This whole “writing a book” thing has a steep learning curve. No matter how much I practice I might not see positive results for years. Even if I do the odds of being able to make a living at it are small. It sounds bleak and I suppose it can be – I can well understand why some people just quit.
Fortunately I have some prior experience stubbornly pursuing uncertain payoffs.
I’m a competitive fencer.
I picked up a foil because I needed the exercise and I’ve always thought swords were cool. What started as a less-boring means of keeping in shape became a physical and mental passion, and over the past fifteen years I’ve earned a couple of ratings (kind of like belts in martial arts) and medals along the way.
Please note that “fifteen years” thing. Fencing is about keeping calm and acting correctly in a quickly changing, physically demanding situation. I am neither a natural athlete nor reliably cool-headed and it took every second of those fifteen years to get this far.
Interestingly, the longer I work on the book the more parallels I find between fencing and writing:
- First efforts suck. Just as the first draft is dreck that needs editing, my first competitions were practice for competing: adapting to the noise, fighting down performance anxiety/”stage fright”. With each event I got a little more confident, and performed a little better.
- Practice practice practice. As writers must write, so must fencers fence. Damn tiredness, sore feet, writer’s block, or whatever else. Feet on strip = butt in seat.
- Massive amounts of persistence and patience are required. I competed for four years before getting my E rating and it took another three to get my D (the highest is A). I hope it won’t take me that long to get published. Even if it doesn’t it may still take years for my books to do well, but that’s ok, because:
- I don’t have to be perfect to be good. I’ll never be an olympian but I’m not a bad fencer. I’m good enough to win national medals and keep my head above water with scary As and Bs. And while I’ll never be a J. K. Rowling, I hope to tell a story competently enough to entertain readers.
- Ongoing education. Just as there is no mastery in writing, there is no endpoint at which someone becomes a perfect fencer. High rated fencers still have coaches and do drills and footwork. I expect to read books on craft, take classes, go to conferences, and the like long after I’m published. Speaking of which:
- I can’t do it alone. Without supportive, enthusiastic club mates and a coach that prevents me giving in to my natural laziness I’d never have done this well! My writing is much the same: I need critique partners, beta readers, editors and other professionals I’m still discovering to make my book as good as it can be.
In the next two weeks I’m in one local and one national competition, so wish me luck. If nothing else they’re good persistence/patience exercises I can fold into my writing discipline.
What about you? What “transferrable skills” do you bring to your own writing (or other creative pursuit)?