All of your failed drafts and wasted attempts are probably the best thing that ever happened to you.
I explore this by understanding writing as an art form and comparing it with two other art forms. Together, these three art forms are martial arts, ballet, and writing. Two of them are physical and the third—it’s physical too.
Writing is often seen as inspiration based, which is 100% true. Do not forget that, ’cause I’m about to convince you otherwise.
Ready. Set. Don’t. Go—you’re not ready.
Have you ever watched a master artist and aspired to be like him or her? If you’re human, the answer is yes. If you’re Scarlet, you probably came up with a sarcastic comment. Rest assured that the human answer is the important one. We draw inspiration from what we see, and if we didn’t we’d probably die.
But. There’s a catch.
When you watched that master artist, were you ready to do what you saw?
I’ve been in martial arts for over 12 years, writing for just over four years, and ballet for a little over a year. Every time I accomplished something in one of those arts, it was because I said: “I can do that,”
See, I watch martial artists perform with amazing speed, precision, and power, I look at dancers as they jump (and turn), land in a perfect fifth position, and make it look easy, I read literature written by men and women who are agreeably the best writers who’ve walked on this planet. Those are not the things I say I can do.
According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, inspiration has two definitions that relate to this topic: A. the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions, and B. the act of influencing or suggesting opinions.
Both of those are important, right? Right. Both of those are what drive me in the three art forms I practice, right? Wrong.
I practice art forms because I do what I know, I see a bit more of what’s possible, get better, and get stronger.
That drives me toward my goal.
Every great martial artist can look at lots of new techniques and start practicing them with basic proficiency. The same goes for great dancers. Why is this possible when you and I are hardly ever able to dive into what we see them do? It’s because of one fundamental idea. Those art forms are not based on what they aspire to accomplish but what they actually accomplish.
Being physical arts, both rely on one consistent factor, the human body. Right? It has to be strengthened, limbered, and understood. Strengthen muscles and bones and their physical control becomes greater. Limber your muscles and tendons and their practical range of motion becomes greater. Understand the body as a whole and you’ll know what to do with it and how.
Sure, inspiration guides those arts. Yeah, we can get caught up on semantics and definitions (feel free to discuss that in the comments) about what role inspiration plays. But—no, it is not possible to get anywhere without basics steps, foundational exercises, and practicing them—forever.
These are the base of any physical art.
What about writing? How does any of this messy, gritty, work play into writing?
Writing is a physical art. Not just typing. No—writing, as in, constructing pieces of information into a cohesive whole on two different levels: 1. The word to word level on the page, and 2. the ideas that connect those words to entire worlds inside our heads.
Heads. Our heads are extremely physical. They are integrally connected to the physical world. We write with logic and reasoning. How do we strengthen logic and reason? We interact with the world and tangibly experience it.
There’s a saying in writing circles. It says, “write what you know.”
Tolkien knew languages and history, so he wrote languages and history. The martial artist knows how to move his limbs in martial ways, so he punches and kicks. The dancer knows how to move in regard to dancing, so he dances.
In all of those examples, the process starts with what the person knows. He practices that. He learns to interact with what he knows at more and more detailed levels, constantly working to improve with every step he takes–whether it’s fun or not.
What about the term experience?
“I want to experience life.” This is a common statement—one that I hold to. Experience is how we know and do things.
How about this? For every ounce of experience, I can interact with two ounces of new information.
Pretend that statement made sense and move on with me.
When the martial artist, the dancer, or the author inspires us, we must understand that they have vast experience. Every ounce of experience they’ve acquired allows them to soak up and interact with two ounces of new information, and they almost always have more than a few ounces of experience that we don’t.
That’s not the end, though.
When those people signed up to master the art-forms they chose, it was a decision to practice the very basics. A lot. They trained so much that they knew every physical aspect of every action they took and could apply it with the precision they wanted. Not perfectly, but well enough to succeed. When they didn’t, they tried again so they could understand better.
When I practice ballet, it’s hard. I have to push myself beyond what’s comfortable until I realize that I can go farther than I thought. In martial arts, I hone my movements as much as possible, practicing to where I don’t have to think about anything other than what I’m trying to do. When I write, I push myself beyond what inspires me, into something much more concrete and practical: what’s right in front of me.
I write words whether I feel inspired or not.
Is my book right in front of me? No. Instead, there are a ton of steps. So, I take those steps. I want my book in front of me.
I write. I put one word down and then another. I think of something to say and I say it, even if it’s crap.
So, sit down and write.
You will come to know yourself so well that writing without inspiration is easy. That you can convert your thoughts into words faster than you can think them.
Once you know how to put words down without feeling inspired, you’ll be able to look at inspiration and write it into mastery without a moment’s thought. Sometimes. Because that practice is a mess that never ends. Sentences, paragraphs, and entire books.
You have to write them whether you’re inspired or not.
Forget about inspiration. Don’t let it be the base of your writing or else you’ll miss 90% of what’s right in front of you. Throw that crutch away or you’ll never get past the dirty, gritty, sentences.
Inspiration will come. The work is something you have to do, and it’s much more rewarding.
This! is exactly why all of your failed drafts and wasted attempts are probably the best thing that ever happened to you.
So quit reading this right now and go write.
Buddy Lieberman: Martial arts kinesthetics teacher, and writer.
Buddy has been in martial arts for a little over 12 years, making it the greatest object of research he’s come across, and his primary lens for studying kinesthetics. For both of those reasons, it’s one of his favorite things to write about.
Aside from writing about martial arts, Buddy writes anything that seems to need writing, despite his slight preference toward science fiction. If words need to be formed, he’ll throw his all at forming them.
If you want to dip into his research on martial arts—on a bite sized level—sign up to his email list here.