Non-Fiction: Eating Your Greens

You Are What You Eat.jpgI refer to, “eating my greens,” often on here.  It occurred to me that I’ve never really dedicated a day to talking about what greens are, why I eat them, and why you should too.  I thought it might be smart to generate a post we can link back to in the future.  With that being said, grab some dental floss and let’s get munching!

I credit my longtime friend MLS Weech with coining the phrase, “Eating your greens.”  I did an internet search and couldn’t find another origin to cite.  So unless he comes up with something, we’ll say it started with him (congrats bud, your legacy grows!).  Greens are simply non-fiction books.  Desserts, on the other hand, are fiction books of the genre you enjoy.  I believe in a balanced diet, but mine tends to be heavier in greens.

My approach to understanding and teaching writing is the same approach I took when I was taught how to train people in the military.  When I was combat cameraman, one of my extra jobs was training my comrades how to shoot (firearms, not cameras) and operate tactically with small teams.  I didn’t just fall into the job, I had to be trained to do it.

My first instructor always would say, “One mind, any weapon.”  It was his standard response when someone would say, “I’m good with the pistol, I’m just not familiar with the rifle.”  It was a simple, but very intelligent idea.  Grasp the basics, and you can apply them to anything.

Training for Grammar War

What he was saying, in regards to weapons, was if you train yourself to understand the mechanics of handling a firearm, you can apply those fundamentals to most weapon systems.  In this way, if you would pick up a weapon you’ve never seen before, you would still be able to apply sound weapon handling skills (gripping the weapon, stance while firing, proper trigger pull, site alignment, etc.).

mushroom cloud.jpgFor me, eating my greens is how I ensure my weapon fundamentals are sound.  I’m not training myself, or anyone else, to go to war anymore.  I’m training to write and edit.  It’s a different kind of war.  In this war, the participants are their own nations.  They carry the weight of their own worlds on their shoulders.  Should they fail, they simply fade from existence.  For this reason, I train.  I don’t plan to sulk quietly into the night.  I plan to leave mushroom clouds and destruction behind me.  What’s your plan?

*Corey takes a cleansing breath*

All right, back to eating greens and shooting guns.  When I first began training to teach people how to shoot, I was terrible.  Not at shooting; I was a great shooter.  I grew up in the rolling hills of southeastern Ohio on a 100+ acre farm and had been hunting deer, rabbit, and squirrel since I was a young boy.  Our freezer would be packed by the time winter would come (sorry vegans).

There was a problem though.  Explaining the process and demonstrating it were two very different things.  I needed more depth of knowledge and tools for instruction.

My instructor understood this and developed training.  He would stand on the firing line with his rifle while I observed safely to his side with a whistle in my mouth.  I would give him directions and he would purposefully make mistakes for me to correct.  After he finished firing and we cleared his weapon (took away all the dangerous things, like bullets) I would provide coaching tips.

Teaching Socrates.jpgTo each piece of instruction he would smile and say, “Why?”  It was super frustrating.  I knew what I was saying was right, I just wasn’t always sure why it was right.  That was a problem.

I had worked with people before who subscribed to the, “Just believe,” philosophy of training.  They would say something like, “Just press the believe button and accept this is how it is.”  I hated that.  There had to be logical explanations.  Not every person can press the believe button.  I didn’t want to teach like that.  Especially not something people needed to have unshakable faith in.  If you are going to war, you need to truly believe in the training you’ve been given.

rifle breakdownSo I studied.  A lot.  I spent hours and hours going through illustrated parts breakdowns of the weapon systems (which look like nuclear missile construction plans).  I found books from successful instructors.  I watched videos.  I spent hours on the range and dry firing (shooting without bullets).  I attended schools for instructors.  I walked around in my house and pretended to give instruction to nonexistent people.  I made it personal.  Slowly, I developed my own style of teaching and depth of knowledge.

It was successful.  Kyle (my instructor) had his method of instruction and I had my own.  Between the two of us, we were able to provide a more robust curriculum.  Everyone we trained came home from their deployments in one piece.  Never once did someone say to me, or in an after action report, that their combat tactics instruction was insufficient.

The stakes aren’t quite as high now.  Regardless, I still care about training.  The methods I obtained back then I apply here.  Most of my blog postings are attempts at turning a green I’ve read (or personal experience) into consumable and actionable pieces of advice.  I’m not going to tell you what is right or wrong; I’m just offering you an understanding of the weapons.

subliminalFor me, writing is a constant negotiation between the creative and analytical halves of my brain.  Both sides battle for control of the writing process.  Because I am naturally imaginative and creative (only child, imaginary friends, miles away from nearest neighbor) I have to reinforce the analytical side of my brain with greens.  It’s how I create balance.  If you are very analytical, you may need to eat more desserts (fiction).

This blog is how I feed the analytical side.  My creative side gets exercise when I write my own stories.  Much like when I was a weapons instructor, I try to feed all sides information without letting them kill each other.  I encourage you to also develop a, “one mind, any weapon,” mentality in your own writing path.

samurai swordTake the time to examine what makes writing resound with you.  Study the craft.  Strip it bare, expose the components, and use them to wage your own war.  Make it personal.  Fight your battles with the desperate insanity of the samurai.

“Do not rely on following the degree of understanding that you have discovered, but simply think, ‘This is not enough.’ One should search throughout his whole life how best to follow the Way. And he should study, setting his mind to work without putting things off. Within this is the Way” (Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai).

That’s it for today.  More of a rant than anything, but hey, my brain is happy now.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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62 responses

  1. I’m so glad you wrote this because I’m a “greens” person – have been for a long time. For me, non-fiction reading and writing is my foundation for fiction reading/writing. For example, I better appreciated “Cat’s Cradle” by Vonnegut after reading his book “Psalm Sunday.” Non-fiction text sets (and church) are my writing muse. I’m going to share your article on my social media networks, if you don’t mind.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad this resonated with you! Thanks for taking the time to leave your process as well. I love seeing how other authors tackle their writing.

      Absolutely feel free to share anything you find on my blog. Even the images are free to share now!

      Thanks for taking the time to read this weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dude, this makes so much sense! I’m actually shocked at how you were able to make this click in my mind. Now, not only will I continue to develop the craft of writing (something I quite often do when reading your articles) but, I will also apply “One Mind, Any Weapon” (really love that by the way) to the different styles of writing.

    You probably didn’t realize this when writing it (unless your psychic…are you psychic? but you’ve totally helped me get past a partial writers blog I was having with my 2nd blog.

    You see, I’ve written all kinds of genres in the past but (as I’m sure is obvious) I’m most comfortable and find it easiest to write the darker things in life. Still, I enjoy writing other genres and in other styles when writing (a partial reason I made my 2nd blog).

    Since starting that blog though, I’ve been having trouble finding an identity for it. When I write other genres or in different ways, I get way over analytical (which is natural, we are our own worst critics) and quite often scrap entire drafts.

    “One Mind, Any Weapon” struck a cord with me because when applied to writing, it means it doesn’t matter the genre or style of writing, it is still your mind and imagination that wrote the darker things that is writing this, so there is no reason for me to be so overly analytical and self destructive towards other types and genres of writing.

    It will take time, and I will have to hone my craft to become better and more comfortable with these things, but just that one phrase really set something off in me. It is still my mind. When I was younger (and far more aggressive in my style of writing) I would write regardless of genre every bit as impactfully.

    A large part of that is I didn’t think (or overthink) in my case when doing those other styles of writing and genres. I quite literally wanted to show the world I could out write any author or storyteller in the world. (I was such a humble guy huh?)

    I would say I’m a much better writer (and far more humble) now than I was back then. Still, I’ve been trying to rekindle the flair I had for writing all genres so seamlessly and easily as I write horror and all styles as easily as I write poetry.

    I have no doubt I’ll get there again. I just wanted you to know, this was an inspiring post and that simple phrase has totally changed everything for me.

    Cheers! ^_^

    Liked by 4 people

    • It’s really thrilling for me to read this little bit of advice had an impact on you. I know it’s one of those mantras I took away from the military. “One mind, any weapon” and “There is profit in chaos,” are the two that really have stuck with me. I find myself saying them in my head when I’m feeling lazy, or overwhelmed.

      I find the more tools and methods I acquire in my self-study, the more options I have. Instead of reading one or two books and saying, “These are the rules, I must abide,” I have a growing whirlpool to generate from.

      The beauty of this understanding is the freedom of genre, like you mentioned. Whatever you write is yours, but to be successful it requires a wider depth of understanding.

      As for your work, if your dark rantings are any indication of your ability, I would happily read other offerings from you. I hope you do find that second wind and you turn it into a hurricane. I’ll just be over here flying kites.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Quite the impact! I look forward to reading your posts each day. This morning I was like YAY! QE posted early! Hooray Saturday! Xp No worries, I will turn the second wind into a force like no other! ^_^

        I look forward to expanding things on that 2nd blog in due time. However I’m done writing for the weekend. I’m going through reading and replying now. It is a fun thing to do!

        I love interacting with other artists and learning from them/being inspired by them. I learn something from your blog everyday!

        Cheers! ^_^

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Sorry, I haven’t been able to comment lately, but I finally got downtime to do internet reading. As usual, this was a great post! For me, I make the craft of learning storytelling personally. Like you, I read a lot, study a lot, and try to use any resources I can to improve my skills. However, I don’t think it’s paying off for me :/

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have a seen a change in your blogging style since I’ve been online. I haven’t read any of your work yet, but I can only imagine that has been changing and improving as well. When it comes down to it, we all struggle with the feeling of not making progress. That, to me, is a normal reaction.

      I’m more concerned with the person who has all the answers, can’t be taught anything, and is their own oracle. Even the best authors, in their memoirs, often write about how they felt odd writing a memoir when they were still figuring it out themselves.

      I guess the point is to keep your blade to the stone and continue sharpening it. When you get the chance, test your mettle. When you aren’t engaged in literary conflict (writing, submitting, marketing) you continue training with it. It’s all we can do.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Corey,

    This goes a long way to explain the discipline that you bring to your blog.

    I used to be that way – e.g., when I was a data manager for a classified Air Force program, I stalked the military library to learn everything that I could about Radar and test missions – just for the love of learning and applying that knowledge to learn more. But I was also editing technical documents, so nothing was wasted. Alas, I’ve gotten lazy over the years.

    Fascinating post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for reading and leaving some thoughts!

      Your past work with Air Force sounds exciting, but likely mind-numbing at the same time. People always get so excited when you say stuff like classified and top-secret, but usually it’s far less mind-blowing than they would think.

      There is something magical about the pursuit of information though. Finding clues scattered around, digging more, and assembling a bigger picture and better understanding. I like to think of it as literary archaeology.

      Thanks again for reading. Happy writing.


      • Corey,

        It wasn’t mind-numbing as much as silly, given my background. But I honored the idea that you had to use certain colors and turn certain dials in order to comply with protocols. Once upon a time, my brother worked at the agency that swept in after every congressional hearing to retrieve the Top Secret files that were thrown in the trash.

        Not sure what Paddy Chayefsky would have to say about our society. He might have said that clues are easier to find when you can see where you are, or better yet, where you are going…. What does this have to do with writing? Nothing. Everything.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. I can’t say for the life of me who I stole that from, but I did steal it. I assure you, like most greats, I stole that little charm and made it my own. I do stuff like this with my students. I’m glad they’re correct, but if they’re incorrect, especially if they’re applying the wrong rule or the right rule incorrectly, that can hurt them down the line, so I ask them WHY. (That may be officially the longest, most complex compound sentence I’ve ever written.)

    I’m a believer in speaking the language of the craft. I wish I was better about my metaphorical diet though. It’s true, I learn far more effectively with case studies, but you have to dig in to the material now and then.

    Thanks for the knowledge bomb Corey. Mind. Blown.

    Liked by 5 people

      • I promise I stole it. I just don’t know who from. This is weird because I have all kinds of original one-liners when I’m teaching. But if I’m talking about writing, whatever I say was pointedly stolen from someone I feel is far more intelligent than I am.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sometimes I give credit, even to my own ideas because I’m not confident enough. Kicking down doors with the 101st? No problem, but in the day to day I always gave credit to others because I thought if it was from me it wouldn’t be as valid. Sounds like you’ve got some of that going on Weech.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Well until I can find another source, or you provide me with one – I’m attributing it to you. I honestly spent 30 minutes or so looking for another source. I even added Sanderson’s name to the search criteria thinking perhaps it was one the things he said that you have tattooed on your brain.

      No luck.

      Regardless, glad your mind got busted up by the post. Pick up the pieces and get to revising. Don’t you have an entire short story to write too? Due in like two months? Better get to it!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. “gripping the weapon, stance while firing, proper trigger pull, site alignment, etc.”

    Are you flirting with me Corey? I think I got a mite excited for a moment and forgot I wasn’t in the infantry anymore!! 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought you might enjoy that you foxhole digging door kicker! Hah! I guess I should change that too “gripping the style guide, flipping the pages, using indexes, sharpening editing pencil, etc.” One mind, any edit.

      I’ll stick with general editing for now though 🙂

      Thanks for giving the post a read today. Glad you liked it and got some good hooah Army moto going on.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. In the infantry we had a “one team, one fight” approach to team work that we applied to the weapons we used as well. I appreciated how you summed that concept up for our more civilized civilian brethren. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t like greens, I like those chewy little vitamins that have ALL the goodness of the greens without the, well the greens! You’re that little chewy vitamin QE, mining the greens for the goodness and distilling it down to a palatable, enjoyable, (teachable), read for me. So thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hah! I always knew someday I would ascend to Flintstones vitamin level knowledge. I will try to keep the solid information flowing though. I’m learning just as much as all of you from these posts.

      Thanks for the kind (and nutritional) words and for reading today.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This has been my favorite post so far, probably because it speaks to me as well. I am inspired and encouraged that I’m doing something right, I just need more study, practice and skill development. Keep providing these gems and good luck with your stories too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m really happy this post worked for you today! I think as long as we stay hungry for knowledge and driven in our goals then there are few limits to what we can achieve. I say this with any pursuit in mind, not just writing.

      One of the reoccurring themes I see in author memoirs is that the author had to work hard to achieve success. They had to toil, fail, struggle, fail, and eventually it happened for them. Hopefully our paths are a little easier – but I don’t count on it.

      Thanks for taking the time to read this weekend! Have a great day.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I just want to check, does starting to research possible methods for spaceflight on the internet and ending up reading about socio-political theory in the 1700s count as eating your greens? If so, I’m sorted and should grow up big and strong.

    Also, I hate to say it, but you’ve got a quiet for a quite in this one. Great post though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the eyes! Editors need editors! Hah!

      I think space flight and socioeconomic theory absolutely counts as greens! Nom nom nom.

      Did you find an alternate means of space flight? I hope so. I want to see this planet from a different vantage point soon.

      Thanks for reading today and finding an improvement. You rock.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Still working on it. I’m leaning towards the Jules Verne approach of Space Gun. Or maybe the space elevator. Fountains of Paradise is one of my favourite books

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m sure whatever twist you put on it will make it something worth reading. Best of luck synthesizing those elements into something shiny and new!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Also, I’m not sure what’s going on with you profile. I can access your page via my bookmarks (I have bloggers who write daily bookmarked so I can try to keep up). But if I click on your name or profile via the comments it sends me to a dead link and states you have deleted your page. Which I know isn’t true because I just checked you page and it’s current. Ghosts in the machine! I only mention it because people might be trying to access you page via your awesome comments and getting stonewalled…

        Liked by 1 person

      • It says… is no longer available.

        The authors have deleted this site.

        …which is kind of funny because of the name and the ambiguous statement.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I also have to know the ‘why’, it’s one of the reasons I’m so bad at math, no one could ever tell me why, just “this works, do it this way, trust me.” Frustrating as frustrating goes…
    Thanks for the insightful rant!


    Liked by 1 person

    • “Why!” he exclaimed, his eyes bright, green, and golden. “Why! Why! Why! The most beautiful, magical, powerful word in all the cosmos is the word ‘why’. And nobody asks it. The fools! Here we are living in a magic world, steeped in mystery just waiting to be discovered and nobody asks why. Any idiot with half an eye and less than an ear can tell you the ‘what’ and the ‘how’; I am all about the ‘why’.” Master Altman – mathematician

      Liked by 2 people

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