An empty mind

My writing process is evolving. It helps to develop habits, but it helps even more to drop habits. It takes me about an hour longer to get started than it should. Time wastes. Can’t get it back. But I’m not interested in wasting any time blaming myself or whining about what I do wrong, or trying to force myself to do better. My habits will change slowly, and if I run out of time to write what I want to write, c’est la vie. I will start fresh tomorrow.

One clear constant that has settled in is the need for an empty mind. I do believe in lots of preparation for my writing…My novel came up after two years of slowly building up the backstory and plot, and was written in a month. I like detailed plots. I don’t even think of starting a screenplay until I have finished a minute-by-minute synopsis of the whole thing. Lots of preparation, very rigid. But actual writing is very different.

I don’t start writing with anything in mind. I do whatever I can to stop thinking. I walk, take a shower, stare out the window…whatever the moment calls for. I strip myself of every thought, every plan for writing, all my ideas. Toss them all out. I make a silence. Eventually an idea will start to make itself known, but I shut it down. If it’s a good idea, it will come up strong and I won’t be able to quiet it. Once the idea makes itself known, it needs to be written, whether it fits into what I’ve slated to write for the day or not. If I need to write a particular thing, then it will have to wait until after I clear out the idea. It’s usually easy to write anything once the day’s first idea is kicked free. It clears me to write for the rest of the session until interrupted.

Interruptions suck. I can’t just pick up where I left off, I have to restart the whole process over again.

When I started to fence, I was a real plotter. I wanted to plan out every action, every response. I’d try to analyze my opponent, figure out what they wanted to do, and devise a strategy that let them try their thing, while giving me an opening for a successful attack. It’s a great way to lose a lot of fights, but also a great way to develop tactical and strategic abilities down the road. I can develop a plan for beating someone now, sometimes knowing nothing more about my opponent than how they stand. Whether I have the chops to pull of that plan is a whole other issue, sadly.

Experience is finally lending me a skill I’ve envied in other fighters: Instinct. I’ve always been a little in awe of people who can just step up and fight with no preparation, and win. Or fight with only the slightest idea of what they plan to do. I hear things like “he drops his shoulder, so I’ll hit him on that side” and I’ve never been able to understand that. How does it work for them? I have to plan out that kind of attack five more steps deeply. Very frustrating. It sometimes makes me feel I live in a different world from other fencers. I struggle to what they do with no thought.

Sure, the way I approach fighting has value…I would not be able to teach or coach as well as I do without that mindset. I dislike being an outsider to my own ability, though. Finding that clear mind for fighting requires building new habits while ditching old habits. It’s an evasive thing. With the help of my students and friends, I’ve been able to start exploring that mindset. Mostly it involves new physical cues, new movement and stance triggers for myself.

Like writing, if I can get a clear mind and fight, I’m good to go for a while. But as soon as an interruption comes along, I’m back to thinking. And back to restarting the whole process. It should be easy. Like everything in life…it should be easy. We should be able to have the right job, educate ourselves the right way, pay our taxes on time and all our bills, be with the right partner and say all the right things. Life should be easy and we should never make mistakes, and I can point to a million pieces of advice that say so…

And yet, I still have to teach myself to live. And I screw up daily. But I keep writing, and I will keep fencing. Those are the things that teach me the most about how to live.

One Comment

  1. A year late, but whatever.

    Im one of those people that fights on instinct, almost entirely. I really wish I could have a more tactical mindset like you describe. I find it really difficult to incorporate new ideas and skills because as soon as Im pressed I go back to instinct and muscle memory, or when something works it can take me a long time to be able to describe to someone else WHY it works. The grass is always greener, but in this case straddling the fence should be pretty awesome.

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