Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Hillman on the Author's Battlefield

I was never in any military, and although I played at war endlessly for a few years as a boy, I never developed a lot of interest in the military vocabulary.  But James Hillman was in the U.S. Navy during World War II, tending to amputees and other severely injured in hospitals.  His last book (so far) was A Terrible Love of War, which according to the paperback back cover, somebody in the San Francisco Chronicle called "A skillfully constructed tour de force."  Oh yeah, that was me.  And yes, it was a pun, kind of.

Anyway, that's a long way to get to this slyly revealing passage in that book in which Hillman talks about writing using military terms and concepts--not something I've ever thought about, or how I approached writing, but worth considering. 

"Writing books for me is anyway much like a military campaign.  I  confess to fighting my way through with military metaphors.  There is a strategy, an overall concept, and there are tactics along the way.  When stuck, don't dig in; keep moving forward.  Don't obsess trying to reduce a strongpoint by sheer force or laying seige.  Isolate it and in time it will fall by itself.  No pitched battles with the interior voices of saboteurs, critics, adversaries.  A light skirmish, a show of arrows, and disappear into the next paragraph.  Camouflage your own vulnerability, your lack of reserves with showy parades and bugles---remember everyone else is equally vulnerable.  Pillage the storehouses of thought, refurbish old material and use it to reinforce your lines.  Abandon ground you can't exploit, but when you've got an issue on the run, take all the territory you can."

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