Thursday, January 10, 2013

Coaches: Wielding a Pen or a Sword

I LOVE swords! Since watching old black and white Errol Flynn movies to the moment when the Man in Black crossed swords with Inigo Montoya in "The Princess Bride", I have wanted to hold a sword and swashbuckle my way through a crowd of nefarious thugs, laughing all the way.
For a long time, the closest I got was going fan-girl for any movie with a sword fight: "Star Wars", "The Scarlet Pimpernel", "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "Three Musketeers" . 
Or diving into a good book with such characters who either wielded a sword or should have. When I discovered the novels by Patricia Veryan, I was in absolute heaven! I think I read them all. Then while diving into an old Louis L'Amour paperback at my grandma's house, I discovered HE wrote swashbucklers, in addition to gunslingers. I ate up all the novels about Barnabas Sackett and fell in love with Mathurin Kerbouchard. (After so many reads, I can actually spell his name right!)
So what's a girl to do when she exhausts her list of swashbucklers for the third time in the year?

She complains to all who can hear how she would LOVE to take fencing classes, if only she could find some nearby...
My husband finally got tired of my whining. So this past August I walked into my first fencing class (I was a half hour early, I was sooooo excited.
We mostly worked on footwork for the first several weeks, but finally...
I got to suit up and handle a SWORD! 
Okay, its actually a foil, but it has a pointy end and a handle and makes a lovely swooshing sound and if the red rubber tip was off, I could injure someone.

My, don't I sound bloodthirsty!?!

Now for the uninitiated, one look at the picture and you may see nothing wrong. However, after several months of lessons (Yay!) I see this photo and can see that, though I have my feet placed alright and my hand up, (It could also be down or behind my back, but that's personal style of the fencer.)
...The point is my sword is not placed right. It's sticking almost straight up in the air!
Oh, I have learned so much!

But still so little.

Just this past Tuesday night, when I thought I was doing so stinking awesome, one of the coaches came up beside me and pulled my elbow back and my wrist up and then proceeded to show me how I'm using my wrist too much and my fingers not enough. My circles and my parries are much too big.


Part of me was so mad at myself...when will I ever get this right? All the old insecurities birthed in gym class came swooshing back over me. I could SEE what I needed to do. Why could my body not DO it???

A teensy part of me wanted to cry.
But instead, I made a joke. It was dumb and corny, but my coach recognized it for what it was.

"You're really doing well. But you need to build muscle memory. Doing the drills over and over will help your fingers remember what they should be doing. I think we all got lazy over the holidays. Keep drilling! Keep practicing. Go slow until your foil goes where you're aiming. THEN you can speed it up."

I went back to my drill partner. We worked on Lunges, Parry 4's and Ripostes. A part of me started a nagging internal dialogue.

But then, I recalled another coach's inspiring words from a month ago when I had done really well (before the holiday break!).

"Amelia's got the Mojo! Taking on Kevin! And you're getting points! See, all we needed was to tap into your killer instincts! You got this! Keep up the drills and keep challenging these experience fencers. That seems to help you do better. You got this!"

So many times, when we get criticism or critiques, we naturally may want to lash out, cave in, break down.
But we need to remember how much we've improved. Hey, I've been fencing for less than half a year! I'm doing WAY awesome!!!

And when I face my manuscripts with critiques in hand and I want to cry because there is sooo much to fix and I feel like maybe I should toss in the towel, I look for the comments amidst the crits that look something like this:

Overall I think this chapter works really well! My comments are really little nit-picks. I like the dialogue and relationship between the two and it definitely moves the story forward and keeps me interested!

I do think you should cut the line "That flash of fear in Taddeo's green eyes finally convinced him." Because you do SUCH A BEAUTIFUL JOB in the next paragraph SHOWING that. It's really good! 

AND don't be discouraged by my notes. You're a good writer. I enjoyed everything a lot. I READ the whole thing, and I'm not someone who will keep reading something that is not good. The reason I'm being so nitpicky here and trying to be as detailed as possible is because I really really want to help you. There's so much potential and good stuff here! Let's make it shine :)

I think the biggest thing to look for as you go through to cut things yourself is really REALLY ask yourself if the scene is NEEDED. I know you’re a good story teller. Your writing is good! And your story and characters and world are all things to get lost in. However, I feel that what you need to focus on is what NEEDS to be in the story. What do readers NEED to see and NEED to know for your story to unfold in just the right way? Be aware of what each scene and chapter is telling and showing your readers about the plot, your characters, the world, and what MIGHT happen in the story (i.e., foreshadowing). I think if you take note of all of that, then go through, you’ll see a lot of scenes are telling/showing me the same things. Readers only need to be shown or told once to get it :)

Coaches...We need them in all areas in our lives. We need the ones who take time and say, "Keep your wrist down and your sword angled." or "I think you can find another word here." or "I like this chapter but it doesn't move the story forward. Can you cut this and include a bit of this information somewhere else."

Coaches are awesome, they have experience. They have a good perspective to see what we're actually doing and have the expertise to show us a better way. 

For you writers out there, a friend shared with me this wonderful video series with Brandon Sanderson. Basically they are films of him teaching a university level creative writing class. I've only gone through a handful, but I'm really enjoying. Here's the link: 

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