No, I'm not talking about Paladin.
I'm referring to young Winston Churchill. He was perhaps the only true soldier/journalist of our times.
The Geneva Convention would not have permitted him to bear arms in a war he covered as a journalist.
But that is exactly what he did. And he took a soldier's training and mentality with him as a reporter. Words were his bullets, and scarse was his ammunition. He made each word count. His prose was sparse and lean like his backpack.
In 1894, Winston became a 2nd lieutenant in the 4th Queen's Own Hussars. In 1895, he spent his first military leave in Cuba for a London newspaper, THE LONDON TELEGRAPH. He spent the next year with his regiment in India. The following year he published his newspaper articles in his first book.
His eye was keen. To stay alive as a soldier it had to be. To keep his prose living, his eye had to be just as discerning.
He kept that eye open for opportunity -- as when in 1898, he volunteered for a posting with the 21st Lancers just before the climax of the expedition to reconquor the Sudan. In the Battle of Omdurman, he participated in the last great cavalry charge of the 19th century.
The following year he again published a series of newspaper articles he had written on the River Wars. He then resigned his commission to focus on journalism.
He went to South Africa to cover the Boer War where he promptly got captured. And just as promptly, he escaped. With a price on his head and not being able to speak a single word of Dutch, Winston made good his escape back to England.
And you nod in appreciation for his heroism, but what about his verbal prowess?
Churchill wrote his own speeches.
The speeches that during the Nazi bombing of London shook the British resolve to its core. With his words and voice alone, Churchill bound England's bleeding heart and fanned the fading embers of courage to a roaring flame :
"You ask, what is our policy?
I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us:
to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime.
That is our policy.
You ask, what is our aim?
I can answer in one word:
It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be;
for without victory, there is no survival."
This is a writer we must listen to when he talks on how to write. If we can catch but a spark of his fire then we will become eagles of prose.
And what does he say of the art of writing?
A short word is good. A short, old word is even better. And there is wisdom both old and new to that sentence. Short words flow easier in our minds as we read. Short paragraphs are easier on the eye.
And the new wisdom to it?
In Google Search, the engine will lock onto the shortest, most used word describing a subject. If we want our novel, our words to pop up when someone Googles, then we should stick to short, well-used words.
And he spoke on a subject tender to most of us struggling writers : criticism.
"It may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things that will only worsen if not dealt with. Courage is what it takes to get up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen to criticism."
Winston had his thoughts on writing as a whole :
“Writing a book is an adventure.
To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement;
then it becomes a mistress,
and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant.
The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude,
you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.”
Churchill also likened writing a book to swimming a river.
He described the stimulating and pleasant feeling of getting one's feet and ankles wet, wading in waist deep, and finally kicking off the bottom altogether, striking out eagerly toward the opposite shore.
As the adventure progresses, however, the water can feel colder than it seemed at first and the current more swift than was initially estimated.
Thus, nearing the center of the river may include thoughts about returning to the shore left behind, but looking back confirms that it is now nearly as far away as the opposite shore.
Resolutely gathering up strength, the intrepid swimmer forges willfully toward the inviting but distant shoreline.
The "middle of the middle" is encountered, however, where both the shore left behind and the shore lying ahead seem much too far. Hope drains away and is replaced with feelings ranging from frustration to fear (or perhaps anger or seemingly overwhelming discouragement).
This midpoint Churchill described as "the middle of the middle", and he commented that it seemed to him the most demoralizing and depressing part of the entire journey for the swimmer (or author, or anyone working through any significant sequence, time period or project).
From "the middle of the middle" on, one often has to rely on sheer strength and determination or other resources, as well as a more distant hope, to make it the rest of the way.
Finally, when the swimmer feels totally exhausted, cold, and bedraggled, the opposite shore is encountered (or the hoped for better time that was originally anticipated comes.)
And the swimmer drags up on shore and collapses, not particularly caring whether or not the journey was victorious.
The paradox here is that by the time the goal is reached, or the season passed, the person doesn't really care much one way or the other -- at least in the immediate situation.
So take heart : even a heroic spirit like Churchill's felt as you do now. You are weary, uncertain of success, despondent of finishing.
You will finish the course. You have paid too dear a price not to. And if success is denied you?
There is no failure.
Not to those who leap into the surging currents of writing and keep stroking until their numb feet touch the other shore. No failure. You will have completed what you started.
Your novel is finished. And so what if agents and editors turn aside? Time is a mysterious companion. What is rejected this year may be published next year or next decade.
Just take what lessons you've learned and plunge into the currents again.
Like Winston : keep your prose lean, your eye keen, and your senses searching for new opportunites to step into the spotlight of new agents and new arenas of growth.
Can you smell that cigar smoke? A titan is watching you. Make him proud.
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