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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.


Short Fiction Roundup: “Homesick” and “The Robot Who Couldn’t Lie”

Full Disclosure: I know Sarah and Sunil IRL.

Also Full Disclosure: I wouldn’t be telling you to read these stories if I didn’t think that they are very very good, even if I’d never met their authors.

So.

“Homesick,” from Issue 36 of Fireside is a Very Sarah Gailey story. It’s full of haunting language, humanity, crab-people, and [spoilers]. Sarah’s world-building and subtle humor are on point. Come back here after you’ve read it and just try to tell me that it isn’t so Very Very Gailey.

Read “Homesick” here.

Also on deck this week is Sunil Patel’s “The Robot Who Couldn’t Lie,” which originally appeared in IGMS but is brought to you now by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, who already published one of my favorite stories this year (another of Sunil’s, too: “Girl in a Blue Dress (1881)”).

You’ll want to gird your feels for “The Robot Who Couldn’t Lie,” especially if you’re reading it right after of “Homesick,” because damn. This story takes a very different tack from “Homesick,” but is no less affecting. It is sweet and funny (and sneaks in a Portal joke) even as it gut-punches you with feels. Grab a couple tissues.

You can read “The Robot Who Couldn’t Lie” right here.


Hugos & Puppies: Peeling The Onion

shattersnipe: malcontent & rainbows

On the phone from the Middle East, where he is currently deployed, Torgersen lamented what he called “the cognitive dissonance of people saying, ‘No, the Hugos are about quality,’ and then at the same time they’re like: ‘Ooh, we can vote for this author because they’re gay, or for this story because it’s got gay characters,’ or, ‘Ooh, we’re going to vote for this author because they’re not white.’ As soon as that becomes the criteria, well, quality goes out the window.”

Who Won Science Fiction’s Hugo Awards, and Why It Matters, by Amy Wallace

In light of this year’s Hugo Award results, and with particular reference to Amy Wallace’s excellent rundown on the Puppies affair, I feel moved to address the Sad, rather than the Rabid, contingent. Per Torgersen’s remarks above, and setting aside every other aspect of the debate that renders me alternately queasy or enraged…

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At the Mountains of Madness

Some time ago, I posted, somewhat cryptically, that I was working on a thing.

Well, I’m proud to announce that, finally, that thing is done.

What started as a quick project over the summer to make a game alongside my students in PuzzleScript has led, eventually, to the completion of At the Mountains of Madness, a game based on the novella of the same name by H. P. Lovecraft.

So go ahead and give it a shot.  The whole game, or interactive graphical fiction-thing, whatever, should take a first-timer around ten to fifteen minutes to play through.

atmom


The Shapes of Stories, a Kurt Vonnegut Infographic


In Lieu of an Actual Post

I present you with something that you might wish to buy.  The Poe v. Lovecraft shirt from Qwertee.

Can you get much cooler? (Yes, actually; my “Cthulhu Hears the Call” shirt from shirt.woot still wins, but it’s a close one.)

If you’re reading this right this very moment, then you’ve only got about 5 hours left to guarantee a shirt, so jump on it.


Howard Tayler, author of the webcomic Schlock Mercenary, is one of my favorite people on the internet. His story, the opening of which is excerpted, is not a Schlock story. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it or buy this book, though.

Support independent publishers, and push this thing up the lists, yo.

Monster Hunter Nation

This is the intro to Howard Tayler’s story Flight of the Runewright in the Space Eldritch anthology. http://www.coldfusionmedia.us/category/space-eldritch/  Tune in here on Monday so we can Book Bomb the hell out of this. The goal is to sell as many books in one spot, in one day, as possible, in order to bump them up on the sales list. (and hey, I even wrote the forward!)

This thing is straight up horror, and it just gets creepier until the end. This was the story that hooked me when I was alpha reading. So here is your free sample. You want the rest? Check back Monday and let’s give these guys a good sales boost.

#

There is a click, soft and silvery, at my throat. The black velvet bag over my head is now locked in place, and I won’t be able to see a damned thing until I’m…

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Sorry it’s been a while here. I was directed to this by a friend living in London. These are absolutely brilliant.

Joe Blogs

My friend Darren sent me a linkto these rather excellent alternative London Underground signs…

(click image above for link to original photographers blog)

Apparently they’ve been appearing for some time now, but like 99% of passengers, I’m sad to say I’ve missed them..

They’ve been done so well, that to a regular commuter, their utter familiarity as part of an accepted, everyday visual clutter, results in them becoming almost invisible, losing all meaning beyond their colour and shape..

Well it’s a lesson learnt for me. I usually pride myself on at least attempting to see beyond the day to day, and resist the automatic filters that city life can generate.

Rest assured, that I will certainly be keeping a much sharper lookout for these signs from now on… How I would’ve loved to have noticed Shepherd’s Pie, overground, Gas mark 4 on a journey into work, it would have…

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Post is Unrelated, Argument is Invalid

No, this doesn’t really have anything to do with anything.  Yes, I’m posting it anyway because it’s my blog, and you can’t tell me what to do.

Neil Gaiman jumping on a trampoline

Use it wisely.

[Via Kyle Cassidy]


Howard Phillips Has a Posse

Okay, the joke may have been done somewhere else already, but I couldn’t help it.

The first person to paste this poster to a wall and show photographic evidence will get 1,000 internets and a stern talking to because vandalism is wrong.


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