Writers are crazy, and I’m crazier than most

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” – Ernest Hemingway

I’m about to share some scary shit. Some truths about myself that I’ve wanted to share for a long time, but I’ve been too scared to.

And yet if there’s one thing I know after thirty years of writing, it’s that you have to tell the truth. You have to tell the truth in your writing and you have to write things that will make friends and family members uncomfortable.

So, I’ve dallied long enough. Let’s get this shit moving.

What was my goal with this post? Ah, yes, to share some scary shit. And to tell the truth with as much honesty as I can muster. All you have to do is write one true sentence, right?

Well, here goes: I want to be the greatest writer ever. 

Yikes, did I really say that out loud? 

Crazy, right? More importantly, just why the hell did I publish that? 

I could’ve deleted it as I have hundreds of other things I didn’t have the guts to say. I could’ve avoided the ridicule by critics if I had simply deleted it. 

But I haven’t because — well, frankly — it’s the truth.  

It’s scary putting yourself out there, but I want to say some things. I’m not even sure where I’m going with this. It’s like a novel: you don’t know where it’ll end. You simply write it. One sentence, one paragraph, one page at a time. You let it flow out of you. Characters choose left or right, and you follow, to see where that thread leads. 

Let’s continue then, with this honest post as well. I want to be the greatest writer ever. There, I’ve said it a second time. See? Not an accident. Not a fluke.

Write one true sentence, just as I said above.

That’s what we’re aiming for. And yes, let’s keep going. Let’s see where this ends. This could be good. After all, a few of you have brought the popcorn. And a few of you might be a little nervous for me.

Could this turn into an epic meltdown? The kind of thing that happens routinely in our internet age, when a writer who has tried for years to make it finally loses his or her mind out of sheer exasperation? Perhaps. (And I see those cynics and critics over there. They’re eyeing the situation, like hungry vultures in a tree, analyzing the animal that’s circling in confusion, acting ill on the African savanna.)

Let’s ignore the cynics and vultures a moment. Let’s start with a premise. A simple premise. Another “one true sentence,” if you will.

That premise is this: writers are crazy.

They really are. Also musicians, artists, and professional athletes. They’re crazy, too.

But let’s stick with writers. They are what I know. Hell, even better, let’s stick with me. 

I literally wrote the following a mere dozen or so paragraphs earlier: “I want to be the greatest writer ever.”

How nuts is that? What kind of madness abides inside my head? What kind of person would say such a thing? (I can’t blame youth. I’m a touch over 44. Not some nineteen-year-old mouthing off in a college English lit class to impress some hot, nerdy chick.)

Want to know something scarier? I was pretty much thinking this thought at the age of 8 or 9. That’s the first time I slammed a novel shut and thought, “This book is terrible. I know I could do better.”

And the most crazy thing about this story is that I actually tried. Little old Stan, still in elementary school, started scribbling a story in pencil in his spiral-bound, school notebook. I remember it perfectly. And somewhere, out in some of my boxes in the garage, I still have it. I think in my wildest dreams I imagine those pages being held in some museum, with literary geniuses studying them some day. 

It won’t happen, but there: I admitted another truth. I told you writers are crazy, and I confessed to having been crazy for at least a good thirty years. 

The story I wrote back then describes the courageous story of four young Native American men, who fought a valiant campaign against encroaching white settlers, after their village chief capitulated and signed a lop-sided, unfair peace treaty. The tale spanned more than twenty pages and was crammed with action. (Sound familiar?)

I didn’t finish it, but even at the age of eight or nine, a small part of my soul (or something) told me I was meant to do this. That I could be great. That indeed, I wanted to be the greatest writer ever (though I must never admit this to anyone).

What nine year old says such a thing? How can you feel (or be haunted by) such a thing at such a young age?

Let’s return to the writers are crazy part of this post. Let’s broaden things a bit. Because if I’m going to admit to being crazy, then I damn sure want some company in whatever boat I’ve shoved off from shore on. 

Let’s start with Ernest Hemingway. A hell of a writer, but also a man who volunteered for war as an ambulance driver (where he was wounded), a man who married four times, and a man who survived two plane crashes in two days. Yes, I’m saying he had a plane crash on one day. Then decided to fly again the next day. And he crashed the second day as well. He also once shot himself in the calves while wrestling with a shark (Google it) and committed suicide with a shotgun at the age of 61. 

I’m going to say that Ernest Hemingway, who’s considered one of America’s greatest writers, makes a pretty compelling case for proving that writers are crazy. But I could easily point out a dozen other authors to add to the ledger.

And we’ve all heard the theme of how much most writers drink, correct? “Psychology Today” even had an article in it titled, “Why Do Writers Drink So Much?” That article listed roughly twenty names, including the likes of such greats as Raymond Chandler, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Truman Capote, Edgar Allan Poe, and John Steinbeck. 

So, if you’ll grant me that most writers are crazy (and/or drunks), we’ll get this show back on the road. Wouldn’t want to bore the vultures, after all. They’re still in that tree, but starting to look elsewhere.

No one wants to read a literary thesis.

Where were we? Oh, yeah. Just write one true sentence. And writers are crazy.

Here’s another one: Writing is a madness. It’s a disease. It’s a curse. 

That was three, but I’ll stand by them. 

I’ve learned that you can’t really run from this calling. It ruins your showers. Your bedtimes. Your conversations, when your best friend sees your mind go elsewhere right in the middle of that discussion. (I just had a crazy book idea, I tell him. He shakes his head, having heard that one before, and also knowing it’s true and that he’ll hear about this book idea for the next year or two until it’s finished.)

Writing afflicts your soul. It eats at you in the darkest parts of night. 

When I’m not writing, I’m miserable. My conscience won’t stop pestering. Sometimes whispering. Sometimes screaming and shaking me. But he always says the same thing: You should be writing. 

Also, when I’m not writing, my head goes into dark places. At the worst of times, it can plummet to scary depths. I’ll ask myself, “What’s the meaning of life? Is this all there is? There has to be more.”

My writing mania plagues me unabated. 

I’ll grab books to read, because they are some of my greatest escapes. But I find I can’t read for long. My head whispers, “You should be writing.”

There’s no getting away from it. Not a day goes by when my head doesn’t say, “You should be writing.”

Writing is a madness. It’s a disease. It’s a curse. 

I’ve come to accept the three sentences above. 

I believe them to be true, and if you’re afflicted with the calling to be a writer, I’m confident you agree. 

But writing has a flip side. It can be the greatest high in the world. I’ve gotten so into the zone of writing a story that I will lose all track of time. I will enter an almost fictional world, where I’m dodging bullets or chasing down enemies. I have no idea what my opponent will do. Or even what my main character will do. But I’m there. I’m watching this movie and excited to see where it will go. And I don’t want to stop it. I don’t want to exit this world. 

Crazy, right?

There are also times I try to write and it’s like I jump into the driver’s seat, remembering the day before when I wrote for hours and was really into the story (right in the middle of that firefight or fistfight). But I’m not sitting in that space machine anymore.

Instead, I’m sitting on the hard metal seat of a 1940s tractor. It’s raining and freezing cold, a whipping wind blowing across the land. And the tractor won’t start. And after screaming in rage, I look down and realize it’s up on a jack, one of its wheels leaning against a fence, flat.

And holy shit. There are wires hanging out the side of the engine. Some asshole thief has stolen the electronic ignition and distributor cap in the middle of the night.

These times when you struggle to write a single sentence can be as maddening as when you’re not writing. You’re sitting there, trying to do what you’re meant to do in life, but the muse won’t cooperate.

So what I’m saying is that you’re miserable on those days when you chase your dream, but the words won’t come.

And you’re also miserable on the days when you don’t write and you run from your dream.

Writing is madness, remember?

It can be infuriating. Like, if you’re meant to be a writer, if you’re destined to be the greatest, then why is it so hard? Why aren’t you a natural? 

I think the answer to this question is that nothing great comes easy. Maybe all those sports icons practice and work harder than we know, right? And maybe guys who marry four times and shoot themselves at the age of 61 have struggled more than we know, right?

I’ve been chasing this dream for a long time. I started several books in high school and finished a novel with another writer in college. (That one was never published because at the “wizened” age of 21, we refused to listen to a publisher who suggested we change a chapter. Ah, the arrogant confidence of youth.)

Years later, in my thirties, and with dozens of half-finished books crammed in drawers and saved to thumb drives, I finally completed my first successful book about a Marine sniper who gets betrayed by his government after completing a Top Secret mission (Sold Out — Nick Woods Book 1). That one took me 12 years to write.

About half of the time, I actually think I’m going to make a boatload of money. I’m driven as hell and my friends will tell you I’m as determined and stubborn as anyone you’ll ever meet.

On paper, I at least have a shot.

Desire? Check.

Writing degree? Check.

Typing speed? I can type faster than a cheetah with a rocket on his ass. 

But on other days, I think of just how many writers have tried this gig. This isn’t the first time a tractor has plowed this field. It’s a community lot, and it’s been plowed and worked for at least a couple hundred years. It’s depleted of any good soil. The land is exhausted and consumed. There’s little incentive to plow the dry, parched earth.

And that’s assuming you get the tractor running.

And that’s further assuming you don’t look across the land, and then to your left and right, and notice the literally thousands of fellow writers staring at their own tractors in the pre-dawn darkness. They see the same poor, parched land. They also see the desperate craving of those other writers in the field, fiddling with their tractors, starting their morning anew with sometimes just the faintest of hopes. Old men and women who have been doing this for decades, and who are as impoverished and demoralized now as they were in the beginning. (Maybe more so.)

To be lucky enough to do this as a full-time gig would be one of the greatest gifts in the world. To attempt to get into the zone every day — for a full day — instead of dealing with the day job and all the rest of life’s interruptions? That would be heaven. 

And for most, that would certainly be enough. But apparently, my variant of this disease is far worse. Because frankly? That is not enough.

I want to be the greatest. And I’m honest enough — as well as stupid enough, clearly — to be willing to just come out and say it.

What gives me the right? What gives me the gall?

Partly, it’s what I said above. Writers are crazy. And they drink a lot. See earlier graph (and the internet) for more evidence.

Of course, part of the problem for me is I don’t drink at all. I’m scared to death of alcohol. (Long story, but it involves a family member, drinking, and a suicide that still haunts me.)

But besides being scared of alcohol, which I am, there’s also at least an equally large problem. I couldn’t possibly enjoy drinking because deep down, either in my soul or in my head, I would hear the words: You should be writing. 

Maybe other writers hear those words, too, when they’re drinking. Maybe that’s why they drink so much? Maybe they’re running from it?

I can’t say because I don’t know. 

Some days, I feel proud of what I’ve achieved. I’ve put in a ton of work. I have, after all, written ten books. Some big-name authors don’t even do that. (Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind. Only one book.) (J.D. Salinger, The Catcher In the Rye. Only one book.)

So, yeah, I’m proud of having written ten books.

I’ve also made a lot of money one year. More than six figures, or just a tad over $100,000. In my hometown of Knoxville, if you can make a hundred thousand dollars in a year doing what you love (i.e., not a day job), then you’ve done something.

Making that kind of money in a single year from writing is beyond-words-awesome, but it’s only happened once. And I did that more than eight years ago. When I only had a couple of books published. The books went viral, the fire burned hot, but I lacked the inventory to keep it going. So the throngs of readers moved on to pastures with more sustenance. 

I’ve continued almost every day since then believing they’ll return. You don’t quit when you’re hungry. Nor when you’re crazy.

Back when the money was good, and I was full-time, I thought I was on top of the world. I thought I was lined up nicely to actually become the greatest. (How crazy is that? One good year, and you think you’re the shit? Yeah, I really did I must sadly admit, and maybe the muse was like, oh really? I’ll show you. I can’t say for sure about this latter part.)

All I know is one day I was on top of the world and the next day I wasn’t. The sales started slowing, the fear started rising, and eventually, my career was simply a hobby again. (At least financially.)

In that moment, I learned another painful truth to this crazy dream: it can all end tomorrow. A drought can arrive. And that drought may last for years. The throngs may not return.

Sometimes these days, despite how optimistic and regimented I remain with my writing, and despite how many times I climb on that tractor full of determination and fire, I fear the drought could last forever. The people may never return. 

That’s my worst fear. (Another true sentence here.)

My writing might remain nothing more than a nice side income. A mere tantalizing love that I have to bridle down and downplay at parties. And a voice screaming in my head, “You should be writing,” when there’s no true need to do so. (The day job pays the bills, after all. Why not just let the writing go? I’m not sure if that’s the devil saying that, trying to rob me of my destiny. Or if that’s my sane side, which I often ignore. Writing is madness and I have no idea on this part.)

As a writer, it’s easy to measure your success by the size of that month’s royalty. How well are you selling? But measuring this way can drive you mad. It can go up dramatically. A sales bump!! Possibly the start of your new (rich) life. But then the sales spike plummets for no discernable reason.

It’s maddening. Or maybe it’s fuel. Or maybe it’s both.

These sales bumps are something writers try not to talk about too much. Because often, you’ll find yourself blathering to your spouse or best friend about how close you are to making it, and you’ll notice that you just got that look.

Sometimes, they look at you with love. Sometimes, they look at you with concern. 

For now at least, my sales are trending upward. No, they really are. And it’s not a bump, I tell myself. It’s a trend, I say, but my voice doesn’t sound real confident when I say it… hahaha

But even if my sales go ballistic and high, I’m going to be a quivering, gun-shy dog, balled up in the corner. Because I know a truth. A painful truth.

It can all go away. Almost overnight.

Do you know how hard it is to keep your confidence up when your sales are dropping?

You’re the star Major League Baseball player, who was thinking about becoming MVP, when suddenly you’re not hitting as well. You think it’s nothing at first, but it grows worse. Your stats nosedive. You think it’s a fluke at first. But it’s not. And then people on your team stop talking to you. And then you’re being warned by management that you better get your numbers up. 

You can’t believe this. You reach and flail. You seek advice. You even change your swing.

Nothing stops the crash. 

You get the talk. You get cut. You’re sent down to the minors. 

You go from making a couple million a year to making less than twenty thousand in the minors. 

One day you’re playing for the Chicago Cubs. The next, you’re playing for the Akron RubberDucks.

As you play in front of miniscule crowds, the voices in your head clamor louder. There’s the desperate side of you that just wants to go back to making big money. You were good before. What happened? The voices say you got lucky. You were a fluke. It’ll never happen again.

Your mind and body say submit. That elbow pain is flaring. That knee isn’t what it used to be. Why are you doing this? Why are you killing yourself for 20k a year? What are you, stupid?

I’m betting most writers know that voice, as well. 

I’m also betting most writers trudge on. Writers are crazy. I see them climbing on their eighty-year-old tractors every day, trying to get them started.

Every writer needs a schtick. Some writers craft lines that are exquisite and supple. You read them because they seduce and lure you forward, page-by-page. Some writers blast you with a foghorn. Or put a dozen twists in a book. Or use an unreliable narrator. 

The only schtick I have is brevity. A couple of my books barely top a hundred pages. But they work. At least according to the reviews and sales numbers. (Hell, my book about Obama is like 50 pages.)

I learned brevity in journalism school. And in ten years of newspaper writing after graduation. You only had a small amount of space in the newspaper. You damn well better make good use of it. 

And that brings me to my second skill. I hate boring books. Can I say that again? I HATE boring books. Even those with exquisite and supple writing. That kind of writing can work for a page or two, but something needs to happen. Blood needs to flow. Relationships need to start. Or relationships need to end.

This is the 21st Century. We live in a world of tweets, Vines, and TikToks. You can’t be screwing around and padding your books with fluff. 

I firmly believe this is the formula. And it’s one I try to follow. I do my best to write fast-paced, exciting mysteries and thrillers. And I also firmly believe that these things are going to make me boatloads of money. 

Of course, I’ve also admitted to being crazy, so there’s that.

But part of me just knows that tremendous success is going to happen. 

Call it confidence. Call it madness. It’s probably a bit of both. 

Write one true sentence, right? One sentence, one paragraph, one page at a time. Climb on the damn tractor. Listen to the voice in your head: You should be writing.

And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the shotgun.


About me: My name is Stan R. Mitchell and I write fast-paced novels. No, I mean blistering fast. With great suspense & twists. To date, I’ve written ten books. You can find them here: amazon.com.  #USMC #SemperFidelis

Let’s talk reading habits…

Hey guys,

Fairly regularly, I have some reader ask about my reading habits. Most assume I’m a voracious reader (and finisher) of hundreds of books — like normal authors, I presume? — but actually, it’s quite the opposite.

I try to be a voracious reader. But frankly, I am a notoriously picky reader.

I don’t finish about eighty percent of the books I start, and I’ve literally gone to the library or bookstore to pick out a book and returned home two hours later without one.

But I do love to read. Don’t get me wrong. I just mostly re-read my favorites. I kid you not, I’ve re-read some of my favorite books more than five or six times.  (I think I’ve read one or two of them probably ten times, but I don’t expect you to believe that.)

And I don’t just read them. That’s not really an honest statement. I sort of chew on them. I move through them pretty slow when I’m re-reading (truthfully, I’m a slow reader even on the first run-through). But when I’m re-readine one of my favorite books, what I’m really trying to do is see (and study) what the author is doing.

I like to dissect what they’ve done — if I can — on each page, and even each paragraph. And I’ve personally found that I get far more out of books (from a learning perspective) when I’m re-reading one, than from reading a new one. For me, I find it’s nearly impossible to learn something when you don’t know what twist or turn is coming up.

But back to the main point, as I said above, with most books, I don’t even finish them; much less re-read them.

Most of the time, I start them and the author goes left when I think he/she should’ve gone right. Or the book gets me thinking about one of my stories, and next thing you know, I’m sitting down writing.

In many respects, I’m more of a writer than a reader. If you turn a movie on, or even start a conversation with me, often you’ll see my eyes drift about halfway through it because you can just about guarantee that my mind has drifted off to some kind of story idea. And by then, I’m almost dying to get to my desk and start writing.

Anyway, would love to hear your all’s reading habits. Feel free to comment below!

Where I’ve been.

It’s been a while since I wrote a post on here. In fact, I looked at the date of my last post this morning and realized — with much chagrin — that it was from October of last year. So, nearly three months ago if you round up a tad.

And that really frustrates me because one of my goals has been to get back to blogging more. But it’s a new year and this year I’m going to be much more active on here.

I think a big part of my problem last year was the nasty divisiveness we’ve all lived through politically speaking. It doesn’t matter which side you’re on, you’re probably madder and angrier than you’ve ever been at the other side. And we’ve all seen and experienced this ugliness.

Facebook was less fun in 2017 than it’s ever been, and we’ve probably all had some serious spats with friends or family members over all the news the past year. In fact, I’d almost argue the anger and division we’re going through in this country has nearly killed facebook.

So, probably like you, I spent much of last year trying to bite my tongue and avoid saying what I was really feeling.

Also last year, shortly after that last post I wrote (Don’t ever lose the magic), I found out some devastating news that kept me from posting on here. During a routine vet appointment, I learned my dog Maggie had lymphoma.

I went into that appointment telling myself that she was seven-ish years old (we didn’t know her age because she was a rescue), and I needed to start preparing myself mentally for the fact that she probably only had three to five years left.  I left it knowing she only had mere months to live when they discovered the lump in her throat.

We fought the nasty prognosis as best we could, extending her life for as long as we could without being selfish or cruel to her (I hope), but in the end the vet’s predictions proved absurdly accurate: a perfectly “healthy” dog was attacked unseen from the inside and went downhill remarkably fast.

As most of you know, Danah and I don’t have any kids, so losing Maggie was extraordinarily painful. She was a member of our family and she was my rock and one of my best friends. She knew me about as well as anybody can know me.

She had watched me fight to keep a company alive, she had watched me write many a book, and she was always there to cheer me up or console me or beg me for one more treat or walk or game of ball.

When we received the diagnosis, and later when she passed, I didn’t tell hardly anyone. I didn’t want to post anything on facebook or tell many friends. It was just too painful, and I didn’t want to spread any more darkness in the world. 2017 was already dark enough.

Now, Danah and I are down to two kitties, Clay and Penny. (We lost our other love — a once-in-a-lifetime cat named Toby, who was more dog than cat — just about a year before Maggie.) Clay and Penny are both rescues, but they were feral before we rescued them, so they’re pretty skittish (even two years later).

They only want a little bit of love on most days, and they’re still trying to figure out why Maggie’s no longer around.

But it’s a new year and this year I’ll be posting a lot more. I’m not going to let my political exhaustion and isolation, which I think we’re all feeling, affect my blogging anymore.

I just finished a new book, I’m excited about a few other ones that I’m about halfway through with, and it’s time to get this train back on the track.

If you’re a long-time follower of the blog (and regular commenter), leave a few words below updating me on your life if you want. I’ve certainly missed the community we built on here and I’m hoping you have, too.

And if you’re new, feel free to introduce yourself below. Maybe just share a bit about yourself, how you came across this blog or my books, and anything else you want to add, such as interests, favorite authors or books, etc. I really enjoy getting to know new people who presumably share some of the same interests as me.

I’ll be posting about once a week from here on out, so hopefully, we can get back to having some great discussions (and sense of community) in the comments below again.

Stan R. Mitchell


Stan R. Mitchell, author and prior Marine, is best known for his Nick Woods Marine Sniper series, which remained in the Top 100 on Amazon for more than three years. The series ​was also picked up by Audible.com for a multi-book audio deal. Additional works include a Western thrillerdetective series, and World War II story. Learn more at http://stanrmitchell.com.