Unlikely Influences is a series of weekly blog posts about how science fiction and fantasy writers can learn the tricks of their trade in odd places. Most are from guest authors, but I’ll pop in from time to time too.
This week’s installment is by novelist Steve Bein, and is the first of three parts. An earlier version of this part appeared at Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review. Part 2 will run here in February and Part 3 in March.
Next week and the week after, I’ll have some football themed posts for Pro Bowl and Super Bowl Sundays.
They say you should write what you know, and I guess it’s fair to say I know fighting. I’ve been in the martial arts for about 20 years, earning black belts in a couple of arts and dabbling in about two dozen others. So with all of that under my belt — blue, at the moment; I’ve returned to Brazilian Jiujitsu after many years off the mat — I want say a bit about what all the training has done for me as a writer.
There are some obvious benefits. Daughter of the Sword is about — duh — swords, and since I spent a little time studying kendō, iaidō, and Florentine sword fighting, I also have a sword rack in my office. It’s handy to have a katana or two in your house when you need to know just how much space your samurai character has to swing in an average bedroom.
More important is the experience itself: not just the techniques but the feel of the sword’s weight in your hands. Writers can try to fake it, or else they can go out and do some research — as I needed to do, for example, when it came to my police detective’s pistol work. I think readers can tell when you’re faking it, so I made sure I got to spend some time with cops shooting pistols. (It really helps when one of your martial arts buddies is also a range officer.)
But that stuff only helps when writing about the weapons themselves. Martial arts have helped me write plenty of pages without fight scenes, because it turns out earning a black belt and getting published have a lot more in common than you might think (and certainly more than I’d ever expected).
First and foremost is simple pain tolerance. Everyone knows writing demands a certain degree of stick-to-it-iveness, but before I started this game, I didn’t really understand how much of that was discipline and how much of it was the sheer refusal to acknowledge you’ve been hurt.
I got a very strange piece of luck right out of the gate: the first story I ever submitted was a winner in the Writers of the Future contest. Because of that, I got the idea that getting stories accepted was normal. It was only afterward that I discovered just how many rejection letters I would collect before publishing my next short story. I’ve got enough of them now to wallpaper my office.
A natural inclination for a lot of writers is to take each one of those rejections like a kick in the crotch. Fortunately for me, my best friends used to kick me in the crotch on a weekly basis. For years. I even paid money for the privilege. It’s not the sort of thing most guys are thankful for, but I’ll tell you this: rejection letters ain’t so bad after that.
Editors will beat you up in this game. Critics will too. The trick, to quote Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, is not minding that it hurts. And full-contact fighting will teach you that trick lickety-split.