Travel and Dog-eared Pages

03:36





SamS The WEbook Guest Author Series continues with non-fiction author and journalist Sam Sheridan. Sam has written two books about fighting, one a memoir and one a
collection of essays,
A Fighter’s Heart, and The Fighter’s Mind,
respectively. To learn more about Sam, visit his website or follow him on Twitter @fightersmind.



“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled,” Mohammed said. Travel is the cornerstone of an education. It’s not tourism; there’s a purpose, a job, or a goal. It’s months and years, not days or weeks. A vacation is short, pleasant, and ultimately forgettable, while travel is none of those things.

After college, I worked and traveled for more than ten years straight—I circumnavigated the globe on private yachts as crew, worked construction at the South Pole Station in Antarctica, and fought wild-fires all over the American West. There’s no magic trick to it, and I wasn’t independently wealthy. Half the things I did paid for the other half. I would go after ten or fifteen different jobs, call around, write letters and fill out applications; and one might pan out.


A Fighter's Heart I lived at a kickboxing camp in Thailand and fought a professional fight there, and that experience eventually led to a magazine article, then another, which led to a book. For a writer of non-fiction, all that you have to offer (and monetize) is your perspective. Travel, in-depth working travel, is one of the few things in your control that grants perspective. Being an outsider forces you to have fresh eyes, and returning home having seen other ways and spoken other tongues grants another freshness. In that vein, joining the Peace Corps is probably more important than getting a degree in writing, if you want to be a writer.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to study good writing. I only took one creative writing class in college (coincidentally that was my only A in college) and it shows. My growth as a writer has been glacial, one step forward, two steps back.

Having written two books, when people ask me about writing I feel like I should have something profound to say by now. Instead I come up with gems like “Read all the time, write all the time.” Fantastic stuff, I know.

You’re producing a commodity that people will pay for. It’s not quick and easy, it doesn’t spring fully-formed from your forehead and land on the page, “Aha!” It’s work. You need to do all the work, all the mental heavy lifting, painstaking revisions and ‘page one’ re-writes. I obsess about a subject for five or six years, researching, thinking it through, so you the reader won’t have to. You can read it easily over a week and enjoy the fruits of my labor.


The Fighter's Mind When pushed on a “writing tip,” all I’ve got is actually about reading. When I read I make notes. If there’s something good, some interesting idea, or eloquent passage on the page, I dog-ear the bottom. Upon finishing the book, I go back through and re-read every page that has the bottom dog-ear, and I transcribe lines or entire passages. It’s laborious, but then I have a database of quotes, the gist of the whole book, in my files. It’s a way to study whatever it was that first grabbed your eye, the line or the idea behind it. It’s a way to absorb language and nuance from better writers. I was an oil-painter in college and one way painters improve is to copy great works.  Writing is not a gift, it’s a muscle and the more you do it the better you get.

So read all the time, and write all the time. David Mamet said, “..let’s say Sophocles took eighteen years to write ‘Oedipus Rex.’ It’s not under your control how long it takes you to write ‘Oedipus Rex,’ but it is under your control whether or not you give up. It doesn’t have to be calm and clear-eyed. You just have to not give up.”

—Sam




Thanks for the insight, Sam! If you're looking for some more writing advice, read some previous Guest Author posts. Or, if you want to judge some writing for yourself, head over to PageToFame and read a few entries!



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2 comments

  1. Timothy Mahoney28 May 2010 at 05:12

    Great stuff Sam. I remember walking in New York and I asked you that question about how to improve my writing, you said the same thing you said in this post.
    I hope all is well brother, have a great memorial day weekend.
    -Bidness

    ReplyDelete
  2. Want.To.Travel.
    (but have 4 kids and 2 pets--sigh)
    Excellent reminders, esp. about writing not springing fully-formed from your forehead and about your ability to control whether or not you give up.

    ReplyDelete

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