Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Martial Artist's Block vs Writer's Block

This post is for Dan Prager (Martial Arts and Modern Life) who challenged me to write it back in November following a comment I made on his post: “You don’t have to be great all the time”.

Writer’s Block
I’m pretty sure we are all familiar with the concept of ‘writer’s block’. You may have experienced it yourself when writing for your blog. You sit down at the computer and can’t think of anything to write about, or you have a basic idea but not enough information to structure it properly. Maybe you’ve started a post but don’t know how to finish it – you’re not sure where it’s going or what it is you really want to say about the topic. So you make excuses not to write – other jobs suddenly seem more important and must be attended to first, you need more coffee to concentrate, you’ll come back to it later, you’ll just surf around other blogs first – oops! Now you’ve run out of time to write. We’ve all been there!

Martial Artist’s Block
What is martial artist’s block? Is it similar? Well I think I may have just made the phrase up but it makes some sense: you don’t feel like you are making any progress in your training, your motivation to train is diminishing – it’s become ‘samey’ and boring, you’ve lost sight of your training aims, you feel ‘burned out’ or worse – you’re thinking of quitting. So you make excuses not to train – other jobs suddenly seem more important and must be attended to first, you’ve had a hard day at work and feel too tired, you have a snivel and decide you’d better not go, it’s school holidays and your normal routine has gone to pot etc. etc.

It’s the same process isn’t it? Perhaps the solutions are the same or similar.

The need for structure
We all need a structure (framework, schedule or routine) through which we can organise our lives. We are more efficient, purposeful and productive when we have pre-planned what we wish to achieve each day. Often our routine is dictated by outside events – office hours, extra work commitments, school hours, children’s out of school clubs etc – these activities are ‘fixed’ for us. We often have to fit our own leisure activities or hobbies within this framework and this takes discipline.

If we don’t consider our martial arts training or our writing to be as important (or nearly as important) as our ‘fixed’ activities then we are not going to be committed to them and these things will always slip first. You might be thinking that it is rightly so that ‘hobbies’ should slip first but if you don’t assign some importance to them they will slip all the time or never really get off the ground! If you really want to commit to your martial arts and/or writing then you must turn them into ‘fixed’ activities and give them a solid place in your schedule.

To overcome ‘block’ we must therefore train and write regularly otherwise we will lose the habit. It is easy to make martial arts a fixed part of our schedule because the class times are fixed – you just have to commit to going along every week. Writing is more difficult and requires a lot of discipline to ‘impose’ it into our routines. Committing to writing a blog post twice a week (or more if possible), on set days, and sticking to it may go a long way to ensuring your blog is constantly updated with new and fresh ideas.

Being Creative
Okay, so you’ve committed to training and writing regularly to overcome ‘block’ but the training is boring and you’re still lacking ideas to write about. How do you inject some life or creativity back into these activities again?

Suitable space: Make sure you are training or writing in a suitable space. When you are not suffering from ‘block’ and are enthused and motivated by your training/writing then where you do it will not matter. You will be happy to train in a field or a cowshed or scribble your ideas on scraps of paper on your knee whilst huddled in the corner of the room with the TV blasting out. But if you have ‘block’ the environment assumes much greater importance if you are to get off your backside and train/write.

If your training has become stale and the place you train is cramped/cold/damp/poor mats/no mats/unfriendly/unsupportive then maybe you need to consider a fresh start in a new dojo. Likewise, you may re-establish a commitment to write if you have a nice place to do it. You might not have a spare room to use as an office/study but a desk in a corner of the bedroom/dining room/space under the stairs and a promise from family not to distract you during your ‘writing time’ may be sufficient to help you get your head in the right place to write.

Look for inspiration: Inspiration can come in many guises. Books and online resources can provide new ideas or knowledge which spark off your curiosity and make you want to learn more or write about something you didn’t know anything about before ( this happens to me all the time!) You may pick up some new training tips or exercises to try that spark off your enthusiasm again. Learning about the history or culture of your martial art may inject it with new meaning for you.

Join a like minded community: Writers often join Writer’s circles or Writer’s clubs to meet with like minded people and share writing ideas or give feedback on each other’s work. I belong to one of these and this gives me the opportunity to write about things other than martial arts – I write poems and sometimes short stories. In martial arts your club may provide this sense of community and support but what about training and writing outside of your scheduled club times? Some people can train alone with no problem – this is easier if you do karate rather than jujitsu or other art that requires a partner. But if you find it difficult to motivate yourself to self to train alone then why not ask a training partner to meet with you at your house/their house/somewhere else to go over some stuff you want to practice, or meet regularly with some martial arts friends in a social situation in order to chat about your training or martial arts generally – just talking to others can motivate you to want to train. Let’s face it – this martial arts blogging community we are all part of fulfils this need pretty well for both training and writing.

Try something new: You’ve grown bored writing about your training schedules, giving training tips or trying to think up new ways of saying the same thing. Your writing style has become static, ‘samey’ or stale. Challenge yourself to write in a different style or genre: if you normally write about your training why not try writing something inspirational instead? If you write inspirational stuff then why not write something cultural or historical? Write about a martial art you've never done before - people who practice that art may find they have a new perspective on it after reading the 'outsider's view'. Or if you are really adventurous why not try writing a martial arts poem – it could be deep and meaningful or just a comic rhyme. Or write a short story on a martial arts theme? Go on – you know you want to; we all have a novel inside us somewhere. Your readers will always appreciate something fresh and different from you occasionally.

The same applies to martial arts – if you’re bored with training and feel like you’re making no progress try a new martial art. You don’t have to give up your ‘main’ art to do this. In fact adding a second martial art can often enhance your enjoyment and understanding of your main one. If you do a striking art why not learn a bit of grappling in a jujitsu club. If you mainly grapple go learn how to strike properly. Why not add a bit of weapons training to your repertoire. You will learn new ways of moving your body and strengthening your muscles; learn a different perspective on the martial arts; broaden your circle of martial arts friends and have a more creative approach to your own training.

Avoid pitfalls
If you’ve overcome your ‘block’ then you need to avoid becoming blocked again. Train hard/write lots but don’t overdo it. Remember you are in it for the long haul. Don’t train so fast and furiously that you burn out quickly or get injured. Don’t write so much that your head is spinning. Progress and experience, by their very nature, take time to achieve – take the time!

Expect it not to be easy all the time – that way you won’t be disappointed when you hit a rough patch.

Don’t work beyond your ability – it will discourage you when you fail. Just take it a step at a time.

And finally, as Dan Prager’s post title said: “You don’t have to be great all the time”

So keep on training and keep on writing!

How did I do Dan?

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Dan Prager said...

Hi Sue

Nice article.

I think that with writer's block there's stress to do with the need to create something new, and the attendant anxieties.

Perhaps martial artist's block also has something in common with performance anxiety / stage fright?

Sue C said...

Hi Dan, I think you're right. Anxiety can have an inhibitory effect on many activities we do. Learning to relax and enjoy is probably the key to becoming productive again :-)


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