Monthly Archives: January 2017

Aikido and Writing: Practice and Improvisation

Last night at my dojo, I was in a very small class. In fact, when I showed up, it looked like it was just going to be me and the instructor, though another person showed up partway through our warmups.

Most classes during regular training have us practice two, maybe three techniques in a set sort of way: this technique with this entry, resulting in this throw or pin. Ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo, yonkyo, kotegaeshi. (There are others, of course, but those five, and especially ikkyo through yonkyo, represent a sort of core for the practice.) We practice these over and over, static and in motion, in response to different attacks. We help our bodies to learn the movements so that we can do them without having to think, so that we can better defend ourselves against an attack we haven’t practiced against, should it ever become necessary off the mat.

We practice those techniques, and others, so that when we show up to a class attended by one other person and the instructor wants to have some fun, we can flow through attacks and find our way to a technique our muscles know.

One of the things that our senpai said during class last night was that, on either side of the technique, we shouldn’t enter with too many preconceived notions of what’s going to happen. If we attack, expecting a certain defense, or if we’re setting ourselves up to defend against a particular attack and our partner doesn’t do what we’re expecting, we’re going to have a bad time. That advice varies in usefulness depending on what’s being practiced, but for what we were doing, and for my practice as a writer, that struck a chord.

During rondori, defending against multiple attackers, I’ve frozen up or fumbled before when my idea of how I would defend didn’t line up with the attacks I was facing or when I’ve gotten partway into a technique and forgotten where I’m supposed to go next.

So often, when I get stuck on a story, it’s because I began with a firm idea of where it was going, and as I wrote my way in, it became clear that that wasn’t the direction the story was going anymore. It becomes very difficult, for me at least, to keep on writing when I reach a place where what I planned on having happen and what makes sense to happen don’t line up.

In both cases, practice helps, but so, too, does the advice not to hold to strongly to preconceived ideas of what will happen. Practice helps you connect with your partner’s energy. Improvisation lets you redirect that energy when your initial plan flies out the window. Without connecting, you may find yourself just planting your feet and trying to push or wrench your partner around. The energy in that feels wrong, and everyone, participant or observer, can tell.

Practice helps you get words on the page and connect to the flow and energy of the story. Improvisation lets you follow that story to its end, even if that end wasn’t the one you had in mind. Without that improvisation, you end up doing the prose equivalent of planting and pushing. You might get your story to go where you’d planned, but it’ll feel wrong, and it’ll show.

Now, in aikido, there is no drafting, no revision process in which you can go back over an attack and tweak and tug, here and there, until you execute a technique perfectly. In fact, there is no perfect, only a gradation of proficiency. (There is no perfect in writing, for that matter.) You can go back in subsequent drafts and smooth over the place where you planted your feet and forced your story to go the way you originally intended as sometimes we all must. In the moment of writing, though, I would prefer simply not to get stuck.

(If anyone figures out a good trick to actually applying the advice given above, I would love to hear from you.)

Anyhow, that’s your intermittent trying-to-relate-martial-arts-to-writing ramble.


Obligatory Hugo Post

Hey y’all! Long time, no see, huh?

For 2016 I did not have any awards-eligible works appear, but that doesn’t mean I won’t come on here to tell you who I think you should nominate for the final Hugo ballot.

Best Novel

Borderline – Mishell Baker

Is this the best debut novel I’ve ever read? Maybe. Is that question hyperbole? Certainly not! Borderline is the best book I read last year, and thankfully, it also came out in 2016.

If you like urban fantasy, read Borderline. If you don’t usually like urban fantasy, check it out anyway, because our protagonist is a disabled woman with Borderline Personality Disorder who ends up working with faeries.

Ghost Talkers – Mary Robinette Kowal

I was sold on this book the moment I heard the premise at a reading Mary did in SF back in 2015: mediums in the British army gathering battlefield intelligence from fresh ghosts during World War One. This book delivers on that promise in spades. There are lots of things I want to say about this book that are huge spoilers, so instead I’ll say this: I want Mary to write more in this world, and once you read this book, you will too. A Hugo nom can help make that happen.

Best Short Story

“This is Not a Wardrobe Door” – A. Merc Rustad, Fireside

This was the first short story I read in 2016, and the fact that it’s stuck with me these past 12 months should be an indication of how good this post-portal-fantasy story is. Seriously. It’s not that long. Go read it right now. LINK

“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” – Brooke Bolander, Uncanny Magazine

Short, violent, heartbreaking, triumphant. I love the hell out of this story. It’ll take you just a couple minutes to start loving it, too. Go! LINK

“The Green Knight’s Wife” – Kat Howard, Uncanny Magazine

Holy crap, y’all. This is a late addition, just rescued from my tab-purgatory today, and it’s just. Holy hecking eff, y’all. I love me some fabulism, and this right here hits that spot perfectly. Not your average wintertime story. LINK

Best Editor, Short Form

Lynne and Michael Thomas

The Thomases have done amazing work at Uncanny Magazine, which should be evident from the fact that Uncanny won a Hugo last year in its first year of eligibility. They’re quality folks.

Brian J. White

Brian is at the helm of Fireside, which has published some of the best fiction to come out in the past year. He is quality people.

Best Semiprozine

Uncanny Magazine

Uncanny has been publishing wonderful, vital fiction since issue 1, and this year has been no exception.

Fireside

Fireside has been on a roll the last couple years. They’ve published many of my favorite stories from many of my favorite authors. They also work really hard to make sure that their authors get paid and get paid well.

Best Related Work

The Women of Harry Potter – Sarah Gailey, Tor.com

Sarah’s series of essays is wonderful. You will be filled with feels and reminded that HP is maybe even more relevant today than it was when it was written. LINK

#BlackSpecFic Report, Fireside

This series of essays takes a powerful look at the state of speculative fiction today and the ways that racism is still present and insidious. LINK

Best Professional Artist

Galen Dara

Seriously, look at this cover for Uncanny.

issue10_mayjune16_coverfinal_med

“Bubbles and Blast Off” – Galen Dara, Uncanny Magazine, Issue 10

Portfolio

John W. Campbell Award for New Writers

Sarah Gailey

Sarah kinda exploded onto the scene a little while ago (I even talked up the first of her stories that I read on here), and she’s just continued to shine since that time. Recommended stories include “Look,” from the post linked above; “Haunted,” Fireside; and “Bargain,” Mothership Zeta.

I’ve undoubtedly left off things that you love and forgotten things that I love, so this post may be followed by addenda. And if there’s something that you love that you think I’d love, please let me know in the comments!


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