A few months back, the Good Sister and I signed up for boxing classes. We’d both had a few rough months and decided that a semi-violent outlet was needed. I hadn’t had one since my karate days and The Good Sister…well, The Good Sister’s never been particularly violent but she needed a change of pace.
We were taken under the wing of Instructor Hot Pants, he of the flaming red boxers and very little else. The class consisted of The Good Sister, a lady I will refer to as The Lovely Miss V, and myself. The Good Sister, Leo that she is, made it her duty to put everyone at ease with her winning personality and sense of humor. She used to be a Ballerina, and wasn’t shy about admitting it. She made light of it often a frequently, “I’m not used to this sort of thing!”
It showed. Any time she kicked, it was with a pointed toe and her movements had a natural grace to them that no boxer could ever claim to have. Instructor Hot Pants, typical Bahamian male that he was, had a great sense of humor about the whole thing. He’d just laugh and tell her to “stop thinking like a Ballerina.”
I, decidedly not-Leo, hung back and just decided to enjoy the physical aspects of the lesson. 15 minutes into it, Instructor Hot Pants started to focus less on Good Sister and more on me. After one or two corrections, he smirked and shook his head. “Stop thinking like a Karate Student.”
I was floored, appalled, and a little miffed. I hadn’t mentioned it, and tend to resent observant strangers. “How did you figure that out?”
“You pull your punches. That’s how you win Karate matches; land your punch for a quick point and pull back.”
He was right of course. It’s why I’d stopped going to Karate in the first place. I’d begun to understand that it was less about self-defense and more about competitions. (And I hated competitions.) Still, my face must have shown I was even more horrified than I meant to reveal because Instructor Hot Pants was quick to put me at ease. “There’s nothing wrong with it, it works for Karate. It’s just not how you operate as a Thai Boxer. So try to forget it.” Every class he told The Good Sister and I the same thing: “You have to forget everything you know about Ballet/Karate.”
We tried, but the two practices had a lot to do with our early development and the way we move subconsciously even today. No matter how hard I tried, every time I landed a punch, I pulled it back too quickly. I didn’t know how to combat what to me was largely instinctual. It didn’t really hit home for me until the night we were sparring with Instructor Hot Pants. He had large red pads on his hands that we had to hit in a series of moves that he choreographed and called out as we went along. Done with my turn and blown from the exurscion, I went over to the Lovely Miss V. She’d become my sparring partner over a short few weeks and I found her presence both calming and encouraging.
“You can really hit.” She said, and it meant a lot coming from a woman who I’d seen give Instructor Hot Pants a run for his money. The woman had real power. “You just need to put more confidence behind your punches and push through.” And then it clicked. Because that’s what you do in Thai Boxing. you push through your opponents, not pull back like you’re afraid they’ll bite you. (Mike Tyson notwithstanding…)
What does this have to do with writing?
Sometimes, we pull back from the work out of fear. And there’s so much to be afraid of. Fear of marring the unblemished page. Fear that the story is going no where, that your heroine/hero/antagonist is shallow and not worthy of note. Fear that you’ve lost that magic that was so present only just yesterday. Fear that we’re useless, talentless, not enough, inset your own masochistic self judgements here. Sometimes our fears are baseless and yet they still make us balk like a skittish colt refusing the jump.
Like in my Thai Boxing Class, I’ve had to train myself to push through this fear. This fear that has prevented me from writing a single finished first draft ever. It’s not easy. Even now I sometimes find myself sinking back into old habits. 100 words, bam! Quick point, pull back, stop before it gets too scary and you think it sucks. Some days though? I’m brave enough to go the extra mile and I’m even finding I can do it without obsessing over whether I meant to use “crimson” instead of “red” or “defiant” instead of “recalcitrant”. I still encounter the fear, the doubt, the resistance. The Inner Censor/Critic/Negativity. I still allow myself to feel them even…
But then I ignore it and write anyway, if only to prove that I can push through. That I’m not Fear’s slave. (It also helps if you think of him in flaming red boxers, just saying.)