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...