Your other left, private, and military habits

Black and white historic photo of little girl saluting the flag
Little girl salutes the flag. Photo from

Some things I learned in the military have really stuck with me.  Others dropped off easily, and some resurface occasionally just to mess things up.

The one that has stuck with me is using my left hand though I’m right-handed. Right and left turns up a lot in the military.  During training of marching, we would have to hold up our left hand so when the drill sergeant called for us to turn left, everyone actually turned left.

Sometimes someone would get it scrambled (me), and the drill sergeant would yell, “Your other left, private!”

Then there’s the salute.  It’s done with the right hand.  That means if you’re out walking about with a bag in your hand, it has to be in your left hand.  Your right hand needs to be available if there’s officer so you can salute.

So in civilian life, I use both hands interchangeably.  I’ll take garbage in my left hand outside.  Sometimes I shift it to the right, but I find that my left is a little stronger.

Anyway, one day I was loading paper into the copier with my left hand and felt this little twinge.  Didn’t think anything of it until later that evening…suddenly it REALLY hurt.

Every. time. I. moved.

Off to the doctor who told me I had golfer’s elbow (should be copier’s elbow, since no golfing was involved).  I was making an effort not to move the arm too much because it was so painful.   But I couldn’t not to.

Doctor asked me if I was left-handed.

I didn’t realize how much the military had changed this until then.:)

The Importance of Writing Every Day

Writers get admonished all the time about writing every day, like if they don’t do something, it’s a terrible sin.

But the reason for it is simple: It has to be done every day so the habit will stick.

If there’s no habit, it’s easy to drop off it when life gets in the way.

And then months, or even years pass.

And it is hard to do starting out. It can take years to build the habit.

When I worked with a cowriter, it took 2-3 years to write one book. We primarily wrote on the weekends, probably produced a thousand words, finished, then revised the book. We started submitting to an agent, and I told cowriter that we needed to learn how to write a book faster. If we got a contract, we were probably going to get a year deadline.

He poo-pooed it, saying everything was negotiable. I was horrified. I envisioned myself struggling at the last minute to produce a book while he didn’t participated. It hit me that writing wasn’t even on his priority list.

But it needed to be on mine. We parted company, and I tried to write every day.

It didn’t always happen, but I was able to do it most days of the week. Some days I didn’t produce much. Some days I produced a lot. And there were days where I just needed to do something else. It wasn’t perfect, which was okay.

At the end of February, I broke my foot. It was a clean break and didn’t need any surgery (yay!). It was my right foot, so I couldn’t drive. I did medical telework for 10 weeks.

My foot in the boot

I could not believe how tired I was! The first week it was all I could do to get through the day just for work. Writing? Not happening.

I finished work, and then I went to sleep for two hours (in hindsight, I should have done half-days for the first few weeks, but really, I’d never broken any bone before so I didn’t know what to expect).

But every day, I missed the habit of going to my computer and writing something. So when my foot came out of the boot for good, I allowed for about two weeks of being tired, and then I started writing again.

Habits of the Military

Wander on over and have a look at 10 Military Habits that Make Soldiers Stand Out.  Check out the comments, too, to see additional habits that turn up.

I picked out a few of them here:

Walking too fast.  Yup.  Walking in the military was “walk with a purpose,” which meant walk faster.  I’m in a mall and find that I’m walking much faster than the rest of the crowd.  I’m trying to slow it down because it will probably be better for my feet.

Eating too fast.  Yup.  In basic training, you stood in line, got food, sat down, started eating, and then the drill sergeants were screaming for us to move.  So we were gulping stuff down in line.  We didn’t have drill sergeants screaming at us later, but it was always, “Rush, rush, rush!”  This particular one is one of my goals as part of my exercise I talked about.  It’s easy to out-eat feeling full.

What I’m doing: I check what time it is, with a goal of twenty minutes for a meal (I’m hoping to get to a little longer, like thirty minutes, but twenty is a good start).  I make an effort to put down the food or the fork between bites, and I’m trying to sip a drink in between.  It’s still hard, because I’ll go on autopilot and completely forget.

Absurdly polite.  Nope, not at all.  I think this one is a difference between men and women.  Girls are raised to be polite and nice, but boys aren’t, so it’s more of a cultural change for them.

Sleeping anywhere.  Heck, I couldn’t even do that when I was in the military.  I’d see some soldiers go out like a light at the blink of an eye.  I’d be tired and try to go to asleep in the back of a truck and be acutely aware of everyone bounce and bump.  I still don’t know how they did it.

Some of the comments also mention carrying things in the left hand, so that the right was ready to salute if needed.  I do carry everything in my left hand, though I could never figure out why!

I also still hang my clothes to face the left, too.  If I hang it the opposite way, I have to stop to fix it.

My head’s full of setting and I can’t get up

I just took a Strengths workshop from Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch.  I had to write exercises and submit them, and the two writers analyzed them for strengths and weakness.  That’s as much as I can say about the workshop, since it’s a unique experience for each writer and nothing can prepare you (though being in the army helped me!).  It was apparently very difficult for them to do and they may be discontinuing them.

One of my weaknesses is simply getting setting into the story.  If I let my muse take full lead on a story, it’ll leave out the setting — all of it.

Some of it is because I don’t really see details in the same way.  I’m visual spatial, a learning style where details are a weakness.  I can think one detail is a lot, and so I can put in way too little and have no idea I’ve done it.  When I get them into the story in enough quantity, they’re pretty good.  It’s just that getting in part.

The other half is that it’s a long-ingrained habit that I have to break.  I’ve been leaving it out every since I started writing, which was a long time ago.  It gets worse for me if the setting doesn’t feel that important to the story.  Even if I have research setting details, it won’t migrate into the story.

The result I’ve been wrestling with starting some short stories and working at getting the setting in.  You’d think it would be easy, and yet, it’s like trying to drive with the brakes on.  I started out grabbing stacks of books from the library on places so I could do research, but I ended up feeling like I was full of all these setting details and the story was getting lost in the setting.

So I’m going to try something a little different and do a setting a day for the next 30 days, and hopefully it will help. No pressure of story, and I’m just going to focus on drawing on details that are happening that day locally.  I’ll post them up here once a week, and you’ll get a word tour of Washington, DC during Christmas.  The lights are already going up!