At the dojo where I study aikido, we talk about our practice a lot. Sensei often says that the most difficult and most important part of any practice, aikido, writing, going to the gym, whatever, is showing up. While I usually don’t have difficulty showing up to aikido, this certainly speaks to my condition around writing.
I use Habitica (formerly Habit RPG) to help maintain daily writing as a habit (though it doesn’t always work out as well as I’d like). To that end, I have a daily goal (borrowed from Mary Robinette Kowal) of writing three sentences. Sure, I could just sit down and write three sentences and then go do other things, but usually that doesn’t happen, because those three sentences are my showing up for my writing practice. Once I’ve gotten three sentences in, I’m stretched and warmed up sufficiently that I can usually pound out a lot more words.
The trick is showing up.
When we talk about practice at the dojo, we also talk about the idea of renshū versus geiko, which are two Japanese words that translate, at least roughly, to “practice.” The difference between the two, as sensei explains it, is that renshū is practice in the most basic way—mindless repetition—whereas geiko is practice with intention behind it.
The idea of geiko has stuck with me since it was first explained to me late last year. Of course I would like to write every day, but the idea that just by doing writing exercises, I will get better as a writer has never sat well with me. I know that I can’t only write when I’m inspired, but an artifact of my pre-college schooling is that I’m rather unfond of doing things that feel too much like homework, and writing exercises often slot neatly into that category in my mind.
The challenge for me is to treat writing exercises, especially those which don’t end up becoming part of something longer, as geiko, to approach them with intention and focus on what part of my writing I want to improve upon with that geiko.
Because ultimately, isn’t that the point of writing exercises?
Certainly I won’t be engaging in geiko every time I sit down to write. Sometimes, renshū is the best I can hope for, and even renshū has its place—even mindless repetition strengthens the muscles, and I think it’s safe to say that most writers want their writing to be automatic to some extent.
In the end, the hardest part of the practice is showing up, whether that means writing twenty words or two thousand.