Tag Archives: blood chit

Why Write What We Do Not Know?

Say, what? How can I write what I don’t know? I always heard the advice, “Write what you know.”

Absolutely. Do write what you know, but if that is all you write, you aren’t going to learn much, and learning is one very important reason for writing.

I came to this conclusion with disarming lack of speed. I have written and graded more essays and term papers than the IRS could count. Okay, that’s hyperbole. The reason I wrote and assigned literary composition was that I believed it was a powerful learning process. I was right, it is.

Even though I believed in the value of writing as a learning tool at a cognitive level, I never grasped it emotionally until last week. My writing group, Write on the Edge (.org) asked me to speak and sign my books, Beyond the Blood Chit. My premise was that writing this novel became a part of my combat PTSD recovery process through learning.

The idea isn’t new. We can find quotes by famous authors referring to writing as an adventure in exploring uncertainty. No, I’m not going to give references, but I would love for you to provide some in comments on this blog.

We can only write what we know. If we try to write what we don’t know, we fail. Is this a paradox?


We begin to write what we know in an effort to explore what we don’t know, and this may be conscious or subconscious. It is a valid inquiry process. We start with the known and use it to illuminate the unknown. Writing is the tool through which we view and learn, or at least flirt with the possibility of learning.

Somewhere during the experience of writing this novel, originally called, “LG”, I recognized that it was about combat PTSD recovery. I admit that this recognition was empowered through a VA recovery program including individual and group counseling. It was also potentiated and developed by personal friends willing to discuss their own experiences and views.  

Like other activities of life, learning is a dance. We learn, use what we learn to inquire, learn more, and continue to inquire, constantly changing our minds. Sometimes we add new knowledge to old. Other times we modify what we believe to accommodate new tenets. Occasionally we reject old, dear, beliefs to acquire new and conflicting ideas. Writing helps us to do all of these.

So, I started writing a story called “LG” about a Vietnam Veteran, like me, who was trapped in some kind of internal dilemma. Blood Chit emerged as an icon for part of that confusion, the perceived duty to serve, help, and even rescue others. My friend’s tattoo of a daggaboy (retired cape buffalo bull) became the symbol for the other part, the longing for escape from this duty to my private water hole of safety. None of this was in my mind when I began writing, and some only emerged well into the rewriting process.

Because of this writing, only because I finished the novel and tried to market it, did I find out what the real story is about. That’s a lot for this old man to learn.

Finally, by agreeing to discuss the writing process with my colleagues, I have come to understand another piece of the mystery. What we learn depends upon our willingness to doubt, wonder, and work the processes of inquiry. It depends upon a commitment to write what we do not know.

Inquiry is not for the feint of faith or those convinced of their own certainty, but for those who want to know more.

For all people with a longing need to know, I personally recommend writing. Enjoy the journey.

Can authors really create American jobs?

In the dream, the author writes a story and sends it to a publisher. An editor reads the manuscript and sends a contract with a fat advance payment to the author. The author spends that money, stimulating the economy, and goes about writing another story while royalty payments fatten the bank account. This is a fairy tale.

In the real world, authors sell books—even if a publisher signs them to a contract with some small advance of, say, $1000. It is through this process of publicizing, marketing, and personally selling books that authors make money. Publishers may (or, may not) help. Book stores may sell books, too, so the author is supporting the economy by providing employment at book stores and publishing houses, perhaps at a literary agency as well.

In my world, the author does most everything himself, or so it seems. I do have resources, and that is where I create jobs. My efforts are already helping employ people at Google, Yahoo, Avery, Booklocker.com, WordPress, GoDaddy, HP, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, AWC Small Business Development Center, UPS, USPS, Scotch, Staples, etc. You get the idea. I spend money for goods and services. That money supports jobs even into the forests where the trees are grown, logged, and chewed into paper. I spend money. That is how jobs are created.

There are people in America with money ready to create jobs by helping authors get published. This entails risk. The solution is to hire acquisition editors who know how to buy winners—books that will sell. They buy books, almost always through literary agents, similar to past winners. Wouldn’t you? Romance sells. Fantasy sells. Women and teens buy. By the way, erotica sells.

I do not write erotica, fantasy, or romance. If I really wanted to make money, I could write paranormal erotic fantasy romance. Yuk. Somewhere I developed a strange notion that authorship should be about more than entertainment and escape. It should be something beyond promotion of hedonism.

There is also a matter of style. Writing is a craft that takes talent and skill. It must be learned. Creativity and a unique voice must be developed and recognized as special, yet it must be similar enough to others that it does not entail too much risk. It takes a lot of time and work—and a little luck—to connect. It requires adapting to the industry. Sometimes, it means relinquishing artistic license including plot, title, and cover art, to the publisher.

When all of this works, when a connection is made, an author can get very rich. S/he can develop cult followings, sell movie rights, branch out to memorabilia, hire writing staffs.

Is this the American Dream? Perhaps we are an Olympic culture, always striving for the top of the charts, the Superbowl, World Series, Sprint Cup, Lehman Brothers. Is that our dream?

How can you and I create jobs in America? We can support Bank of America or our local credit union, Walmart or our local shops, Borders (oops) or the smaller, more independent book stores.

No, I wouldn’t turn down a six figure contract. But, I will not sign over my artistic license, either. I have plans for two sequels, one prequel, and three nonfiction works all with Beyond in the title. It is my quest. You are invited to join me—if, and only if–you enjoy the read. The first three chapters are available online for free through www.ErvBarnes.com.