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Just Start Writing

Updated: Aug 29, 2022

"After you finish a book, you know, you’re dead. But no one knows you’re dead. All they see is the irresponsibility that comes in after the terrible responsibility of writing."

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway
Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

In the spring of 1983, I took an advanced composition course with Dr. Chris Burnham at New Mexico State University. Dr. Burnham required that each student keep a journal. You could write whatever you wanted in the journal: poems, sketches, or even paste in the occasional concert ticket, but he required that you include dated class notes from his lectures. And that you included your thoughts on the lecture.

If we read a book, the journal had to include a summary of what you read and your feedback on the piece. If there was a test, you were required to staple the graded test in the journal. Each of these entries were to be dated and in chronological order. Every couple of weeks, we were required to turn our journals in for his feedback. I thought this process was a brilliant way to monitor who was attending the lecture, who was actually paying attention to the lecture, and who was thinking about the lecture well after they'd left the classroom. He was teaching us to listen, to recount what we'd heard in writing, and to form an opinion on the event...and to write about that too.

He was teaching us to be good reporters, and he was giving us the framework to be good authors.

Participants in my writer's group have asked about my writing process. Not just as it pertains to "Heroes All," but writing in general. This blog is a good example. It started as an outgrowth of my love of genealogy, social anthropology, history, science, and geography and has rather morphed into my thoughts on one subject or another, thrown to an unseen audience through the wonder of technology in the hope that something here is helpful to someone else.

I wish that I still had that journal. I remember that we read Melville's Moby Dick, Typee, and Billy Bud. And we read Hemingway, though I don't remember which book. What I do remember is Hemingway the reporter, Hemingway the adventurer, and Hemingway the man. I remember this quote from his memoir, "A Movable Feast" as he described his way of moving past writer's block:

"I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know."

So where do I start? Before we had computers, I kept journals full of poems, life puzzles that I'd work through on paper, and sketches. Today, I use OneNote. I have OneNote notebooks for genealogy, separate notebooks for each book or poem, and notebooks with photographs of things I'd like to sketch or paint because for me, it all starts with data. I need information be that through experience, or research. Actually, I research a thing to death before I experience it, and then I research the hell out of it afterward to ensure I didn't miss something.

Within these notebooks are tabs or "sections." And within each section are "pages." For example, the notebook for "Heroes All" contains the following sections and some of the pages in the Communications section to give you an idea:

  • Story Outline

  • Boat Operations

  • Communications

    • Alarms

    • Bugle and Bosuns Calls

    • Signal Flag Codes & Vexillology

    • Ship's Bells

    • Training Videos form the USN & YouTube

  • LST 374

  • Operations Avalanche

  • Operations Husky

  • Operations Overlord

  • Military Rates

  • Military Slang

  • General Research

I rarely just sit down and write. Writing is more a reaction to an experience--some event or thought that wells up to the point of bursting in a flurry of thoughts that if I'm quick about it, find their way to paper. I'll talk more about that in the next blog.

I appreciate your thoughts and comments.

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