ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

My Examined Life - The Turned On Writer

As much as I might try and surface-read something, I can't help but become invested as I find myself agreeing and disagreeing about someone else's ideas of who a writer is, what a writer does, and the ownership of a writer's work. Even if the person who wrote the referenced article is a writer.

Especially if the person who wrote the article is a writer.

Phyllis Rose wrote a wonderful article in The American Scholar which I read the other day. While sitting at my computer array in Afghanistan, processing classified information on one system, and checking edits on my science fiction novel in progress on another, I relished Ms. Rose playing with the idea that when you meet an author, you aren't meeting the author. This idea is predicated on the idea that authors take breaks, turn themselves off, and present only those parts of themselves they want their readership--the rest of the world-- to see. I can buy the last part, but there's no way I can turn myself off. Not even a little bit. And as far as presenting to the world only those pieces of ourselves we want to present? We all do that, reader, writer, mechanic, soldier, and do-nut maker.
Author Playing Soldier in Afghanistan

But Ms.Rose, flexing her considerable talents, was playing with us. This thesis and her supporting facts were presented merely to show how this really couldn't be true. In fact, she soon comes to the heart of her article, this brilliant and beautiful paragraph which I provide here for you to read unsullied by my grimy soldier man hands.

"I have always loved Roland Barthes’s essay, “The Writer on Holiday.” This is what I remembered its saying: the writer is never on holiday. When Flaubert is in Egypt, going to brothels, he is really at work. When Henry James goes to dinner parties, he is at work. When Dickens produces theatricals, he is at work. Everything writers do is valuable because everything they do, potentially, is inspiration. Nothing in a writer’s life is wasted. Since ultimately what we all want most is to have our time on earth prove to be valuable, we examine writers’ lives to learn how to turn whatever happens to us into something useful or beautiful. Writers are models of creative alchemy, and at the heart of our interest in their lives is the appeal—mythic, perhaps—of a life in which everything counts. (Cite)"

Even Having Lunch In L.A. I Co-opt one of the staff
When I travel to L.A. for a book signing, I am at work. When I am running down a desert road, staring suspiciously at the edge of the road for a rattlesnake, I am at work. When I fish I am at work. When I'm with my family I am at work. And when I am serving a tour of duty in a combat zone I am at work. Rest assured that although part of me is processing material for a future creative effort, the greater part of me is keeping myself safe and prosecuting the war to the enemy as best as my ability allows.

Ms. Rose point out that 'we want to understand the mystery of creation. We are not satisfied with the sacral view of the writer. We want to learn the secret of creativity, because it can be the secret to happiness. We turn to all kinds of literature, biography and fiction both, to learn how to live, and in a way, all books are self-help books.'

I own my own share of biographies. From Bradbury to Heinlein, Douglas to Brando, Puller to Jefferson, Kipling to Barker, I have tomes upon tomes of works about those who have achieved the pinnacles of success. Do I have them because I want to relive their achievements one vicarious chapter at a time? In part. But like most of you, I also want to discover the grand secret to writing the great novel. I want to know what mystical elixer they drank or what mountaintop-living monk they spoke with. The secret is in there, I just have to read it close enough to figure it out.

And the secret is in the books, only it's not the secret we think. Elixers, mountaintop-living monks, magic pills, and sea sprites notwithstanding, the secret it to always be turned on. Many of us have day jobs. A great many of these jobs are boring beyond belief, jobs which we perform so we can spend the rest of our lives writing and creating. Regardless of what we call ourselves when others ask what we do, we have to think of ourselves as writers first. While our jobs may have regular hours, a writer is never off.

Writing is an occupation.

Writing is a conviction.

Writing is a necessity.

A job is a means of feeding ourselves, keeping a roof over our heads, and allowing us a few spare coveted moments of writing.

I'll say it again. To be a writer is to be always on. From an anatomical perspective, each of us has voluntary and involuntary muscles. Involuntary muscles are those which allow us to breath and pump blood through your body. Voluntary muscles are those which allow us to walk, talk, lift a pencil and write, or to sit at a keyboard and type. Opening ourselves to the universe is an involuntary function. The great secret is that we are always breathing in our surroundings. How else can we suddenly remember something we barely even realized we knew? Or understand a concept which hadn't been taught to us since the sixth grade? This is purely automatic and goes on without you even knowing.

This is my screensavor
Creativity is the same way. It's a simple process to adjust our great intergalactic scoop of knowledge gathering into a creative machine. All we have to do is acknowledge and reaffirm our position as creator. Once affirmed, our mind works behind the scenes for us. How many times have you sat at a keyboard or addressed pencil to paper not knowing what you were going to say, only to come away hours later with thousands of words, not knowing from whence they came. The words and thoughts were always there. You collected them without knowing it, processed them without realizing it, and your mind has been waiting for the opportunity to provide them based on the application of the appropriate trigger.

This trigger is where the magic begins. We don't know what it is but we do know how to summon it. Sit down, address the page, and write. Write anything. Think of your blank page as your Field of Dreams. If you build it they will come. But instead of the ghosts of dead baseball players, you'll find the page populated by other things (unless of course you are writing about dead baseball players).

In Neil Gaiman's seminal novel, American Gods, he says, 'That is the eternal folly of man.To be chasing after sweet flesh, without realizing that it is simply a pretty cover for the bones.' This was applied to how one person sees another. Although this extraordinary truism is directed at the continual hunt for the opposite sex based on beauty, it also can be used to refer to our own search for how others write and succeed.

But it all begins with being turned on.
My Newest Novel On Sale Now

Recognize who you are.

Affirm who you are.

Present yourself to the page.




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Weston Ochse has spent 29 years in the military in one shape or fashion. He's a world traveler and an internationally best-selling author of high action fiction. Please Note: This article is copyrighted by Weston Ochse. Any reproduction in whole or in part without the author’s permission is prosecutable by public law. If you'd like to borrow part of this or see it reprinted, contact me here. I'll probably say yes.  I'm that kind of guy. You can link to this article. Thank you. © 2013


  1. Good one, Weston.

  2. I don't agree with the sentiment that when we are living we are working. It pretends that the writer's living is somehow more important than is the living done by everyone else who is not a writer.

    A writer's living is no more work than would be the living of the soldiers and do-nut makers you mentioned. Their experiences similarly inform whatever their burdens and labors.

    I also don't agree that writing is just a collection of thoughts put to text...but that moves into the realm of a personal belief system, so I'll digress.

    But as to all of it coming from nowhere and you being surprised when it arrives, maybe a step towards this thing you pursue -- this secret of writing a great novel -- might start with sitting down and writing exactly what you mean to write exactly as you mean to write it. I can't imagine a great magician who is confounded by his own tricks.

    Write exactly what you mean to write and write it plainly.

    Good blog otherwise. ;)

    ~ Karolina

  3. Hi Karolina,

    You're of course free to disagree.

    But what writers do is a little different. We're always recording things to use later, whether it's the color of a flower, the minute buzz of a bee, or the smell of the breeze as it comes through our window. Non-writers/non-creators observe these things, enjoy them, and move on. They might remember them, but their memories, unlike creators, aren't tempered by the need to be able to reconstruct them as part of a story or work of art later on. It's the constant recording then application which seperates us from the rest of the world.

    As a soldier, who has spoken of this difference at length with other soldiers, I can attest that this is a truism for us. I'd argue that if there are any others out there who are doing the same, they are creators who have yet to find their paths.

    As far as you write exactly what you want, I admire your ability. I've just had my 11th novel published and I still am surprised by the way my mind works behind the scenes. I don't have your vice-like grip on the muse, but rather my muse has her grip on me.

    Thanks much for reading my essay. I'm glad it stimulated this discourse.


  4. Hm. "tempered by the need to be able to reconstruct them as part of a story"

    I feel like that implies that writers are motivated by a want to reconstruct these things. Is that what you're saying?

    It's actually sort of confusing that you mentioned soldiers here, because I immediately thought of police officers who, of course, have worked their minds to be things able to reconstruct and recall entire scenes down to the finest details.

    If I described a nurse and part-time dog groomer who also happens to watch birds with fierce intention and meticulous cataloging, from your description here I would be describing a writer.

    I think people are people. Life experiences inform life happenings. I don't believe that I examine flowers or bees or cats more intently than does someone who examines them even for cold, scientific purposes.

    But again, we're going to probably have different philosophies and belief systems. I don't give myself much credit for what I write. I just write exactly what I mean to write exactly as I mean to write it -- and I'd like to believe that if I awoke from a life long coma (allowing for language in this hypothetical) that I would be able to tell whatever stories I'm set to tell better than I can through the filter of this waking life.

    What a storyteller sees or doesn't see, examines or doesn't examine I do not think has any bearing on them being a "writer" or the disposition that's implied.

    I only tell stories because I'm compelled to tell them, and I don't think that I examine flowers or road signs more meticulously than does someone who loves flowers for flowers or someone who is paid to erect road signs. If anything, I think being a storyteller makes me more generic a person. My interest is the total, while their interests are, perhaps, the minutia.

    I find very little to be at all important. If there's something that defines me as a "writer", something that separates me from the masses, it would be more that trait than any other. I find very little to be at all important. I think most people have a lot of things that they deem to be very, very important -- and can tell you stories about them until your ears bleed.

    ~ Karolina

  5. Karolina,

    Excellent comments. I see I stimulated thought and ideas. I can't ask for more. Best to you and success in your writing.