My beloved and departed sensei Lee Sprague used to say “If you hit a man, kill him.”
If sounds macho, brutal, and unnecessary, but what he always said next demonstrates why he’s right.
“If you have to go hands-on with somebody, fight the best fight you can or he has a better chance of killing you.”
That follows, and it’s tactically sound, but still seems to fall squarely in the macho warrior thug box. But his second insight is what makes this some of the best advice in the world:
“And if you don’t feel comfortable killing the man, you shouldn’t hit him in the first place.”
There’s huge wisdom in that, as applied to all endeavors. So much that Our Most Badass President ever said similar words:
The unforgivable sin is soft hitting. Do not hit at all if it can be avoided; but never hit softly.
Apply this to your writing…
If you’re going to bother writing at all, it’s a sin to write soft. Don’t write what comforts you. Don’t write what the market suggests will give you a soft life. Write what scares you, what hurts you. Write the yucky stuff that will help you grow as you pour it out onto the page with a feeling exactly like what you get when you pour alcohol on some road rash.
And don’t write just stuff from that space, but write it hard. If you have to drop an f-bomb to make it real, drop an f-bomb to make it real. If one of your characters is an ignorant hillbilly from Kentucky, don’t you dare not write the word “nigger” for fear of offending some middle-class white book reviewer. If the story calls for ugly, write the ugly and put it boldly on the page. If it calls for beautiful, write a rainbow that leaves people weeping. If it calls for staring at the abyss, stare hard until it blinks and asks you about the weather.
Write hard. Leave your reader feeling like this:
Apply this to your life…
Same goes for your hopes and dreams. If you want to do something, do it. Don’t halfway do it. Don’t go through the motions while giving most of your attention to safe, familiar other things. Don’t wish and whine and hold back until your time and life and opportunities are all spent. Hit it hard and try to kill everything in your way just as ferociously as you would kill a human attacker that stood between you and seeing your family again.
A close friend of mine recently experienced the importance of this. Last summer, he needed to make a Big Life Change which involved having a very hard conversation with somebody he cared a lot about. He did it exactly wrong, having instead a series of soft conversations that left room for equivocation and negotiating.
Six hard months with lots of tears later, he had to have the very hard conversation anyway. The stuff that happened during those six months irrevocably (probably) destroyed that relationship. They are no longer friends, because he hit soft when hitting was necessary.
Most of us have been there or seen it from reasonably close up. That hit should be hard, and clean, and decisive. End the fight so everybody can move on with the least amount of damage possible.
The exact same thing applies to the big things you want out of your life. You can say to yourself “I want this thing” and approach it in tiny steps that never amount to anything. Years of frustration later, you will either decide it wasn’t really for you, or decide to finally hit it hard.
Or you can decide to hit it hard from the beginning. Decide nothing in the world will get between you and this accomplishment, then map it out and work the plan you make. Ruthlessly eradicate everything in between you and that goal (including and especially your bad habits, which will amount to 80% of what’s in your way). Fucking commit to it and make it happen.
And if you’re not ready to make that kind of effort and commitment? Just like killing a man, maybe that means you shouldn’t get started on that road in the first place.
Hell Yes or Fuck No
Derek Sivers is a smart guy who recorded a video with the best message about commitments I’ve ever read: Hell Yes or No. You can watch the video, but I’ll explain it in three points.
- You are overcommitted
- When asked to commit to something else, check to see if you feel a physical “Hell Yes!” response in your body.
- If you don’t, the answer is “No.”
I added the “Fuck” because to me just saying “No” to myself is hitting too softly. Whether or not you need the f-bomb in there, the point is easy to understand. Only commit to responsibilities and social engagements you’re actually excited about. The stuff you can go in whole hog on. The stuff you look forward to.
If you say yes to things you’re luke warm about, you hurt yourself by stealing time from what you value. And you hurt the person who asked you by doing something half-assed…or worse, by beginning to resent and ultimately dislike that person because of an unnecessary series of soft hits against you.
Don’t hit softly.
If you’re going to write something. Write it hard.
If you want to be or do something in your life, attack that goal it with total commitment.
If you’re going to do something or help somebody, do what you can engage with passionately.
Don’t leave life just swaying against the ropes. As they say in a famous video game…finish him!