Writing and Karate: Beating Out a Scene by Faith Van Horne

Slideways by Faith Van HorneI recently met Faith when she commented on one of my Healthy Writers Club posts. I was fascinated when she mentioned how karate has helped her improve her writing and vice versa, so I asked her to write monthly posts about writing and exercise for us! Enjoy her insights! And share you own in the comments!


In my last blog post, an interesting discussion started in the comments about physical movement during and between writing sessions. Beth Barany spoke of walking from café to café, and I have a similar habit. When I’m leaving to do my writing for the day, I prefer to walk to one of several coffee shops near my home. Not only is it more economical and earth friendly than driving, but I find moving my body around also primes my mind, getting my creative juices flowing. If I’ll be writing at home, I take the dog for a walk first. Same effect, and then my dog also loves me and doesn’t nose me for attention every five minutes.

Physical activity is good for more than priming the pump, though. I find it also helps when I’m writing along and get stuck. It’s very common advice to, in these moments of writer’s block, engage in any activity that isn’t writing: taking a shower, going out for a movie, doing the dishes. The point is to trick the mind away from its sticking point. When you’re focused on the words on the page, it can become impossible to think beyond the corner you’ve written yourself into. Disengaging allows the mind to break free, roam a little, and come at a solution sideways.

But for me, more passive activities just don’t cut it like good physical exertion. Sometimes a walk can do it, but sometimes I need something more. For example, when I was working on my second novel, I got incredibly frustrated at one point in the narrative. I just could not see my way beyond the roadblock I’d set up for my character. I silently raged at my brain for not being able to work through the scene. Of course, fuming at a blank page was getting me nowhere, and writing down scenarios was just making me even angrier. So I stepped away from the computer and hit my heavy bag.

I got the heavy bag for karate to work on sparring, distance, and combinations. But I’ve found it has the side benefit of helping me pound out my frustrations. This was the first time I used it that way in the context of my writing. I warmed up, threw on my gloves, and let my anger at my stalled scene flow out through my fists and feet.

The effect was cathartic, which was all I was looking for at the time. After a short session, I was panting, covered in sweat, and too exhausted to be angry or even thinking straight anymore. Then, in my worn and distracted state, a solution to the scene that cleared up the problem that was stalling me, and also added some depth to the story, popped through. And it was powerful, too.

I doubt I’d have gotten the same solution if I’d taken a gentle walk or swept the floor. The act of pushing myself to a state of exhaustion opened up my mind, letting the answer through. Mystics talk of altered states of consciousness bringing us insight we can’t achieve in a mundane state. And pushing my body to its limits certainly lifted me above my everyday consciousness.

Have you ever pushed yourself physically to work through a creative issue? If you give it a try, let me know how it works out for you.


Author Faith Van HorneFaith Van Horne is the author of the young adult fantasy novel Slideways. She is currently putting together a collection of stories and working on another novel. In her free time, she practices karate, and even helps teach it a little. She blogs at Scribatious (faithvanhorne.blogspot.com).


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  • I do it all the time! I find going out and sprinting is excellent for just this kind of thing. Sprinting is proven to be a very beneficial form of exercise and the walking as I recover between sprints is one of the best ways I have found to connect mind with body! Being outside, in nature, challenging my body to go the distance 20 – 40seconds sprints and then recover for the next set feels great, and reduces any built up stress.

  • I loved this post and I have the same need. Spending a lot of time in front of the computer makes it necessary to move to strengthen your body, but I also need it to leave my head and be more in my body. When we become heads without bodies I believe we also cut off our heart and gut – which are the two that should guide us through our work. So to me exercise in various shapes such as gym, running, dancing and yoga are therefore necessary for me to be a full bodied, full hearted and fully creative being 🙂

  • Wendy, I love interval training as well! I only occasionally do it with running, but yes, that recovery time between rounds; pure connection. And I’ve never found a more thorough way to break through stress.

    Matilda, I know exactly what you mean about heads without bodies. When I get too cerebral and not enough physical, I feel disconnected.

  • I often go to bed at night thinking of a problem with my WIP. In the morning, I exercise using interval training. Either during or after (usually in the shower) the solution comes to me. If there’s no problem with my Wip, I sometimes get an idea for another novel. And, if I don’t get an idea, my mind feels clear and ready to get some writing done.

  • Barbara, I’ve heard of writers going to bed that way, and keeping a notebook next to them to write down their dreams in the morning. The idea is that, since your brain has been primed before sleep to attack the problem, it’ll be working it out while you dream. I like how you add the physical aspect to it.

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