Writing Katas

I used to take martial arts for years. One of the things that traditional martial arts do is a thing called katas, which is basically a stylized dance that goes through the martial arts moves. I can still remember many of them for both Tai Kwan Do and Kempo even though they were basically a lifetime ago. The point of them is to train your body to flow from one move to the other and to know the moves. To commit the movements to muscle memory to make sure that you really know them and to really integrate them into your martial artist toolbox so that they are there without thinking about them when you need them. You usually start and finish at the same point on the floor.

I hadn’t really thought a lot about the idea of katas until I was recently taking a software java class put on by 8th Light Software. They have a really interesting concept of software craftsmanship using the idea of a kata to hone that craft. It opened my mind the concept of the kata outside the physical and it is something that I have carried over into my writing craft. Where the martial arts kata is very structured and the same every time, I do the writing one kind of different, I have a few “setups” and then write the paragraph. It’s kind of a seed I guess. The point is to not write the same thing every time, but to write something.

How are they done, you might ask? And not only how, but why? After all, if I am writing, shouldn’t I be writing something that goes to my project that I already don’t have enough to work on as it is?

Well, those are all good and valid questions. Let me answer each of those in time, young seeker of knowledge, though not in the order you asked.

Let’s start with the “why?” Writing is a craft and the best way to get better is to do it. One of the most difficult parts of writing is the creative part, and the idea of the kata is that the idea is already there and this is, ultimately, a mechanical exercise, a honing of the craftsman part of the work more than the creative part if you will.

Now, on to the next part, this doesn’t replace your project. This is a warm up. You are sharpening your tools before going to work. I find that this is a great thing to do when I only have 10 minutes to write, or if I am feeling the dreaded writer’s block.

Finally, how do you do it. This is up to you. I personally started with a paragraph. I have a few different katas that I do now. I’ll list a few below and you can take them and run with them. Remember, the point isn’t to save them. You should start and finish with a blank page. Also, only do one at a sitting.

Character enters a room.
Action fight between characters.
Describe a town as it comes into view.
Describe a man.
Describe a woman.
Describe an alien.

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