Federal law enforcement is a career I adore. I am on the Division SWAT team, I get to travel (domestic and foreign), I can’t talk about most of what I do (which is less fun/cool than you might imagine), and I get to serve my country and its citizens. Writing is also something I adore. This probably stems from the fact that I LOVE to read. While some people might think these two parts of me are mutually exclusive, or are a strange dichotomy, they are in fact similar in many ways.
Working in law enforcement has taught me 4 things that I believe are applicable to writing, and in particular, being an author. Please note that I am a fledgling author, but despite my limited time as an author, I still think these things are applicable.
1. Practice. As part of a SWAT team, I can tell you that we practice all of the time. There are countless scenarios and variables that we have to prepare for. The answer to this is practice the craft, over and over and over. Good tradecraft is forged through practice and repetition. It all comes into play when I stack up with the other guys on the squad just before we serve a no-knock warrant on a very dangerous individual, the call “Assault, assault, assault!” comes across my earpiece, and all hell breaks loose. Movements and actions have become natural because of the practice – the work just flows.
Writing is the same. If I don’t practice my craft, I get sloppy. Homonyms suddenly become my worst enemy. The “tense genie” nods her head (yes, I loved to watch I dream of Jeannie) and suddenly one paragraph is written in past and present tense all at once, confusing the reader. My plot makes about as much sense as owning a timeshare on Venus (I originally wrote Uranus, but decided to leave that alone…). If I do practice,and write whenever I can, it becomes more natural and just flows.
2. You can never be too far from a keyboard/paper and pen. It seems everything I do at work requires me to fill out paperwork and complete some kind of form. On top of that, when I garner information that is important, I would rather write it down to make sure I have it correct. It’s the same with writing. Murphy’s law tends to put in extra hours when it comes to my creative process.
Ideas and flashes of what I think are perfect for a story NEVER hit me when I am ready for them. It typically happens when I’m in the middle of something else. There have been too many times when I have thought, “I’ll remember this later, so I won’t write it down,” only to find out that later arrived right after my brain decided to purge all creative thought. I need to put things down while they are fresh out of my creative oven.
3. Be ready to not be loved. I believe very strongly in what I do. Just because I put in long hours, make many sacrifices, shed blood and sweat, and give everything I have for this cause I so strongly support, doesn’t mean there won’t be those who hate and despise me for what I do. Some people do. I’m not talking about defendants, or people whose door I had to knock down. I’m talking about good people. This confused and shocked me at first. But I learned that there will always be people who, for whatever reason, dislike what you do.
It’s the same with writing. What we create is a part of us. It is something that we have spent precious time and energy on, and consequently is something we care very much about. If we allow ourselves to be hurt by negative comments about our writing, if we let criticism of our craft feel like a personal attack, it can fester inside of us for a very long time. Know that not everybody is going to love your work. It’s okay. Roll with the punches.
4. Gratification and reward don’t make good goals. If I wanted to have a job solely for the reward, then I certainly wouldn’t be working for the government. There is a large amount of personal satisfaction and gratification that I have for working this job, but it is a product of what I do, not something that I can put in my scope. A good goal should be measurable, it is often tangible, and it should have some kind of metric that you can use to evaluate activities and performance that lead to the goal’s completion. There is PLENTY of that at work, but I won’t go into those boring details.
How about with our writing? For me, writing itself is pleasurable. Writing because I want to be satisfied, gratified, and get rewarded for what I have written is probably going to result in my sorrow, unhappiness, and a feeling of unfulfillment. Of course we all want satisfaction and some kind of reward for our hard work. But that is more of a result.
Imagine hearing a tree say “I am going to engage in photosynthesis because I want to release oxygen as a waste product in the hope that these crazy two-legged animals are happy with me and don’t decide to turn me into pulp.”
Stupid example? Yes. Does the idea of a talking tree bother me more than the idea that I am inhaling its waste? No. Does it get my point across? I sure as hell hope so. 😉
The tree wants to grow. This particular writer wants to write a novel that matches the story floating around in my head. I want the novel done by the end of November. I want the plot to make sense. I don’t want too make two many errors with homonyms because their tricky buggers. 🙂 Those are goals that I can measure – goals that I can shoot for. As for the satisfaction, gratification, joy and sense of accomplishment, those will hopefully be my novel’s byproduct which I will consume with utter abandon.
So, dear reader. What has your life’s path taught you about writing?