1st Rule of Writing – Think Like a Marine

On September 8, 2014

The documentary series, Royal Marines Commando School, on Channel 4, ranks as some of the best TV I’ve seen in years. Watching the recruits tackle the world’s longest, toughest military training in their quest to become the best of the best has been a real eye-opener –  terrific drama.  The regime at Lympstone, in Devon, is world-renowned. What drives the recruits – and their training team – is passion and pride.  You can see the ones who really want the green beret, those who will go above and beyond what seems humanly possible to get it.

As a writer, I have been so inspired by the series, the characters in it, and their approach to a killer thirty-two week training regime. Throughout, watching the Marines operate has made me think about my attitude to writing.

At first sight, it may seem there is little to connect writing with commando training, but bear with me.

Those young guys who arrive at Commando School every two weeks have a dream. They want to succeed at something where only the best make it. Large numbers – about a  third – won’t get the coveted green beret. They go for it anyway, knowing the odds aren’t good. Early on, some find their best efforts are rubbished, dismissed out of hand. The ones who really want it, though, understand how much they have to learn, how hard they will have to work to hone their craft. They know it will take huge effort and commitment to improve and that, throughout the process, it will never, ever be plain sailing. Always there will be set-backs and obstacles – quite literally – like the Bottom Field assault course, to be overcome. Some realize it’s not for them and get ‘rubbed out.’ Others strive even harder. Those are the ones who show true Commando spirit and become stronger, physically and mentally. They persevere, no matter what –  because it’s their dream.

Not that different to writing, after all, is it?

I’ve been to Lympstone to see my nephew, Bradley Malone (pictured), Pass Out. I thought I already had a good idea of what he went through in order to get his prized green beret. Now, having seen Commando School, I have a much clearer sense of the rigours of training. My admiration for him, and others like him in this elite fighting force, grows all the time. In 2009, he was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for bravery in Afghanistan. He is exceptional, about half my age, and can teach me so much.

For anyone serious about writing, it’s a dream, a passion, something you’re driven to do. Regardless of the disappointments, the rejections, the overwhelming feeling at times that you won’t make it, you soldier on. Like those recruits.

I’ve learnt so much from Commando School. I think every writer can take inspiration from the attitude and outlook that prevails there. Those who make it through training are cheerful and determined; hard-working, no matter what. When the skin is hanging off their backs from carrying their full sixty-nine pounds of kit on a fifteen-mile yomp across Dartmoor and their feet are torn to shreds, they remain upbeat and enthusiastic.

They keep their heads up.

‘You’ve just got to switch off for a yomp,’ one said. ‘You can’t focus on your feet hurting, you can’t focus on your back hurting or your shoulders, you’ve just got to … find your rhythm – left, right, left, right. Saying left, right in your head even helps.’

‘Ninety per cent of it is mental, getting in that right frame of mind,’ said another, who went on to receive the prestigious King’s Badge, awarded to the best recruit in  the troop.

So, apply that ethos to your writing. Find your rhythm. Be disciplined, focused, and never lose sight of your dream. When you get knocked back, learn from it and go forward with ever more resolve. Tap into your innate Commando spirit.

Think like a Marine.


Featured image courtesy of  Corporal Bradley Malone, 45 Commando

Copyright Bradley Malone

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