top of the food chain.

2. In a similar vein, I don’t have to hunt for my food. From what I’ve heard human being, used to hunt by chasing animal to exhaustion. Literally running after them for miles until they dropped dead. Cardio is the worst. I’m grateful that I don’t have to chase my food down, instead of making a quick trip to the grocery store.

3. Running water is something that I never think about but the alternative could be brutal. Water is heavy and I having to draw it from a well or carry it to my house from a far distance sounds like a brutal hassle. Not to mention that it facilities plumbing. When you really stop to think about it, running water is perhaps one of the greatest luxuries that humanity has ever known, yet I never stop to think about it.

4. Technology gets a bad rap sometimes but I feel we should be more grateful about it. We live in a unprecedented time period in terms of the technological growth. We all could have been born a thousand years ago and spent our whole lives marvelling at a windmill. Instead we have supercomputers in our pockets and cars that soon might be able to drive themselves. Not to mention that technology lets me broadcast this writing to the world, instead of just being some insane scribblings in a journal somewhere.

5. Just overall, I’m incredibly lucky to have been born and to live in the time period that I do. In my opinion, it’s the best time to be alive and I’ll argue with anyone who says otherwise. Throughout human history, and still in a staggering and disheartening amount of the world, people had to be worry about starving, dying of thirst, begin eaten, being killed by another tribe, or being disfigured or killed by illnesses that we’ve solved years ago. I have to worry about none of this.

So what do I really have to fret over? To feel hard done by, in the face of so many things to be grateful for?

Perhaps nothing.

You can follow me on twitter at James Bee

Knowing When to Abandon a Project

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Something that I feel is extremely important but difficult, is to know when to abandon your work. Knowing when to give up on your current project and move on. Giving up is often seen as a failure, a weakness. Something that you do when you don’t want to work harder, when you are looking for an easy way out.

But is this true? I would argue it depends on the how and the why. Giving up completely is not good, a full stop will never take you anywhere. However, giving up and taking what you’ve learnt and moving on. That is valuable and essential.

I’ve heard numerous times that the only way to fail in writing is to stop. To give up on the dream and move on. Instead, you have to just keep going, keep writing. To persist against all the odds.

However, hanging onto projects that aren’t working is not a virtue. It is the wrong kind of persistence. In my writing journey, I’ve given up on three novels, abandoned them completely. I finished them, edited them as best I could, then moved on when I found their quality lacking. I left each one behind and moved on. I couldn’t make them as good as I wanted so I had to let them go.

It wasn’t easy, there was pain each time. All that work, all the hours of effort poured into those pages. All gone. For what? Nothing tangible, no books sold, no money made. How could it not feel like a failure? It did, each time.

Yet after the sting lessened, I could see the silver lining in them. The mistakes made and the lessons learnt from them. The failure made me stronger, a better writer. It was not something that I should fear but something I should embrace when it happens. Who knows what would have happened if I’d clung on instead, stuck in an endless cycle of rewrites and revisions.

You can follow my writing adventure on twitter @James Bee

Sacrificing the Now for Later

An idea that has been bouncing around my head lately is the notion of sacrificing the now for later. Enduring discomfort and unhappiness now in order to reap the rewards later. Essentially, work hard now so you can benefit later.

This course of action takes no small amount of faith. Nothing in life is guaranteed and you aren’t owed anything. No matter how hard you work. Yet you have to life the rest of your life, and what you do today can echo throughout the rest of your days.

Personally I want to make at least some of my living through writing. Be it novels, blogs or anything else. I remember when I started, just finishing one novel seemed like a task that was too far away. Now looking at the road ahead, it seems impossibly long. Two years ahead seems like a impossibly far time, if your unhappy with your current life.
Yet, two years behind seems like just yesterday. It seems like less time. In two years, once you’ve endured it will also feel like it flew by, despite any current despair you might have. You just have to endure and hope that it gets better.

A quote I heard that I liked once goes something like this, “You have to sacrifice now or suffer later.” It’s the same idea as ripping a bandaid off. Better to get it over with than linger. Pain and discomfort may be intense but everything passes. Work hard and trust that things will improve, that’s all that can be done.

One thing you know for sure is that it won’t get better if you don’t try.
You can follow my writing adventure on twitter at  James Bee

The Urgency of Starting Today

Everyone and their mother has heard the cliches and the quotes plastered on twitter, facebook, or their social media of choice. A year from now you’ll wish you started today. The best time to plant a tree is 25 years ago and the second best time is today. Etc. Etc. Boil all these down and you get the same conclusion. The best time to start anything is today. Tomorrow is too late.

This post is in a similar vein to the last one but I feel that it is worth writing about all on it’s own. Time passes is weird ways. You feel the days, the weeks, acutely but the months and years tend to creep up unexpectedly on you. This can make starting a new task or trying to reach a goal seem difficult and oh so far away.

Certainly, this is what I ran into when I wanted to start writing novels. Just the first draft of one novel seemed like a huge insurmountable task, months and months of constant, excruciating effort. Then you hear the many measures of time that people say it takes to get good enough to be readable. 3-6 novels. A million words. 10 years of constant writing.

10 years!

That seems like an impossible length of time away. Why even start? It’ll take far too long to get anywhere! This was the thought that held me back, kept me from even starting. Luckily I ran across a notion, a way of changing this already defeated mentality.
The time will pass anyway.

Five years will pass and you’ll wish that you had started five years ago. Whether or not you try, the time will pass. Then why not try? You have to live the days, the weeks, the years. Why not spend them in effort, in the pursuit of a goal, even if it seems too far, out of reach? Why not try to climb the mountain?

The time will pass anyway.

You can follow my writing adventures on twitter @ James Bee

The Power of Taking it One Step at a Time

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Everyone has heard this saying, probably a bunch of times. It speaks to the power of focusing on the now, on doing one thing at at time, one step at a time.

Often looking at the big picture, the enormity of the overall task, can be overwhelming, can give you anxiety. It does for me at least. It can paralyze you, keep you from even working towards your goals. You can see the road stretching in front of you as far as you can see and you don’t even want to take one step. It’s too hard, the task too insurmountable.

This is something that i’ve struggled with my whole life but certainly in my writing. Writing a whole novel seems an impossible task, a towering mountain of words. If you think about the effort involved in writing the whole thing at once you’ll go crazy. It’s too much. Hundreds of pages, thousands if not hundreds of thousands of words.

There’s a quote I like by E.L. Doctorow that gives me comfort. “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” It’s all about breaking the task down into what’s in front of you at that time, in that very moment. One word at a time. One page at a time. Do this and you’ll see your novel grow in front of your eyes. This has been my approach for all of my novels and I’ve found it’s often been the only thing keeping me from oblivion, from giving up due to the enormity of the task.

This approach can be helpful in all aspects of life. Everyone faces challenges that seem bigger than they are. Getting from where you are to where you want to be can seem like too big of a chasm to get over, too far of a journey. A distance too far to travel. But you can. If you take it one step at a time.

You can follow me and my writing adventure on twitter @ James Bee.