What the Military Taught Me About Writing

On Sunday, 2 June 2013, I’ll have officially been an Air Force officer 20 years.  On graduation day at the Air Force Academy, I threw my hat in the air as the Air Force Thunderbirds screamed overhead.  I’m extremely proud of my years in the service, and even now I continue serving, learning Arabic and preparing for an assignment to Amman, Jordan.

During all this time I’ve known of my love and passion for writing.  It’s been an ever-present desire in my life, and I have to say my career in the military has taught me a lot that pertains to and helps with my writing life.  Here are a few things the military taught me and how they help me with writing.

1)      Respect authority.  There is always someone in a position of authority over you, and this is no less the case in writing.  Even as a freelancer, there’s an editor who you’ll work with.  Be respectful to this person and help them succeed in their job, which is to get a great comic or story out on time.

2)      On time is five minutes early.  In the Air Force, if you’re exactly on time for a meeting that means you’re late.  On time is actually five minutes before the meeting.  The same helps with writing.  If you’re given deadline, beat it.  Get your work written, polished, and in to them before the date they said they’d need it.  Remember there is a line of creators (pencilers, inkers, colorists, letterers) whose job is waiting for you to get your story in.

3)      Be brief, be brilliant.  You hear this statement a lot when communicating in the military, particularly in briefings.  The seniors you’re briefing have a lot of issues to handle and not a lot of time.  So be concise, informative, and hard-hitting.  The same goes with writing.  Trim the fat, get to the meat of the story, and make it as hard-hitting emotionally as you are able.

4)      Communicate, communicate, communicate.  When working on a military operation, you may have people scattered over the entire globe.  The only way to pull it off successfully and on time is to always communicate.  That goes with writing comics as well.  I always try and let my creators know what’s going on with the project at any given time.  It’s best if they aren’t left in the dark.  That includes discussing page rates, deadlines, story ideas, publishing plans, and whatever else you can think of.

5)      Experience life.  The military gives you the opportunity to experience a LOT of life  in a short amount of time.  With multiple moves all over the country and world, I’ve had the opportunity to see this world in a way many never get to – not by riding a tour bus but by living with its inhabitants, talking with them, knowing them.  I’ve learned languages other than my own, I’ve learned to ski and dive, I’ve learned what it’s like to welcome life into the world and to say goodbye to loved ones who’ve passed.  Don’t become complacent, but get out and live life and use that to fuel your characters and your stories.

6)      The work doesn’t do itself.  The biggest lesson I take from my military time is to sit down and do the work.  There’s no other way it’s going to get done.  You can’t sit and say, “I could write a better story than that.”  You have to sit and write that story. 

I thank God for my 20+ years in uniform, and I’m still proud to wear it and serve.  I don’t know what’s in store beyond this, but I know it’ll hold more stories that I must tell.  I hope you’ll read and enjoy them as much as I enjoy the telling.