fencing and writing

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.

two women fencing, one with the name Thurman on the back of her uniform
Competition photo. Guess which one I am.

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.
seventh place medal, USFA National Championships 2014
The result of 13 years of work.

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)?

biweekly links 3-23-2016

black and white photo of candles, talismans, ritual knives, a crystal ball, and a book with a pentagram inscribed in the cover
An altar with some of Doreen Valiente’s ritual objects. Courtesy the Doreen Valiente Foundation/Culture24

Early modern English Muslims, 20th century occult collections, and fin-de-siècle French Satanists for you:

shit getting real: taxes

So, since I got out of my perfectionism tail-chasing the writing has gone very well – a scene a day rather than a scene a week. At this rate I might have my fifty pages within a month [crosses fingers]!

But I’m also working on the business end of things.

Writers should be able to fully deduct from their taxes all writing-related expenses, including alcohol, parking tickets, court judgments, fines for lewd public behavior, Zoloft, and cigarettes- Chuck Palalniuk
Via likesuccess.com

Not including quite what Palahniuk is, but I am going to try to deduct the Prague research trip from my taxes.

Even though I’m not published.

Even though I can’t guarantee that I will ever be published.

Though my writing acquaintances assure me this is all above board it still makes this adventure that little bit scarier, that little bit more real. I’m naturally risk-averse and images of the IRS breathing down my neck if I don’t get a book deal steal into my head unbidden.

But still.

For the past 3+ years I’ve raided libraries, taken classes, gone to writer’s conferences, purchased craft books and now traveled internationally in pursuit of the possibility of hammering this WIP into something suitable for print.

I’d not have gone to this much time, effort and expense if I weren’t serious.

So I’ll see what they say.

And keep (re)writing.

biweekly links 3-9-2016 – now with more witches

Woodcut of witch:
Cover of a 1643 that likely inspired the spelling. Found on Pinterest.

Never thought I’d be a fan of a horror film but “The Witch” (or “VVitch”, as it’s appearing in most promo materials) is special: it is fantastically historically accurate (they even speak Shakespearean English throughout) and the horror is slow and subtle. Spoilers abound:

perfectionism paralysis

scissors going after a single blade of grass
My old first pass rewrite/editing approach. Courtesy theravive.com

Twenty-eight pages.

That’s how many I’ve managed to get through in this first round of edits. Which sounds good until you realize I started rewriting in July.


I do think I’ve figured out what’s slowed me to a snail’s pace – it’s excessive perfectionism. I’m doing sentence-level polishing when I should concern myself with the broader issues of story structure: filling in scene gaps, answering research questions, and pacing.

The root cause isn’t lacking “flow” or time – it’s terror of showing my beta readers something less than perfect. But worrying over every turn of phrase at this stage probably makes nonsensical dialog worse, widens plot holes, takes vague cause/effect into “what was I thinking?” land.

My resolution for March: instead of a scene a week, a scene every 2 days, fixing the big stuff. Let’s see if I can do it.