The Pen and the Sword
Today I want to talk about how my fencing has affected my writing.
My sword school have been planning a tournament for months, their first in something like ten years. I’ve been thinking all along that I would be happy to just hang around, help out, be a runner. I’m not ready for tournament, that’s for people who are ‘really good’.
But the pool of rapierists in Europe is not that deep. And as a result you get widely varying levels of skill. As the weekend draws nearer and nearer we’ve been preparing and training harder and harder – well, at least, everyone else has been preparing. I’ve just been training as normal. A couple of the guys asked if I was going to compete. I just shrugged and said ‘No I’m not ready for it.’. When they tried to encourage me I said that I didn’t think it was fair on me or anyone else competing to go in half-hearted, you need to really, really want to do something like that. Have a strategy, play to win etc. Ambivalence is not the best frame of mind for success.
Then last week it was announced that there was a space free, the guy who was supposed to fill it found that he wasn’t able to attend. And so . . . I volunteered, telling myself I was helping by making up the numbers. I was amazed to find that I was not all that nervous. I worried initially that I wasn’t prepared enough, but our tutor gave us a drill where we only had to focus on the next hit – as long as we made contact and they didn’t then we had succeeded. You live, your attacker dies, end of. That is basically the premise of fencing, to defend oneself. That one nugget of information was a revelation to me. To focus only on right now, and make right now the best I can do.
What’s this got to do with writing? Well the idea of being ‘good enough’ and being prepared.
Swordfighting is the only sport I’ve ever liked. At school I was the kid who always had a note to get out of games. I hated it – the physical exertion was like a punishment, the competitive element seemed divisive. But it’s only in the last couple of years I’ve discovered Historical European Martial Arts – and it has changed my life. I go twice a week and have to say it is an addiction.
My involvement in the practice coincided with my rejuvenated urge to write, and a lot of the lessons can be applied to writing. Here’s what I’ve learned:
All that matters is your next hit.
The sword – Don’t worry about if you are 2-0 down or 0-2 up. Just make sure you strike without being struck.
The pen – So what if your last piece got ripped to shreds in crit group? You got a rejection slip? Don’t dwell on it and move on. Write the best piece you can, right now.
Fight your fight.
The sword – Don’t be in obedience. If your opponent comes at you, throw something back, rather than performing according to their motions.
The pen – Don’t worry about what’s popular, what sells. Write your story, one that speaks to you. If it pleases you, chances are it will please someone else.
The sword – You can stand your ground and fight them off, but this presents them with an easy target. Keep moving, give them something to work against. It’s actually less straining.
The pen – If your writing freezes up, comes to a part where you’re not sure what happens next . . . keep going. Better to write stuff that can be edited down again into something better than nothing at all.
The sword – Don’t focus on winning, focus on making the cleanest hits you can, demonstrate that you are a good swordsman, regardless of the score.
The pen – Write because you love writing. Publication is the end goal, but remember to enjoy the ride. If you enjoy writing something and you are relaxed, the likelihood is that feeling will transfer to your reader.
This last bit of advice came from Doug Hulick, and I think has to be the most pertinent of all. “Have fun. It’s the fun fights you remember the longest.”
So when I enter the tournament this weekend, I will try my best not to worry that I’m not ‘good enough’. Everybody has to have a first tournament at some time. If I don’t get beyond the first round, then at least I can say I’ve done it, and next time I enter a tournament it will be with experience.
And when we come to submit this book of ours, I will do my best to maintain the same state of mind. That if it gets rejected all I know is that we will have to try harder (hopefully with some advice) to make it the best book we can.
How about you? What have you learnt in life that has also found ways of applying to your writing?