In many ways this feels like an end of the year update, and in some ways it is. Let me explain.
As regular visitors know, rather than make new year’s resolutions, I give each year a theme. The first year I did this was after being laid up with Leggeddon and so wanted a Year of Adventure. I started Swordfighting and storm chasing that year. This was followed up with the Year of Hard Work – a year where I wrote 600,000 words. And then this year has been the Year of Staying Hungry – a year where I wanted to build on my successes and not get complacent and lose my forward momentum.
As I suspected, the Year of Staying Hungry has been really tough, although in ways I never thought. In almost every aspect of my life I stepped everything up a gear. I took a look at my health and took positive measures to improve it (taking it from good to great), I took my writing and (eventually) accepted that my best was no longer acceptable, I put a lot of effort into my swordfighting.
I expected some of those things to be physically tough. What I didn’t expect was how mentally tough all of them proved to be.
The rewrites have probably proved the toughest. In the first lot of rewrites, I gave my all. I finished last year proud that what I’d delivered was well beyond anything I’d ever done. And then I had to give more… and I’ll be honest, it knocked me. On one hand, I accepted it. If I want to get to the level I aim to get to I need to up my game constantly. Wasn’t that the whole reason for the Year of Staying Hungry in the first place?
But I doubted myself. Coupled with work stresses and trying to massively level up numerous things at once I doubted myself. I mean, I could tell myself I was capable, I could motivate myself to keep trying… but from February until August it did feel the emotional equivalent of running full pelt into a wall, repeatedly. I couldn’t see progress, I got frustrated. I wondered if this was all beyond me, whether I had reached my upmost echelon.
Take for example my rewrites. I’ve been blessed with the good fortune that I write pretty solid first drafts. In fact, there are some chapters of The Four Realms that are first drafts. Even the ones I worked on, were either complete rewrites that added little or typo fixes. So you have to understand that in many ways, editing is a new experience for me… or at least editing at the high end. Changing a plot point or adjusting a character whilst keeping everything else in place felt like trying to remove a single piece from a house of cards. I lived in fear that it was all going to crash down around me, that my hands were not steady enough for the job.
In my swordfighting, I was putting in massive amounts of extra training and unable to see progress whilst everyone around me seemed to be progressing. Only in my health was I seeing any visible benefits.
In the Spring to summer of this year, I got really frustrated. I felt like I was pushing myself too hard whilst also knowing that this was a mental block rather than a physical or skill-based one.
And then I had a light bulb moment, and it came from lifting weights at the gym.
Now I’m far from the henchest of people but seeing as my stomach problems (brought on through side effects of treatment for Leggedon) had basically seen my body eat my own triceps, being able to lift weights was an accomplishment in itself.
And through repeated hard work, my squats, benches and deadlifts had steadily increased from barely being able to lift the bar to respectable weights.
Writing is like that. Maybe you can only bench 30kg at the start even if you give it everything you’ve got. That doesn’t mean you’ll only ever be able to bench 30kg. You may be stuck there for a few weeks but eventually you’ll go to 35kg and then 40kg and up. And I know from a couple of years of swordfighting that sometimes you plateau for a few weeks before going on to make further improvements.
That helped my writing. I became less frustrated with it and the edits became easier. But it also meant that I threw myself even harder at them. There were 4 chapters in the middle of the novel that I realised weren’t up to scratch and so I ripped them out and replaced them with something that’s much better and I’m really happy with. It took me about 6 weeks to do, but I likened it to replacing the engine on a car whilst it’s doing 100mph down the motorway.
Likewise, coming away from Fightcamp in August utterly frustrated with my swordfighting, I decided to shut everything else out and work towards my next big competition.
I can tell you that emotionally this year has been a struggle like nothing I’ve ever known. And it wasn’t really with my writing or my health or swordfighting. It was with myself. And whilst I wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around this summer, I somehow managed to stay hungry and continued to throw myself at that wall.
And you know… as we enter December I can finally see the results of all that work
Black As Knight
The rewrite is done. I know. Hardest edit I’ve ever done. In reality it worked out to be about 6 rewrites of varying degree, several at the start where I tried to work on one of the characters and kept missing and then more later in the year as I really started tearing the novel apart.
It’s currently with a beta reader who also has my agent’s notes and read the last major draft. She’s going over it as an extra pair of eyes to make sure I’ve covered all the points and to find anything obvious I’ve missed. I’m hoping that to be done soon, will then probably have a hectic week finishing those items off (I’m not expecting anything major), and then back it goes.
I left Fightcamp in August utterly frustrated. I’d worked so hard and came away from that tournament feeling like I’d made no progress. After a miserable1 week for those around me, I picked myself up and decided that what I needed to work on was my mental game.
I found I was going into a fight with my brain firing in a million different directions. Athletes often talk about being in the moment, about a zen like calm… and I was anything but that.
I’d arranged to go to Swordfish in Sweden in November. Now Swordfish is the Wimbledon of historical swordfighting. It might not be named the world championship, but it might as well be. It’s the competition everyone wants to win.
I was in no doubt back when I booked in June / July that I was going to get knocked out early. My plan was to go there to experience it with a view for being able to use the next year to know what I had to train for.
I also suspect that a few of my fellow fighters didn’t feel I was ready for it, that I needed another year. But if I’m good at one thing (as those closest to me always reluctantly admit) it’s seeing a goal and then working towards it. After my OK performances at a number of competitions during the summer I did suspect that my fellow fighters might have been right.
So after Fightcamp, I eventually picked myself back up and focussed only on Swordfish. There was another smaller competition a couple of weeks after and a few friends (meaning well) joked I should do that one. I refused, because I was not going to think that was all I was good for.
I trained with the tunnel like focus I get when I know something is the right course. I knew that my defense was strong, that my offense was weak and that was not going to change before the competition. I’d also got pretty fast. I used to be one of the slowest and whilst I’m not a sprinter, more an endurance fighter, I trained being able to burst late in the fight.
My plan was to go defensive and then be patient. With only a 3 minute fight, my plan was to out-pysche my opponent and get them into making risky moves against my defense, hopefully opening them up to my new found speed. In terms of mental endurance, it would probably test me more than anything this year.
There are many tales that Swordfish is mentally tough. World class fighters can crumple. And here was I, going use it as a way to really test my mental game by playing a losing strategy. Yeah, I don’t like making it easy for myself. But then as I said, I knew I wasn’t going to win. I was here to know what to prepare for next year.
My fights went well. At that level every pool is a “pool of death”. I focussed on the now rather than anything else going on. There was an issue with the scoring that the person in my corner was raging about on my behalf and it was like it was on a TV in another room. I fought well, I went up against people who are considered extremely fast and showed them I can be just as fast. The world’s best fighters got to find out just how good my defense is and I made them work for their wins.
Knowing that I was not going to make it through the pools for my last fight I decided to just try a more offensive strategy by way of a comparison. I felt it was my worst fight even though my offense usually works well against an offensive opponent, so I came away knowing I did the right thing.
I finished 32nd, which wasn’t last and I think very respectable for my first Swordfish. I know my defense is world class and I just need to get my offense to the same level. I now need a plan to get there, and I have no doubt it’ll happen… because I’m that type of person who has tunnel like focus when they have a plan.
My plan had been to then take November off swordfighting. It coincided with the last push on the rewrites so it made sense to switch my focus entirely to that.
That small local tournament that friends had teased me about? I wondered if my focus in the fights was evidence that I’d laid the emotional foundation for my fights, or just a fluke.
I debated right up until the day before, and then I entered. It was for Sword & Buckler, when I’d been training entirely rapier for the past 9 months.
The focus was still there. I still employed a tactic of going defensive, allowing them to open themselves up. I can watch my fights back and see all the errors. The other fighters were really good.
But I still came away with a silver medal.
I probably needed that. More than even I realise. It was a validation of the hard work I’d put in. It doesn’t make me the greatest swordfighter ever, it doesn’t fix the faults with my offense, it’s not going to see me do better at Swordfish next year.
But it’s a start. It’s proof to myself that when I get those plans that feel like a million different ideas shooting together in one perfect jigsaw puzzle, despite the fact that people might screw up their face and query it… things will happen. It’s proof that I need to trust myself.
We’re talking plans for Swordfish 2017 already, and I certainly don’t plan to win it. That plan isn’t even in the back of my mind yet. No, it’s to improve and be able to fight an offensive fight. How I do that, still hasn’t come together yet but I have a few isolated ideas. My aim is always to surprise a few people and I think I have a few tricks left.
Back when I was struggle with the rewrites, I decided to try my hand at writing some short fiction. Short stories are not a natural fit for me. The first one I had published received a lot of praise and since then I’ve found that hard to repeat (Hashtag one hit wonder). Still, I reckoned that trying my hand at a slightly different form would keep me writing whilst I struggled with the rewrites.
The story I wrote was for an anthology I was invited into. Maybe due to my frustration with the rewrites, maybe due to having levelled up my writing through rewriting, I was really pleased with the outcome.
The publishers must have thought so as Bastion will be the first story in the anthology. I’ll share more when I know a release date.
So now it’s December. The rewrites, barring any final changes, are done and should be back to my agent shortly. I have a short story being published. My health is the best it’s ever been (even given this horrible cold I seem to have picked up in Sweden). My swordfighting now has a solid foundation on which to build upon, and I have my first medal.
So overall, I feel like I’ve accomplished all my aims for the year with a month left over. I feel great but exhausted, both mentally and physically… so I’m currently resting up, levelling loads of alts in Warcraft, playing with different weapon combinations at swordfighting, reading loads of books and catching up on a load of films.
My main takeaway is that I’m good at coming up with a plan and following it to completion. It’s usually miles more difficult than I anticipated and takes far longer than I thought it would, but I’m stubborn enough to keep throwing myself at the wall until I succeed
But at the back of my mind is next year.
I already plan to continue working on Shade Knight book 2 from January 1st. It’s been planned out a year and I have about a third written.
I’ve also go to a stage with my swordfighting where I’m able to start to teach others. Obviously when you are teaching you are not training and so there is a performance hit as a result. But for short term losses, I’m convinced looking at others, there are long term gains. It’ll be a challenge, but then it always is.
And the challenges extend to my Storm Chasing as well. A group of friends and myself are currently planning to step up our storm chasing adventures next year.
The website could also do with a bit of an update.
If this year really was the Year of Staying Hungry, then what is next year? I have a few ideas and a couple more weeks to decide.