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Drilling the Inner Editor

“As I walk through the valley of death I fear no one, for I am the meanest mother fucker in the valley!” – Gen. George S. Patton’s speech to the 3rd Army.

I believe no other American general in modern history has ever been as quoted, or has been as brutally honest in his command as Gen. Patton. Many of you may have heard the quote from above. Sgt. Siek’s character rehashed it the movie Jarhead, and of course Gen. Patton reworked it into this blasphemous form from Psalm 23 of the Holy Bible.

All of that aside, Gen. Patton was responsible for a great many changes in the military, mostly dealing with aggressiveness, teamwork, and drilling training until it became an individual’s primary nature. In example, the other night at work my coworker came around the corner holding a knife. In the blink of an eye, I grabbed his wrist, almost breaking it as I pulled him to floor, disarmed the knife and had it to his throat (yes, I am prior military and have fifteen years of various forms martial arts and hand to hand combat training). Needless to say, I perceived a threat and nullified it. I acted out of training.

So now, you are wondering what all this has to with writing. Well everything. From the moment we are born we learn to communicate from our parents. They speak to us, and gradually we learn Yoda; object-subject-verb (“Destroy the Sith, we must,” Star Wars: Episode 3). Eventually, we learn the right way, the English way, of structuring a sentence, which is subject-verb-object (We must destroy the Sith).

We start going to school and teachers attempt to train us in the theory of a sentence. What a subject is, a verb, an object; you know, the simple stuff. As the years go by, the shit gets deeper. We learn about multiple types of verbs, nouns that describe nouns, participles, gerunds, and modifiers. By the time we graduate, we are desensitized to terminology, as we either didn’t pay attention, or it is so much a part of us that it really all seems trivial.

Everyone is a writer, if you think about it really, but those of us who use writing as an art, as I have always said, are truly a different breed of being. Before I go any further, let’s face the facts, the rules of English grammar and style are so extensive that no one could ever truly memorize it all. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have to pay for editors and massive style guides to reference, like the Chicago Manual of Style.

I know plenty of writers; I have been a ghost writer for a few, and have edited a fair amount of material. I have been an English tutor at a local college, and I professionally tutor English as a side job to high school kids and college freshmen. If there is one thing that I’ve learned is that we all have a few practical issues. No one’s perfect; we have strengths and weaknesses, and nothing is harder than editing ourselves because we are blinded by our own ingenuity and pride of our work, or even apt laziness.

One of the greatest men I’ve had the honor of knowing was a squad leader I had in the Army. SSG. Larsen wasn’t the yelling type you see in the movies. He didn’t need to blow up to get us motivated to learn. His leadership alone was enough to inspire greatness. When we lacked skill in an area of our training he would drill us, drill us, and drill us some more until it became nature.

Most of us speak the rules right, but we often become blind to the rules, or don’t know them when it comes to our in inner-editor. Here are some suggestions:

Keep learning and relearning about your skills by continuously evaluating your strengths and weaknesses: Read several pieces of your work objectively. Make a list of what you believe are your strengths and weaknesses. Highlight all the grammatical issues you are seeing too. Get another person who has adequate editing skills to do the same and see if he or she is seeing the same issues, or even issues that you are not seeing.

Get back to the Basics: In example, if find out you are having a hard time with sentence structure regarding verb forms and infinitives, get back to the basics. Invest some money and buy Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and/or the Chicago Manual of Style. These should be the first two reference books on everyone’s desk. Read the rules religiously for a few weeks and try to conceive why you may be using your verb forms wrong.  

Drill: After getting a grasp on the material; practice, practice, practice!  Practice the right way and break your old habit. Keep in mind that you’re probably doing something wrong because you’ve trained yourself that way. Old habits die hard as the old cliché goes. The point is to make the elements of style second nature when you are writing, so you can have fun with the story or article when you go back for your rewrite.

Drill More: Skills seem to fade with time when the basics are not practiced regularly.  J. S. Chancellor noticed some tense issues editing a story of mine a while back. I spend at least a half hour a week practicing. There are plenty of practice test on the web to help keep your skills in check.

Share what you’re learning with others: As stated, we all have issues. Sharing with others is an invaluable way to learn, as you can learn from others as well.

Even experienced writers feel as if they are walking through a valley of death when they submit work to a publisher. No one’s safe from the editor and those deathly looking rejection slips, but making sure your inner-editor is properly drilled and fine tuned is a good way to boost your morale. Knowing how to dispute the rules of style is important for arguing for the sake of your own personal style. Drill your inner-editor every day, make it second nature, if not primary, and know that you’re the meanest fucking writer in the valley.

On Inspiration: Apathetic Procrastinator and Literary Perfectionist

Hey, Mind Flayers, Zombies, and Ghouls, as well as Elves, Paladins, Death Knights, Dragons, Santa Clause, Elvis and the Tooth Fairy.  I have felt a bit inspirational lately.  However, procrastination aside, school, and family life are keeping me from pounding out every little thought that comes to my mind (and, o-yeah, I do not procrastinate and I don’t believe in writer’s block).   Inspiration is all around us; you and me that is, and if you fell to believe me you are being apathetic. 

 Why do I say this?  Because either you have to agree, that inspiration is always seeping into your brain.  That simple conversation you had with store clerk or that creaking sound coming from underneath your floorboard can be a story in the making.  Now, can I promise you that it will be a great story?  Hell no!  That depends on the elements of craft and your level of skill. 

However, I am going to say that if you disagree with me, you’re still being inspired.  You have been inspired to form an idea or opinion about my own opinions.  Would that make a good story?  Probably to a bunch of old school literary fiction lovers.

If you are felling to see my point, ask yourself this.  Am I the apathetic procrastinator of the written word or a literary perfectionist?   Both of these stereotypes have a couple of things in common.  One, they both are endlessly searching for the perfect story.  Two, neither can put a thought down on paper for differing reasons.  The apathetic procrastinator gets nothing done because his idea is not going to become a major motion picture.  The literary perfectionist gets something down on paper, but fails to finish because he is using too many adjectives or his or her story isn’t, well, perfect from beginning to end as he or she places their thoughts into substance. 

I believe there is no such thing as the perfect story, there is only good writing and bad writing.  The qualifiers of these principles will be a different blog.  Point being, take your idea and put it to paper, finish it, and lock it away and move on to the next idea.  You can come back to it later and make it sound all pretty.

Jack London said, “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”  Good old Jack fails to mention you don’t have to go far to beat your inspiration into something someone, somewhere, will read and enjoy. 

Inspiration is all around us.  It’s in the news, in the sky, on your way to work, in the little quirks your kids say, under your house, and in the walls.  All you need do is be willing to accept it with open eyes and ears and use some imaginative manipulation.

Some clues from a drug addict to help a drug addict rid an addiction.

I have been free of an addiction for almost a year, but I dare not call myself liberated.  The demon crawls on the edge of my conscience every day.  Some days are worse than others.  But the biggest realization is that I made it through withdrawal-hell with the love of my family, my openness to proper medical staff and myself, and with the last piece of confidence left inside me. 

No one understands what it’s like to live under the gun.  That’s what you basically do each time you shoot, snort, or drink your veins filthy black, place a gun to your head and play Russian Roulette.  For a long time it feels better than anything you could ever do or accomplish, until you realize your mind is eroded with a gun to your temple and your world’s crashing.  No one seems to care about a person when the addiction takes them.

That is who I hope to respond today.  Those with a family member who way out of control.  Those addicts the world has given up on.  Those people in your family that deserves your love more-so than ever. 

It’s easy to give up on someone when you see their life spinning out of control.  I know people turned their backs as I did.  I was addicted to oxys, more than 200 mg’s a day or so, if I could obtain it.  I became hooked after I returned home from Operation Iraqi Freedom and it started out because I wanted to numb my mind from the things I witnessed.  As my addiction grew over the years, people stopped talking to me as my physical appearance changed with my behavior.  I didn’t recognize the change because I was in a hell that looked like heaven.   

My wife became dependant on my addiction to Percocet.  I could not function without them.  I grew callous, absorbed; I stopped doing things.  She should have left me is what she tells me people tell her.  And maybe, she should have.  But if it hadn’t been for her I would have been dead right now. 

Toward the end of it all, when I was seeing what the pills I snorted were doing to me, if it hadn’t been for her love of me I wouldn’t have been able to walk myself into a doctor’s office and ask for help.  I remember it was a Monday when she led me by my trembling hand. 

Sometimes, that’s all it takes.  Love, with a hand.  If a person is ready to rid the poisons out of their life they must be ready, if not, go beyond and fight for their life.  No matter if you’re hated for it.  I would rather be hated and know that someone is alive and well. 

There are a variety of clinics out there.  You must understand when someone has taken a drug or drank until their genetic code is dependent on that, then that person may have to take a pseudo-narcotic in a step off, or down, plan.  It can be expensive, but if that person is purchasing $700 a month in pills or beer, what can $700 a month hurt to help your loved one break that addiction and begin living a productive life. 

This is something that takes time and reserves of strength from not only the addict, but people around him or her.  There is going to be slip ups.  And that is ok, as long as the addict is open and honest about why they did it and knows that because they slipped it doesn’t mean they have to binge.

Heroin and pain meds seem to be out doing crack and meth on the streets by a long shot.  Suboxone and Methodone are great alternatives to combat this addiction.  I did Suboxone, which my doctor claimed was a better option because Methodone is more addicting and has a longer withdrawal rate.  I beat my addiction with Suboxone in less than six months, though I was scheduled for a year.  I wanted nothing more than to be clean. 

Since being clean, my appearance and thought process have improved greatly.  I have found ways to be high on life.  I have gotten more work done.  Remember your addict may have changed, but that is the drug masking their personality. 

I am willing to talk with anyone with an addiction or anyone who wants to help someone they love conquer an addiction.  Remember it takes love, willingness, and patience.  Going clean cannot happen without these three things.