Besides blogging, noveling, and dayjobbing, I also take martial arts classes: karate and jiu-jitsu. I’ve been going to the dojo for three and a half years now, and in certain ways, karate’s not that different from writing.
(By the way: writers think everything is like writing. Doesn’t matter what it is. You could force a writer to grind turnips into turnip paste, and by the third day he’d be all “Well the turnips are sort of like adverbs, and by destroying them you produce stronger sentences, as represented by the turnip paste…” See? See? I made up that example to be ridiculous, and I’m already starting to agree with it. It’s a sickness.)
Writing. Karate. Yes.
For me, one of the key concepts in karate – and most any martial art, I suppose – is purposeful action. Everything you do in karate has a purpose, and is entirely focused on that purpose. If you punch, you don’t just sort of put your fist out there and hope for the best. You have a target, and you put all your energy – your whole body – into striking that target with maximum power. If you block, you don’t just sort of wave your arm optimistically, you block forcefully and stop the attack.
There are no half-kicks, no sort-of chops. You have a goal, and you pursue it with deadly focus. By putting all your energy into key strikes, you don’t waste it on needless motion.
This concept is so important in writing. Every scene, every sentence, every single word must have a purpose, and it must be striking toward that purpose with maximum power. If not, you delete it. Never waste your reader’s time. Don’t just put words down aimlessly – or rather, it’s fine if you do, but fix it in the revision. Tighten. Focus.
Does that mean you can’t have flowery language? That you can’t have jokes, or long rambling sentences, or colorful metaphors, or whatever fun thing you might want to put in? No. You can have those things, you can use those tools, if you use them economically. Take risks, if you need to; this isn’t about coloring inside the lines. It’s about making every word matter.
Sans segue: I just finished Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Both fun to read, intriguing, shorter than I expected. Also, they had pictures! I really miss pictures in a book, you know? We should bring that back. I’ll call up Cormac McCarthy.
Currently I’m on Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the original Tarzan book that started it all. Fascinating novel, in so many ways. Postmortem coming soon, after the, you know, mortem.
Second pass revision on The Counterfeit Emperor: 81%.