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Drown proofing

Pararescueman Senior Airman Dan Warren rises from the waters of the Banana River in Florida.

I’m reading about Air Force Pararescuemen, a.k.a. PJs—part of the USAF’s special forces—who were stationed in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11. A discussion of the training PJs go through got me thinking about what writers could learn from the special forces.

The number one lesson? It’s all mental.

When the PJs go through combat diver school—known as “drown proofing”—they’re tied up, blindfolded, and dropped to the bottom of the pool. They have to share their air supply with a buddy while instructors jostle them and block their air.

If they panic, they’ll gulp water or use all of their oxygen thrashing. If they panic, they’ll fail.

This and other various training exercises weed out the men who can’t handle extreme stress, fear, and pressure, because in the heat of a rescue mission, they can't afford to lose their cool.

As writers, we can’t afford to panic when things don’t go our way. Rejection? Bad contest score? Storyline not working? Cry, have some chocolate, stomp your feet, rant to a friend, take a day off, and then get back to writing.

Build a network of supporters, or whatever works to get you through it, because even after publication there will always be stress, pressure, and negative influences in your life. Don’t let them derail you. Figure out what gets you through it now.

Be drown proof.

Of the number who show up at indoctrination—the portion of PJ school designed to weed out those who won’t make it through—at least 90% of them won’t finish. The numbers are probably about the same—or worse—for writers hoping to make a living with their stories.

What separates the indoc survivors from those who quit? It’s not physical fitness. Some of the strongest, fittest men drop out. It’s not necessarily brains. None of these guys are dummies. What the survivors have is tenacity.

Ask any published author what separates her from the rest of us who are trying, and she’ll probably say that she didn’t give up. Through years of writing, submitting, and getting rejections, she kept at it. Finish the book, revise the book, query the book, and start the next book.

Never quit.

Like all members special forces, Air Force Pararescuemen are a special breed. So are successful writers. If you want to survive the trials of the writer’s life, don’t panic and don’t quit.

Be your own special force.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bennie Davis III, via

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  1. Reply

    Excellent post. I tweeted it. SM retweeted it. Sounds like you are cheering yourself on a lot these days. Good for you. Soon the boys will be back in school and you’ll be able to push harder.

    I am taking a creative break. Focusing on the writing and the craft. The rest will follow.

    • Reply

      Thanks, Christine! I’ve been offline for a few days and am getting caught up. I’m definitely getting myself geared up again. Thanks for checking in.

      • Reply

        I know what you mean. I took a break from the MS then went to Margie’s class. Now I’m digging through the WIP and upping the ante. “cliche alert!”

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