Today’s post is a little different. It really doesn’t have much to do with transition but rather with something else, namely why I write. Writing has become a significant part of my life even though I never really intended it to become so important. Oddly, I have found writing to be a metaphor of sorts for life in general and it has become interwoven with my shift from one life to another, so I take it back. This post is about transition after all.
I am often asked why I write. It is a good question, because I had never really considered myself to be a “writer”. Instead, I considered writing as an adjunct to whatever I happen to be doing; writing efficiency reports on subordinates, preparing awards to recognize the deserving, or as a necessary evil that is part and parcel of staff work. Writing was part of being an officer of Marines.
All officers, by their very status, are required to write. The Marine Corps’ system of performance evaluation centers around the concept that officers write reports about their subordinates, with those reports requiring a concise articulation of what is expected of them as well as how they perform. The rules for writing such reports are stringent in an effort to limit excessive hyperbole or damnation by faint praise. It is a pretty good system, which a decade ago replaced a longstanding Fitness Reporting scheme that had become hopelessly inflated and largely useless.
A key component of writing reports and awards and such is the ability to do the simple things that my elementary school-aged kids are learning now; things like grammar, spelling, and format. As a junior officer I never really paid much attention to my writing; it was a necessary evil and part of my profession. I did the best I could to produce something good enough to get the job done and survive the red-penned review of the XO (the unit’s second in command — usually a crotchety senior officer with a perennially bad attitude whose sole joy in life is torturing young officers who would rather guess at the spelling of an arcane word than actually consult a dictionary).
After many pointed and painful one sided conversations in which the XO pithily acquainted me with spell check and a thesaurus I learned to write reasonably well. Good thing, too, because I wrote a lot. Between the administration of leadership (fitness reports, or “fitreps”, awards, formal counseling statements and the like) and the military orders compiled for training exercises I often wondered if I had joined the Marine Corps or a typing pool. I produced reams of paper with which I suppose I could bury the enemy if I met him in battle, and if it came to hand-to-hand combat I could inflict the agonizing death of a thousand paper cuts. Maybe I could drown him in printer ink or blind him with a cloud of toner? Dunno.
Anyhow, I learned to write. Over time I learned the importance of good writing and the impact it can have on a Marine’s career. A well written evaluation may well mean a promotion for a subordinate, and a poorly scribed eval may likewise cost him or her a chance at advancement. Better writing also meant less work in the long run as quality documents require a lot less editing and painful revision at the behest of the angry XO.
So I became pretty good at the administrivia of the Marine Corps; my fitreps and awards would stack up with the best of them. It wasn’t until I attended Amphibious Warfare School (“AWS”-a year long Marine Professional Military Education school) that I was introduced to writing beyond the requirements of my job.
As a student in AWS we were required, among other things, to write. Not just operational orders, but essays and research papers as well. It was in many ways like being back in college, except that we occasionally got to go the field and blow things up. We became ardent students of our craft, and a big part of our studies was to write about it.
My Faculty Advisor (the den daddy for a dozen or so of us know-it-all captains) was then Major Bryan P. McCoy, who was one of the most professional and knowledgeable officers I have ever known. He was a taskmaster and accepted nothing that wasn’t done to the fullest extent, and that included the papers that we wrote. He was a good writer to boot, and he mentored us all on how to become better. By the end of the year we had written and submitted countless revisions of numerous papers, and with each transaction I learned more and more about writing. By the end of the school year I had produced a half-dozen or so academic writings, and to my surprise Major McCoy and other members of the school staff recommended that I try to get a few of them published in our professional military journals.
That was pretty heady stuff! I was (and still am) an avid reader of military periodicals such as the Marine Corps Gazette and the Naval Institute’s Proceedings, but I always considered those articles to be written by intellectuals who lived in an ivory tower who were somehow anointed with the privilege of publication. How wrong I was. I submitted an article about logistics to the Gazette and another about the organization of the Marine Corps to Proceedings. Lo and behold — a month or so later I received letters from both journals accepting my submissions for publication. I couldn’t believe it! A few months later my first article appeared, and with the first sight of my name in the byline I became a writer. (I also became more acquainted with the process that is publication, as one of those first articles was accepted for publication but never actually went to press.)
Fast forward over a decade and I have been published in a half dozen magazines and journals and even churned out a book. I found that I enjoy writing, and it has become a part of my life. What began as a part of my job has fully transcended my occupation to become not just a hobby that I enjoy doing but also a big part of my life. I find myself pondering work and life and family and then writing about it. The best part is that I enjoy writing immensely, and the fact that so many people read what I have written is very rewarding.
So that’s why I write. It helps to have something to say, and fortunately I do. Thanks for reading!