I’m about to share some scary stuff. Some truths about myself that I’ve been too scared to share for years.
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 share things that make you uncomfortable.
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” – Ernest Hemingway
Well, I’m going to follow Hemingway’s advice. Here’s the truth: I want to be the greatest writer ever.
Yikes, did I really say that out loud?
And since we’re sharing truths… here’s a second truth: writers are crazy.
They really are. (Also musicians, artists, and professional athletes. They’re crazy, too. You have to be, as I see it, in order to think you could ever reach your dreams.)
But let’s stick with writers. They’re what I know. Heck, even better, let’s stick with me.
I literally wrote, “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 45.)
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.”
I did this while in elementary school. And the craziest thing about this story of my childhood is that I actually tried to do better than that author, while I was still a dang kid, who barely knew how to ride a bike.
Little old Stan, still in itty-bitty elementary school, scribbled 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. Twenty pages or so.
I wish I was making this up. Or even exaggerating a tad. My headspace would be sooooo much better.
But I can’t lie. I want to be considered among the greatest writers of all time, and that’s the dang truth. (Maybe all serious writers feel this way? Heck if I know.)
All I know is that it’s this way for me. It’s been the thing that has called me my entire existence, even when I try to run from it.
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 dang sure don’t want to be alone.
Let’s start with Ernest Hemingway. An incredible writer (one of the best of all time), but also a man who volunteered for war as an ambulance driver (where he was wounded), a man who married four times (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 lower leg while wrestling with a shark and sadly took his own life 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? There are even articles about this.
So, if you’ll grant me that most writers are crazy (and/or drink too much), we’ll get this show back on the road.
Where were we? Oh, yeah. Just write the truth. And writers are crazy.
Here’s another truth: Writing is a madness. It’s a disease. It’s a curse.
I’ve learned that you can’t really run from your calling. It ruins your showers. Your bedtimes. Your conversations.
For me, I’ve found that writing afflicts your soul. It eats at you endlessly.
When I’m not writing, I’m miserable. My head (or heart?) won’t stop whispering or screaming: You should be writing.
My writing mania plagues me and haunts me.
To distract myself, I’ll grab books to read because they are some of my greatest escapes. But I can’t read for long. My head whispers, “You should be writing.” (And also usually: “This book sucks. You can do better.)
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 a calling, I’m confident you agree.
But your calling 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’ve lost all track of time. I enter an almost fictional world and I’m excited to see where it will go. And I don’t want to stop it. I don’t want to exit this world. My fingers can’t type fast enough.
I don’t think about food or time or really anything but the story.
There are also times I try to write and I just can’t.
It’s like I’m a pathetic, helpless worm, who doesn’t have a brain. I also don’t have arms or legs, and I’m just flopping around, not even sure what direction I should be going.
These times when you struggle to write a single sentence can be as maddening as when you’re not creating at all. You’re sitting in the chair, trying to do what you’re meant to do in life. You’re literally doing your calling, but the muse won’t cooperate.
So what I’m saying is this:
A ) You’re miserable on those days when you try to write, but the words won’t come.
B ) 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 this: nothing in life comes easy.
Maybe all those sports icons practice and work harder than we know, right? And maybe greats, such as Hemingway, who marry four times and end their lives at 61, have struggled more than we know, right?
I’ve been chasing this dream for a long time. I will spare you the story, though it’s a heck of one, but I eventually ended up with a heck of a pretty good story pulled together. It’s about a Marine sniper who gets betrayed by his government after completing a Top Secret mission, and then is hunted down until eventually he flips the script and starts hunting the hunters (Sold Out — Nick Woods Book 1). The book still sells well (thank you, Jesus), and I’ve written three more books in that series. (The fifth one drops in a few months.) Yay, Stan.
I’ve also written an action-packed Western, a detective series, a private investigator series, a leadership/biography book, and two realistic war novels: one about World War II and one about Afghanistan.
As you can see by that list, I write a LOT. Like, a lot, a lot.
Whatever it is that I have, I have it bad.
And about half of the time, I actually think I’m going to make a boatload of money. I’m as ambitious as anyone you’ve ever met and my friends will tell you I’m as determined and stubborn as a goat with a bad attitude. (I’m also possibly delusional, but that goes with the diagnosis of crazy.)
On paper, I at least have a shot.
Writing degree? Check.
Typing speed? I can type faster than a cheetah with a rocket on his back.
To be lucky enough to do this as a full-time gig is possibly one of the greatest things in the world. To attempt to get into the zone every day — for a full day — instead of dealing with the day job, the demanding boss, and everything else? That’s heaven.
I know because I’ve been there. For almost two years of near-complete bliss.
Back in 2013, I made a lot of money one year. More than six figures, or just a tad over $100,000. In my beautiful 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. It’s kind of like eating all the ice cream and pizza you want, while binging Netflix and not getting any fatter in the process. It’s just impossibly awesome.
And I somehow made a $100,000 when I only had a couple of books published. (Most of those sales were from that Marine Sniper book I mentioned above, called “Sold Out,” which you should totally go check out — reminder, it still sells well and is sitting with more than 725 reviews at an avg 4.3 out of five-star rating; like, it’s a really good book.)
But with only two books at the time, I lacked the inventory to keep the momentum going.
So I learned another painful truth to this crazy dream: it can all end tomorrow, even if you’re insanely lucky enough to achieve it.
One day you’re playing for the New York Yankees. The next, you’re playing for the Akron RubberDucks.
But I know my time will return. (Or so my crazy side tells me.)
And this remains a life-or-death pursuit that I still chase every free moment I can spare. Some days I wake up an hour or two early. Some nights I stay up an hour or two later than I should. Many days I write during lunch, as well.
I’ve continued this routine since 2012.
You don’t quit when you’re hungry. Nor when you’re crazy.
This isn’t some side pursuit for me. I still want to be the best.
To date, I’ve written eleven books.
So, what makes me different?
Well, every writer needs a schtick.
Some writers craft lines that are exquisite and supple. Some put a dozen twists in a book.
The only schtick I have is brevity. (Notice this one-sentence paragraph?)
A couple of my books barely top a hundred pages. But they work. At least according to the reviews. (Heck, my motivational/self-help/inspirational book about Obama and reaching your own dreams, which includes no politics, is like 50 pages, when you remove the fluff at the beginning and end.)
I learned brevity in journalism school. And in ten years of newspaper writing after graduation.
And that brings me to my second skill. I hate boring books. Can I say that again? I HATE boring books. (The eight- or nine-year-old me did, as well.)
Even books 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.
So my second skill is speed/pacing with books, which meshes nicely with brevity, by the way.
This is the 21st Century. We live in a world of tweets and TikTok videos. You can’t be fiddling around and padding your books with fluff.
I firmly believe this is the formula: brevity and action. And it’s one I try to follow. I also firmly believe that my books are going to make me boatloads of money again someday.
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.
Writers are crazy, and I’m crazier than most.
Stan R. Mitchell
About me: I am a prior infantry Marine, who earned the rank of Sergeant and a Combat Action Ribbon in 1997, and I’d love to do my small part to unite this country. I work toward this goal by putting out a weekly newspaper and an almost-daily newsletter.