What Martial Arts Taught Me about Procrastination, Motivation, and Writing Novels

By J. B. Nash - July 26, 2020 

If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.

Margaret Atwood

When Procrastination Hits

Procrastination. “The action of delaying or postponing something.” 

Everyone procrastinates over something. There’s always an opportunity out there we dismiss because it requires us to work beyond what our body wants, which is simply to survive. So when we all have the basic necessities—food, water, and shelter—our brains don’t see a reason to strive beyond those expectations. 

And there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re happy and content, great! 

But finding the motivation to finish that school assignment, to do that exercise, that paperwork, that novel, can seem nearly impossible because these particular tasks require us to go “above and beyond” the basic necessities to live. Our brain just doesn’t want us to place ourselves in situations that we ourselves see as negative, because that would mean going through the additional drudgery of working.

When Negativity Hits   

Psychology Today says that “we avoid tasks or put them off because we do not believe we’ll enjoy doing them, and want to avoid making ourselves unhappy, or we fear that we won’t do them well…becoming fixated on negative thoughts.”  

If we view these additional tasks as negative, as unappealing and arduous, our brains will start to view it as unnecessary and try to convince us it’s not important. So we avoid it because it only brings us pain and sorrow. Our brains say, “Who needs that??? I’ve done all the hard work I need and so I’m content where I am!” 

I enjoy a good meme or two about the pains of being a writer, but when it solidifies in your mind as a career that makes you lug yourself around like it’s a blistering hot day you’re a long-haired cat, don’t be surprised when all your deadlines are suddenly stretched, or even completely forgotten. 

When Urgency Hits

The NEED for finishing something only arises when the URGENCY for it’s completion is near and there is something important at stake. For example, your job requires you to complete that paperwork today or you’ll be fired. No income means no way to pay the bills. And in no time you’re out on the street, starving with no shelter from the elements. If you have a family, that’s even more of a reason to drudge on with that paperwork than risk not doing it.

But for an unpublished writer…OUF. No deadlines. No agents. No publishing company. No editors. We probably have a day job that pays for the basics. No one to urge us to finish. The negative mindset start to rear it’s ugly head where the complexities of writing a freaking 80,000 word book lurks in the back of our minds and weighs us down.

Yet, we take it all in anyway because that drive is still there…somewhere. It just doesn’t like the fear of losing, or making effort beyond what we need.

However, this passion that you have, this career you’ve made for yourself, the achievement you’ve daydreamed about over and over and over again…it lingers. You just want to BE THERE. The journey, however, is long. It’s rocky. It’s full of mist and hills and mountains to climb. Where are you going? You don’t have a freaking clue. 

So you wait. And life moves on.

And so the real issue arises when the need to achieve this goal remains in the far, far distance. We’ve got all the time in the world to write that book, why worry about deadlines when we’ve already have the basic things we need? This is our “survival“ brains talking, and therefore, we see writing as just a hobby and not as a life or death situation. 

When Pride Hits  

I joined martial arts because I saw the need for it. I was overweight, timid, unable to protect myself from a defense point of view and so I wanted to prove to others that I could be this warrior who could kick ass and take names without hesitation. Not some shy girl who couldn’t speak without quaking in fear.  

At first, I was eager to show up to practice, regardless of my shyness, because I had that image in my head of myself as a strong, intimidating woman. And it pushed me. Every day. 

But when my first sparring match came…I realized just how far I was from achieving this lofty goal. Over and over I was unable to beat my opponent, but I was intent on winning—rising above everyone else. Likewise, I saw writing the complex character development and plot lines to be the enemy. A writhing force unable to cooperate in my own mind. Something that I had to defeat…Or avoid. 

And that’s precisely what allowed the negativity to blossom. I saw it as the enemy. And I saw losing as a sore, bitter wound that I had to patch up and hide behind a layer of clothes. I saw mistakes as a mark of shame. The need remained, however, because I wanted to see myself be this amazing “warrior.” This amazing author who’d solidify herself in the history books like Shakespeare and J.K. Rowling. I just wanted to BE that person already. But to get there, I knew I needed to defeat this “enemy.”  

Where Responsibility Comes In 

In Hapkido and Tae Kwon Do, we are taught a tenet called “courtesy.” According to the dictionary, it means “the showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behavior toward others.” 

I thought, “no problem, I’m polite to people. I don’t start fights. I just want to win them.” 

Looking back, I realize this mentality only prevented me from reaching my goals. Wanting to win set me up to believe that failing meant I was no good. Negative feelings brewed as a result of this “imperfection” in myself. I wanted to avoid going to practice for fear of this failure and embarrassment. It was only my pride that kept me going.

But rather than seeing martial arts as a chore that would break me, I needed to see it as my wise teacher who only had the best intentions for me. 

“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” 

Kenji Miyazawa

Martial arts isn’t just about fighting, winning, and losing. It’s have the courage to stand down when everyone else tells you to throw the first punch. Having the discernment to know when to back down and when to fight back. Living in harmony with yourself, the planet, and humanity. It’s the joy of seeing yourself grow and overcome your own physical and mental challenges, without the need for recognition.

It’s having the responsibility to keep going, even when it’s difficult. To view mistakes as teaching moments.

Writing isn’t just about the pain of plot holes and writers block. It’s the joy of creating new worlds, amazing characters, and fascinating stories. Knowing where you’re at and acknowledging it without feeling like you’ve failed somehow. The respect you have for yourself and those who’ve achieved more than you.

It’s the responsibility to keep going, even when it’s difficult. To view mistakes as teaching moments

When you focus on the positive, when you see that the so-called “negative” aspects are just lessons that push you forward, then those tasks you once thought arduous, become your greatest ally. 

Where Respect Comes In

I began to see my “defeats” as a wise teacher. All the times I failed to perform that tornado kick as another lesson on how to acquire proper balance. All the moments I stuttered when teaching as a lesson on how to grow in my own confidence. This gave me a positive mindset so that I could continue without feeling drained after every class. I began to see it as a necessary task for my life, a way to bring enlightenment to my soul. The process became a need for me. And setting realistic goals for myself gave me the desire to continue. 

Writing is the same way. Having a positive mindset towards the process of writing a novel allows you to view writing itself as a need. A way to feel fulfilled and content. Setting realistic daily goals helps you take the next step and create this sense of “urgency.” 

Instead of fighting ourselves trying to win against procrastination, take a step back and ask yourself, why do I do what I do? What brings me joy and long-lasting fulfillment? How can I implement that same sense of joy into my passion of writing to cause me to want to do it as if it is an urgent need? What simple tasks can I do daily that would help me take the next steps? 

For example, I like to make a Daily To-Do List of the things I plan to do the next day They’re usually simple, like “take a walk,” “practice front snap kicks,” “do the dishes,” “read a chapter of N book,” “write the 5th chapter,” or “work on MC’s story arc.” Breaking the bigger tasks into smaller one’s helps me to narrow down my focus, instead of panicking and avoiding the monumental goal of writing an entire novel. I also like to set a time on my phone for an hour or two when I start writing so that I don’t have to worry about losing track of time.

Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose…not the one you began with perhaps, but one you’ll be glad to remember.

Anne Sullivan Macy

Whatever you decide to do, always remember that the satisfaction is in the process. Not the destination.