The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Modeling the Masters

Just came back from yoga this morning. Hot, sweaty, great. There is a certain pleasure in doing the same sequence of 26 moves day after day. One day, your Half-Moon pose is great, but your Bow sucks rocks. Then because you've set up certain patterns of tension and fatigue in your body, the next day, the Half-moon is mediocre, but your Locust is off the hook. Sigh. What is ultra-interesting is that Yoga has idealized versions of poses. You start where you can, do what you can while maintaining the thread of your breathing (critical) and your body will open further and further.Yoga is like this--and so is dance, and martial arts and ice skating and piano playing and a number of other disciplines, where there is both form and function. If the form, the "true" form exists as a Platonic ideal, you never master it, but movement in the direction of the idea brings fantastic benifits. Our reach SHOULD exceed our grasp.
Let's apply this to writing. I say that your goal should be a thousand words a day. That will take you past that "million words of b.s." mark rather rapidly. But there will be days tht you just can't think of anything to write (until you get better control of your flow state.) All right: on those days, just take a classic short story by a masterful writer, and type it out. That's right, just type it out...even better, write it out in long-hand. There is an imprinting on the subconscious mind that happens when you do this. Not to mention the fact that stories look different in print than they do in manuscript form. It is quite valuable to understand this distinction.
When going through this process of imitation, ask yourself not merely what the outer form of the thing is, but what in the world was the master thinking of when he or she created the movement, the music, the words? What did the world look like to her at that moment? Don't just do what the master says, try to see what the master saw. It is incredibly harder to be Christlike than to be Christian. The master sees a different world, a world that cannot quite be put into words. He communicates as best he can--through words, actions, and general energetics. And unless he has a student that equals or surpasses him (which rarely happens) the instant he dies, his followers devolve these vital teachings into two-dimensional concepts. It is the difference between a living tree which gives fruit--and the house someone builds once they cut that tree down. One is alive, one is not, however beautiful an edifice it might become.##We can reclaim what the Master found by imitating until you have reached 95% efficiency, and then studying what another master found...perhaps in another discipline altogether. Mastering a second discipline, or studying the words and thoughts of those who have, will give you unique perspective on the qualities that lead to excellence. This is hard, hard work...But it is also absolutely worth it.


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