Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Be Water, My Friend

Bruce Lee is one of my all time heroes for a number of reasons. First of all, he made some kick ass movies. Iconic images are burned into my brain like his yellow jumpsuit imitated in Kill Bill, and the scene where he rips the chest hair from Chuck Norris' burly chest.

Lee was also a great philosopher, and applied it to the martial art that he created - Jeet Kune Do. JKD is often called the "formless" martial art because Bruce Lee believed in training every ounce of your body so that your movements become automatic. And once you become a true master, you no longer had to think about what to do. The body just does.

Finally, Bruce Lee left us with some wise words that we can all use. I absolutely love his analogy of martial arts with flowing water. We can apply this philosophy not only to martial arts, but with everything we do in life.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

This is how I feel about the writing process - or any creative process, for that matter. Remember writing academic papers? I do. As an English major, I had to write a lot of them. I remember sitting down and forcing myself to write. To use Bruce Lee's analogy, I was trying to force open a rusted spigot, hoping to get the water flowing. I could usually make it happen, but it was tough.

How do we get our creativity to flow like water?

There's a lot in Bruce Lee's philosophy that can help us:

1) Do it everyday. Mushin is a state of mind that is unthinking, flowing, and open....But it only comes from training every single day to the point where it becomes automatic, like breathing. If you're a writer, write every damn day. If you're a painter, paint. A singer, sing. Do it every single day. This will help when the creative juices don't flow so easily. Even if you're creating crap that you will probably pitch, at least you're creative something. If you're too stubborn or lazy to do it everyday, then kick your own ass.

2) Don't over think it. Sometimes it's good to just "empty your mind" and write whatever your subconscious is dictating to you. It's almost like feeling possessed - the writing flows, and you can hardly take a breath before stopping. Getting to this creative nirvana is impossible if your conscious mind is too awake worrying, stressing out about coming up with creative ideas or whatever. If you're stuck somewhere in the creative process, don't get bogged down. Let the water flow around the stone. Come back to it later...maybe your subconscious mind will work it out on its own. Keep a notebook at your beside for those moments where you have revelations in the middle of the night.

3) Be flexible. Maybe you planned out something in great detail, but as you begin to create, you find yourself going in another direction. Be flexible enough to let your creative mind take over and take you wherever it wants to go. Maybe it'll take you to a dead end. So what? It could also take you to another world of possibilities that you could never have planned.

4) Try new things. Water adapts to its surroundings. This is key to Jeet Kune Do. In combat, you can't stick to your conventions if the situation dictates it. What if you're fighting a dwarf? Or how about a dude that's seven feet tall? You have to adapt and change in order to survive. Creativity is the same way. The best way to learn adaptability is to get out of your comfort zone. Are you a writer than only writes in first person point of view? Then try writing in 3rd person limited. Or maybe try your hand at writing in a different genre. Do you only paint with oil? Try watercolor. Do you play guitar...why not try the drums? By seeking out strange and new experiences, you avoid getting stagnant.

5) A list of five things seems more appropriate, and 5 is my lucky number, but I guess I'll just stop at 4. Look, I'm practicing the art of flowing water right now. Despite only coming up with four points, I'm still typing away. Go me!

Be water my friend...



mooderino said...

Good post, very encouraging.

Moody Writing

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Don't over think it - really important. And not just for writing!

Miranda Hardy said...

Once you stop over thinking, it helps flow so well. Thanks Bruce Lee and Jay!!!

Jay Noel said...

mooderino: Thanks so much.

Alex: You said it!

Miranda: That's right, thanks Bruce.

Matthew MacNish said...

The conscious mind, too awake, worrying.

Yep, getting past that can be tough, but is so key. Great post, Jay.

Julie Dao said...

So, so true. I hope to be as flexible and adaptable as water when it comes to writing!

Sarah Ahiers said...

oooh! This was such a great post! I actually know very little about Bruce Lee. I've only seen like 2 of his movies. I know. I'm terrible. I'll need to rectify that

Vero said...

Great post, Jay! Wise words.

Kelley Lynn said...

Wow. What a great quote. I really like that.

Be water.

And I really like your point #2. Don't over think it.

Emily R. King said...

Great post! My inner editor can be a pain in the butt sometimes. She over thinks EVERYTHING. Sometimes I have to duct tape her mouth shut so I can get some work done. :)

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

Did you like the movie, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story? I really liked it. It was really my first introduction to the coolness that is Bruce Lee. I saw it in theaters when it first came out hoping that it would tell me something about his life, and I think it did that very well.

Pk Hrezo said...

Amen to that, brother.
I love Bruce Lee too. And oddly enough, I was watching his lost interview on You Tube just like 2 days ago. I plan to watch the documentary "I am Bruce Lee" in the next couple of days here. His philosophy is so right on. Avid fan!
And right on with the comfort zone. I love trying new genres to write and swapping tenses.

Jay Noel said...

Matthew: Thanks buddy.

Julie: Me too.

Sarah: So much of his work happened outside the movie industry.

Vero: Thanks!

Kelley: Which reminds me, I'm thirsty.

Jay Noel said...

Emily: Me too. Gotta just keep moving forward and shut that editor up.

Michael: I LOVED that movie. It did a great job giving us a better idea of his life. So sad about his son Brandon too.

Pk: I think I saw that interview too. It's the black and white one where he's sitting talking to some old guy, right?

Brinda said...

I think I'm guilty of over-thinking things. I'll have to take this advice.

The Golden Eagle said...

Interesting quote. I like the way you've connected it to writing/creativity.

Morgan said...

Looooove posts like this, Jay... Thanks so much for this! Totally inspiring! <3

Ciara said...

Love this post. You made so many great points. Over thinking is always dangerous for a writer.

The Desert Rocks said...

I'm a huge fan of Dr. Emoto the scientist behind the study of water and snowflakes. I love all his books and encourage friends and relatives to read his amazing findings about stagnant water vs. flowing water. Sounds like Bruce Lee would be a fan too.

farawayeyes said...


Jay Noel said...

Brinda: I'm over thinking about over thinking.

Eagle: Thanks!

Morgan: I appreciate it.

Ciara: We're smart people...sometimes too smart.

Eve: I just read about his work!!!

faraway: You said it!

Anthony Dutson said...

Great inspiration! I found you on InkPagent and I'm glad I did.

Anthony Dutson said...

Great inspiration! I found you on InkPagent and I'm glad I did.

Cynthia said...

I like your point about trying new things. That's why I read a variety of genres...it's always enlightening to see what else is out there.

Arlee Bird said...

Yeah, water is good stuff as long as you don't drown in it. I like to be flexible and to be able to adapt to many situations easily.

I was also an English major and enjoyed writing the papers. Sometimes I'd get a little to free with my writing and more than once my professors let me know I was all wet. To be like water is good as long as the flow is kept in control.

Came here via Faraway Eyes site.

Wrote By Rote

Rusty Webb said...

Great stuff. I'm not quite there yet, but I think I'm up to being like jello.

Anonymous said...

I think this is one of my favourite posts of yours and considering how far back I go reading your blogs...pretty impressive, Jay.

Okay...I am water...

Jay Noel said...

Anthony: Thanks for stopping by!

Cynthia: Me too. Love going outside my norm.

Arlee: Going point. Water flow is not the same as a dam breaking.

Rusty: Or how about pudding?

Jenna: Wow! Cool. See, the best is yet to come.

mick davidson said...

I agree about staying flexible. My experience as a fiction writer has taught me that there is more than one way to get from A to B.

Sometimes when you reach a dead end and feel you can't go on, you have to try something different or think differently. A new approach always seems to remove the problem.

I like your blog, it's great to see so many people reacting, and also to see such good advice and encouragement.

Part of my blog is about what inspires people to be creative, and this is written by the people themselves. If any of your readers (or you yourself!) want to participate, please have a look at this:


Juliana L. Brandt said...

Since querying, I've had a hell of a time actually getting any real writing done. This is exactly the post I need to save and help remember that I do this simply because I love writing. And, I really need to get back to writing every day. No excuses.

Mr. Shife said...

Great post, Jay. And Bruce Lee was one awesome dude. I remember my Dad introducing me to him with one of his movies and I was hooked.

Milo James Fowler said...

Well said, Jay (and Bruce). Write every day and just let it pour out, as ugly and messy as it is; we can always clean it up later.

Jay Noel said...

Mick: I will check it out. Thanks for visiting.

Juliana: NO excuses!

Shife: You're dad is one smart dude.

Milo: My writing is pretty darn ugly too. Thank God for editing.

Melissa Bradley said...

I'm sorry I came to this so late. I love Bruce Lee, but haven't ever thought about applying his philosophy to my writing. Thank you for sharing this. It was so exactly what I needed to read right now as I struggle.

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