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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Pens and Swords

"You've got to check your ego at the door."

I was at a party the day I heard those words. My friend's partner was having a birthday, and they'd just moved in to their new place together, so the event doubled as a housewarming. Or rather, "Housearming". The happy couple both study swordplay, something which I *finally* got to start doing myself in February. Since then I've been blessed to take lessons at Academie Duello, a school for western martial arts. Currently I'm learning the rapier.

The speaker was talking about swordfighting, of course. Most of the partygoers were from the Academie. And what she meant was that it can be easy to be too overconfident, or to think you know more than the rest. Of everything I've learned, that line has stuck with me, and for one reason: it's true.

And it prompted a vital realization: I love taking sword classes. There's a fantastic fitness element to it and I am sure it will work its way into my Fantasy writing. And I won't deny that it's fun to say, "Well, in sword class the other day..."! But what I think I like best about it is that I am a beginner. I am still learning. And I am completely okay with that.

With writing? Not so much.

When I comment at Magical Words, I try to take an attitude that I'm a student and I'm learning, for no other reason than the fact that I don't want to ever get the attitude that I've learned enough about writing and I don't have to learn any more. I'm sure we can all name authors who seem to be phoning it in after awhile. I want to keep learning. I want to be a publishworthy writer.

But that doesn't mean I've been able to check my ego. Writing is something I've been doing for as long as I can remember. Being a storyteller (which very early on, translated in my mind to getting published) is something I want to do as my job. Over the years, I've learned more and more about the craft, and each new novel or rewrite shows that growth. And then I turned twenty, and I started to get impatient. I wrote and rewrote a few times more, but each time, I felt as if I was done, as if I was ready. I started going to SiWC. And anytime I was around other (unpublished) writers, I had this kept-to-myself feeling that I was somehow smarter and better in some way.

(A horrible, horrible thought, I know. But it was there. And as I've said about my experiences in Pen Name Hell, to deny its existence would be wrong.)

Now I'm nearly thirty. I've been writing for more than two decades, now. I'm acutely aware that there is so much I have to learn. I would *like* to finally feel that my writing is "good enough", and maybe I'm starting to feel that way again, at last, except that now I'm bracing for not being "good enough" and having to start over, again, because I haven't reached the right level.

And this time, if it's true, I'm okay with it.

Confidence? That's good to have. Self-confidence especially. You've got to believe in yourself enough to pick up that pen or that sword in the first place. But there is no place for cockiness on this path. Check your ego at the door. And get writing!


  1. I've kind of got a number of "me's" warring in my head over my writing. Like you, I've been writing for over 20 years now. I knew at 15-16 years old, back in 9th grade when Dr. Macioci told me that I should consider becoming a writer as a career, that this was what I wanted to do. I have a number of artistic skills, but writing is the one I always stuck with.

    There is a part of me that feels like I know quite a bit and is stunned at the fact that I'm not published yet, after all the years of trying to get it right. The part that reads other novels that have received book deals and wonders why those were ever given deals while I'm struggling to get someone to give me half a chance. However, that's also the side that's protecting my sanity.

    I was pretty introverted, and still am to a degree, and never had many friends. I was picked on a lot. I didn't ever get to build the confidence through social interaction that others were able to around me. The only thing I had that did that, was the writing, and that only through a lot of practice, trial, and error.

    Yeah, I'm a little cocky too about my work, I've been doing it since the 80s, and have to push that part down, especially with critique because I know that, as with everything, no one knows all there is to know, and fresh eyes on a project can fix problems I didn't see. Of course, I don't have to agree with everything, but I do have to look at it with an eye to trying to make the product as good as I can get it and to do so, that part of me needs to take a back seat.

    And I would love to take sword fighting. That'd be a cool skill to make use of in the writing. A little bit of my time taking kenpo has made its way into my fight scenes from time to time. However, I've always wanted to just take stage sword fighting. I love watching it and I know a guy who does it and trains others for stage and film.

  2. Daniel, I know what you mean. It can feel very frustrating to be in that place of knowing much, but still needing to know more, and not quite knowing if or when you'll reach that point where an agent or editor will approve.

    It really does become an exercise in zen, being okay with what has or has not happened. All we can do is keep working at it. And when the time comes for feedback, we have to be confident enough to know when it's wrong, humble enough to accept that feedback and criticism, and strong enough to make the changes the story needs.

    I've noticed on FB that you've gotten quite a bit done on your WIP! Your pace astounds me.

  3. Thanks much! Yeah, this is the easier part, IMO. The hard part comes when I start tearing the thing apart in revisions, going, "Now, why the heck did I do that!"

    And it does help the pace that I'm a stay at home Dad, which I guess makes me at least pretty close to a full time writer. Now if someone can pick me up and make it look like it's all worth the effort and piled up dishes. ;)