Friday, March 04, 2011

There's no shortcut

I used to be a nervous speaker. In college, I’d give a presentation in front of the class and not even remember it afterwards. I couldn’t tell you what I said, if anyone was watching me, or whether a 500-pound gorilla walked through the room during my speech.

Fast forward to grad school. After three years of Toastmasters, four years of teaching, and countless class presentations, I still got nervous, but now I was aware during my speech. The ultimate test came during graduation when I stood on a stage in front of about 400 people. I spoke for five minutes, fully in the moment the whole time.

I could see the expressions on the faces of the audience. I could hear the little shouts of encouragement. I was in control of the pace of my speech, and knew exactly how far along I was. And at the end, I remembered it all.

That was a great moment for me, but it only happened because of practice.

The other night I had a similar experience during a sparring session at Kung Fu. For years, sparring has been my biggest hurdle. I’ve seen progress, but I still struggle to find the opening in my opponent’s armor while still protecting myself.

This time, however, I was able to broaden my vision and not only block more of her attacks, but I was aware of her vulnerable spots too. Again I was struck by how long it takes to progress, and how important it is to practice.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this: writing. We all start at different levels, but no matter where you are on the path, you can’t shortcut the process. I’d like to think that every book I’ve written has been better than the last. I could no more have written my most recent MS two years ago than I could have given that graduation speech as an undergrad.

No matter what you're trying to do, there’s no shortcut to excellence. You must deliver the speeches, take the blows, and write the words.

I don’t think practice makes perfect. What is perfection anyway? But I do think practice makes better. And maybe even really great, if you work at it long enough.

I ended that graduation speech with one of my favorite quotes, and it sums up perfectly what I've been trying to say.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. —Aristotle


M.V.Freeman said...

I agree with you completely Gwen, you are what you practice. It takes time and effort--writing especially!

I liked your illustrations--public speaking and sparring. Both have to come with persistence.

Come to think of it--I spar daily with my writing.

Wonderful thought provoking post!

Callie James said...

Great post, Gwen!

My last sparring match (Karate) was one of the biggest lessons in my life. I was sparring with someone two belts higher than me, and needless to say, I got my butt handed to me. This was at a time when I was in the best shape of my life. My sparring partner was at least ten years older than me. She was also mature and confident enough to encourage me with advice throughout the match. I could tell she was holding back.

When it was over and I was on my way out of the building, she passed me with a smile, unfolded a walking stick for the blind, and proceeded to scan the floor for objects on her way out the door. I noticed the cab waiting for her.

To discover she was blind and won the sparring match didn't shock me at all. That she predicted my every move by awareness and sound alone is what floored me.

You just gotta love God's lessons sometimes. The delivery of this one, to me, was priceless. :)

Kieran Kramer said...

I loved this, Gwen!! And I'm so impressed by all your accomplishments!!!

Have a wonderful weekend.

Kieran :>)

Rashda said...

Great post Gwen. Gives me hope that my writing will keep improving and one day even reach readers.
Being rather short, sparring has been a challenge for me too....

Gwen Hernandez said...

Thanks, Mary. "I spar daily with my writing." What a great way to put it. And the fact that you do it daily is the important thing, not that you always win. ;-)

Gwen Hernandez said...

Wow, Callie, what an amazing story. Humbling and inspiring. I'll probably need ten more years before I feel competent at sparring even if I still have good eyesight. But it's nice to see progress. =)

Gwen Hernandez said...

Thanks, Kieran. I think you're too easily impressed. ;-) Besides, your bio is *way* more interesting than mine!

Gwen Hernandez said...

Thanks, Rashda. Hey, you're reaching readers with your writing already. Didn't you "own" the food section this week? ;-)

I can related to your stature problem. The worst is sparring my husband because he's almost a foot taller than me. The only one at my dojo who can get past those long limbs is the master.

M.V.Freeman said...

I can't help it, but I have to throw in my two cents on sparring:
For me when I used to spar someone with long limbs..or is taller I get on the inside...and be quick. The closer you are, the harder for them to use those very long legs or arms!
Granted be prepared to take a few hits! (This works for Karate--never have done Kung fu, which sounds very cool).
Do you also have to do grappling?

Carla Swafford said...

Amen, girlfriend!!

Louisa Cornell said...

Wow, Gwen! I am really impressed that you study the martial arts. Neat! My little short round self can't imagine sparring with anyone, even a blind lady! And Callie, she definitely had an unfair advantage in that she could probably hear and sense your next move far better than you could hers.

I know one thing, going to New York I am definitely huddling up with the Southern Magic gals for protection!

And what an oh so true post! I have to believe that the more I do this the better I get. Every now an again someone sells their first book and it is a real hit, but more often than not years of putting it out there and getting slapped down go into making it in this business.

I think the most important thing is to be open to learning something new about the craft every day, even if it is something you learn when going over your own work.

Christine said...

Write words. Learn to write. Revise words. Learn to revise. Practice does make better, not perfect.

Keep practicing writing kung fu, Gwen. You'll get better at discovering your own "vulnerable/weak" spots and improve upon them so you come out a champ!

Great post!

Gwen Hernandez said...

Mary: Always good advice, though better for free sparring or a real fight than point sparring, I've found.

I used to do Tae Kwon Do, and our approach is basically the same, though I know other places do it differently. We don't do any grappling, but my husband tried Jiu Jitsu for a while and really liked it until he broke a rib. =)

Gwen Hernandez said...

Thanks, Carla!

Good points, Louisa. In the end, writing is the best way to learn what works. It doesn't seem like it should be, but it really is.

I'm pleasantly surprised to see how many of us have some MA training. Can't wait to meet up with everyone in NY!

Gwen Hernandez said...

Thanks, Christine!

Lexi said...

Amen, Gwen, and congrats on the sparring. I took taikwondo for a while and I HATED the sparring part. Not my cup of tea.

Gwen Hernandez said...

Thanks, Lexi. I wasn't fond of sparring for a long time, but my new school has some well-matched partners for me. And it's more fun as I get better. ;-)

Christine said...

Maybe I should just add this: breaking the rules is like street fighting. I like the grittiness of the unknown grappling with the story and making it mine. Truly owning it because I wasn't bound by the restrictions of a classroom.

But I'm a rebel at heart.