3 Ways Military Service Has Made Me a Better Writer

Since I first saw Ralph Bakshi’s animated Lord of the Rings, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I’m not alone in that. Lots of folks dream of getting a book deal someday. They chase the dream in a lot of ways. Reading obsessively. Going to writing conferences. Signing up for English Literature or Creative Writing MFA programs.

Me? I joined the military.

My third novel hits shelves in just two weeks, coming out from the biggest publisher in the world. I’ve got three more under contract after that. Sure, joining the military maybe wasn’t the most obvious route, but I sure am glad I did it. Here’s what it taught me:

(Should you mention self-published books when querying an agent?)


myke-cole-shadow-ops-breach-zone      myke-cole-author-writer

Column by Myke Cole, author of SHADOW OPS: BREACH ZONE (Jan. 2014, Ace).
He writes acclaimed military fantasy novels. As a security contractor, government
civilian and military officer, Myke’s career has run the gamut from Counterterrorism
to Cyber Warfare to Federal Law Enforcement. He’s done three tours in Iraq and
was recalled to serve during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Find him on Twitter.



1.) 0 or 1. The military presents clear standards. You either meet them or you don’t. There are no half-measures. Your body is binary. Tired? Not in the mood to work out? Wow, that’s awful. I’m so sorry to hear that. Your body doesn’t care. You either give it the diet and exercise it needs to keep fit, or it atrophies. Writing is exactly the same. Anxious? Wondering if it’s worth your time? If you’re just kidding yourself? Lock it up. You either put down the words and develop your craft, or you blow hot air. We’ve got a name for people like that: Writers Who Don’t.

2.) The Sea Doesn’t Care About You. In the guard, we use this saying to indicate that the dangers and demands of the job are constant and immutable. They will remain as they are no matter what you do, no matter how you feel. There’s that great scene in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, where he stands over a man bemoaning his imminent death at Eastwood’s hands, crying out that he doesn’t deserve this. “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it,” Eastwood says before he pulls the trigger. The universe will never reward drama, only effort.

(Chapter 1 cliches and overused beginnings — see them all here.)

3.) Death is part of the job. When we take our enlistment or commissioning oath, we agree to lay down our lives for our country. We accept that death is a possible outcome of the job. We don’t look for it, but we won’t run from it either. Well, the good news about writing is that you don’t have to die. But you do have to accept the possibility that you may pour years of your life into the discipline and not attain your ultimate goal of securing a deal with a New York publishing house. Failure is an option in writing. In fact, it’s highly likely. But that’s where the military is another boon. Where others might see a deck stacked unfairly against them, we see exactly the kind of impossible job we were trained to get done.

Want to be a writer? Sign up for a writers’ conference. Enroll in a world famous MFA program.

Or maybe, just maybe, head down to your local recruiting office and ask about joining the Reserve. Or maybe check out your service auxiliary.

See you in the trenches.


Agent Donald Maass, who is also an author
himself, is one of the top instructors nationwide
on crafting quality fiction. His recent guide,
The Fire in Fiction, shows how to compose
a novel that will get agents/editors to keep reading.


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


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One thought on “3 Ways Military Service Has Made Me a Better Writer

  1. dymphna st james

    Good luck with your books. The last 2 military books I read were Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and Mathew Eck’s The Farther Shore (Somolian conflict). You are very insightful in sharing that your military service gave you the discipline to become a published writer. I too am a literary soldier and have written a collection of short stories and a first draft of a novel. Congratulations and thank you for your brave service to your country in Iraq.



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