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What It Takes

What It Takes

The Return

By Callie Oettinger | Published: March 27, 2015

By veterans, for everyone.

Ernest Hemingway opened his introduction to the anthology Men At War (which he also edited) with:

This book will not tell you how to die. Some cheer-leaders of war can always get out a pamphlet telling the best way to go through that small but necessary business at the end. PM may have published it already in a special Sunday issue with pictures. They might even have it bound up as a companion piece to the issue I read in November 1941 entitled “How We Can Lick Japan in Sixty Days.”

No. This book will not tell you how to die. This book will tell you, though, how all men from the earliest times we know have fought and died. So when you have read it you will know that there are no worse things to be gone through than men have been through before.

When you read the account of Saint Louis the IX’s Crusade you will see that no expeditionary force can ever have to go through anything as bad as those men endured. We have only to fight as well as the men who stayed and fought at Shiloh. It is not necessary that we should fight better. There can be no such thing as better.

It was an anthology, he later wrote, that was for his sons:

This introduction is written by a man, who, having three sons to whom he is responsible in some ways for having brought them into this unspeakably balled-up world, does not feel in any way detached or impersonal about the entire present mess we live in. Therefore, be pleased to regard this introduction as absolutely personal rather than impersonal writing.

This book has been edited in order that those three boys, as they grow to an age where they can appreciate it and use it and will need it, can have the book that will contain truth about war as near as we can come by it, which was lacking to me when I needed it most. It will not replace experience. But it can prepare for and supplement experience. It can serve as a corrective after experience.

I re-read sections of Men At War, knowing my personal battles will never be Shiloh, but that as was his intention for his sons, I can find truth in the anthology — a perspective not my own.

In his book The Return, Dave Danelo tells a story of sitting on a delayed plane in 2005, having just finished a series of interviews with an Iraq war veteran whose friend died alongside him:

As our ground waiting time approached an hour, the man sitting to my left fumed and cursed. He needed a reroute; his schedule was destroyed; something awful (or so he thought) would befall him if immediate action didn’t happen. Unless I found a way off the plane, I was stuck with this guy. Finally, I cut him off in mid-rant. “You know,” I said, “things could be worse.”

It is not always appropriate for veterans to remind civilians they’ve been to war. Sometimes it can be obnoxious, arrogant, or rude. But in this case, I was calm. For me, that’s usually a good indicator to decide whether I should discuss my military identity.

I told my fulminating friend I thought it was a pretty good day when I wasn’t getting mortared and shot at. Besides the risk of our plane crashing, nothing bad would happen to us. We would get where we wanted to go. Everything would work out…. We talked on and off for another two hours. I don’t remember his name.

What I remember was that I gave him perspective. I reminded him of one of the many things my time in the Corps had taught me: do not worry too much about the things you can’t control.

Dave wrote The Return (which is also Black Irish Books’ new title) for veterans, just as Hemingway edited Men At War. However, where Hem wrote of “how all men from the earliest times we know have fought and died” Dave writes of how men have fought and returned. A book written by a veteran, for other veterans, which — also like Hem’s other writings — is just as valuable to civilians. (more…)

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What It Takes

What It Takes

The Second Draft (Is Not a Draft)

By Shawn Coyne | Published: March 20, 2015

[Join to read more of Shawn’s Stuff]

Take Helen Sinclair's (Dianne Wiest) advice and "Don't Speak!" about your work in progress.

Congratulations, you now have a first draft, the raw materials for your Story.

The first draft is what Steve Pressfield calls “covering the canvass.”  It has nothing to do with anyone else but you.  Refrain from talking about your first draft or any particular section or sentence you recall fondly from it to any outsider…even your spouse.

You’ll probably end up cutting or changing the best parts or lines anyway and there is definitely something to not voicing creative work until you’ve thrashed it out until you’re, if not satisfied, exhausted.

When your friends ask, “How’s the book coming along?” just smile and say, “I’m making progress.”  Leave it at that.  If they press you for details just say that you are a superstitious person and that you made a pact with yourself that you won’t talk about the work until it’s ready for other eyes.  When they ask when that will be, you can say, probably after about five drafts.  Then get out of the conversation.  If you can avoid it, and I highly recommend you do, don’t tell them anything about the project.  Not a title, not a concept, nothing.

I can’t tell you how many writers, myself included, who regret saying anything about their works in progress.  I’ll tell you why.  You cannot “pitch” a project that is not complete.  You’ll inevitably screw it up or worse, fudge it and recast it to please your audience.

And when you get back to your desk the next day, you’ll feel like shit.  You’ll feel like you’ve betrayed the work that you’ve already done.  Pulled off the towel and revealed the naked truth of it…that it’s half-baked, it’s derivative etc.

The fact is that your first draft and/or notes on writing the first draft aren’t even close to half-baked.  You are merely pulling together the ingredients to make something later on.  How can you describe a brand new kind of cake if you haven’t made it yet?  You can’t.  So be quiet.  The first draft and everything in your head that is swimming around on the entire project is sacred.  If you can, don’t even tell anyone that you’re writing.  Seriously.

Okay, so now you have a blob of material called a first draft.  You have no idea if any of it is working.  You don’t know where the problem areas are, nor do you know the strengths of the work either.  How can you possibly figure that out? (more…)

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What It Takes

What It Takes

The First Draft

By Shawn Coyne | Published: March 13, 2015

[Join to read more of Shawn’s Stuff]

When you are writing a first draft of anything…a novel, a play, a manual, a grocery store list, take the advice of Satchel Paige.

The inimitable Satchel Paige

“Don’t look back.”

Don’t read over what you’ve written before when you begin your day’s work.  Don’t fix any sentences.  Don’t stop and go research to fill in a blank that you do not have the immediate answer for.  Make it up and fix it later.

Don’t think about anything other than putting what is inside your head onto the page/computer screen.

Of course the first draft is the hardest. That’s why a lot of people stop working after they’ve finished it.


The first draft is the thing that we dream of.  We believe that once we have a full chunk of pages, we will have a book.  Acknowledging that the first draft is the equivalent of a sculptor going down to the quarry to buy a big slab of marble, or a mason buying a skid of bricks and 100 pounds of mortar is a very difficult thing to do.

But alas, the first draft is an end that serves as the beginning of another craft.  Editing.  And editing is not re-writing.  Editing is a process that gives you the work orders for your re-write. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I cannot overemphasize how important it is NOT TO RE-WRITE  your first draft. Until you reach its final two words…THE END. (more…)

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