Every writer knows the old adage, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Last winter, I decided to take up fencing, something I’d always wanted to try and had never gotten around to. It turned out to be much more challenging than I’d expected, both physically and mentally. As I’ve practiced over the months, though, I’ve (slowly) gotten a little better – and I’ve realized that there’s a surprising connection between my professional work and my new leisure sport. At first glance, parrying a feint may seem to have nothing to do with blogging or updating social media, but in fact, fencing and content writing are closely linked in the components they incorporate and the strategies they use.
To begin with, there’s a great deal of finesse involved in both fields. Fencing involves precision in distance, timing, and movement, while writing strong marketing content revolves around the careful use of targeted language and specific keywords. A fencing bout, too, can be won or lost with one movement too swift and subtle for the untrained eye to see (as I’ve learned the hard way), the same way a content message can hit the mark or go wide based on a few key phrases.
On a broader level, though, success in either activity also demands that you know your audience (or, in the case of fencing, your opponent). The difference between scoring a touch in fencing and being (theoretically) skewered can be a matter of a split second’s misjudgment. Fencers must size up their opponents quickly and accurately to be able to anticipate their moves and reactions and develop the right approach – including factors like height and speed, as well as strengths, weaknesses, and tactical patterns. The same is true for content writing. To craft an effective, powerful message, writers must understand the needs, challenges, and motivations of the people who will be reading it. Without these valuable insights, it’s almost a given that your content won’t resonate with your audience in the right way.
Fencing, like content writing, also requires a solid strategy. Even when you’ve fenced someone before, the combinations of moves that can unfold are nearly endless, and sometimes unpredictable. To stay in the game, fencers have to plan ahead – they must always have a goal in mind, know what moves to use (and risks to take) toward achieving that end, and be ready to adopt a different strategy quickly should the first one not go as planned. Effective marketing content uses the same kind of tactical approach. Content produced haphazardly – without knowing what it’s trying to accomplish or how and when it will be distributed – won’t have the unified impact it needs to convey a meaningful message.
Finally, fencers and content writers both benefit from a certain level of testing and analysis. Sometimes fencers can assess a situation by trying a new move, seeing how their opponent responds, and incorporating that knowledge into their next strategy. Other times, when a fencing move doesn’t play out the way you intend, you can either shift gears to another tactic, or retreat and give yourself time to re-plan. In either case, you’ll only improve if you pay careful attention to what works and what doesn’t, and why. Likewise, writers can only gauge the effectiveness of their marketing content by keeping tabs on their performance metrics – and being ready to adjust their strategies as needed.
After several months of practice, I’m still barely a novice at fencing, and I still struggle at times – but I keep going, not only to improve my skill with a blade, but also to get a better grip on the mental discipline the sport demands. Fencing forces me to think faster and more strategically, with a sharper awareness of the differences even tiny moves can make – both valuable tools to create effective marketing content.