When it comes to writing and shooting, what does my Remington 870 Tactical pump-action shotgun have in common with this No. 2 pencil on my desk? And no, it has nothing to do with lead.
Believe it or not, my shotgun and my pencil actually have a lot in common, and I think that’s occurred to me as both writing and shooting have become more and more my favorite pastimes in recent years. Though the thought wouldn’t have occurred to me at first, as I’ve worked to improve my skill with each the parallels have become more obvious to me.
Writing and Shooting in the Same Day
Just yesterday I was off work and had the opportunity to do both some writing and some shooting.
My morning was spent writing away in my office in the basement with about half a dozen cups of coffee for creative juices. My focus? The outline for a book I’m working on with my colleague Micah – a collection of our essays here at On The Rocks.
In the afternoon I packed up my guns, range bag, and a new steel target I bought online during a Black Friday sale last Fall. Driving out to the country in some perfect 65F weather, unseasonal for March in Eastern Montana, a buddy of mine and I plinked away and chatted for about three hours. It was glorious!
That’s when it occurred to me that, in fact, no these two activities really aren’t all that different. They’re actually very much alike.
But first, how are writing and shooting dissimilar?
I know what you’re thinking – ‘Garrett, what two activities could be more different?’
Writing is an intellectual pursuit marked by hours and sometimes days at a time spent quietly laboring over phrases and verbiage. Writing requires those who pursue it to be intimately aware of humanity’s internal world and to agonize over how to speak of, about, and to it.
How does the writer think and feel? What’s in their mind and heart? This must be drawn out before it can be put into words on a page or screen.
Who is the intended audience? What are their beliefs, values, prejudices, and experiences? Knowing these is at least as important as the writer knowing himself, and the writer must think carefully about who will read the final product as he works toward it.
For a writer to give no thought to his audience he must be willing to roll the dice and expect to be misunderstood. Effective communication of any kind absolutely demands consideration of the recipient, and writing is by no means an exception to this rule.
Shooting seems to be on the opposite end of the spectrum among human activities. Firearms are scary and intimidating and hard things, as are often those who bear and employ them most. By contrast, writers are often stereotyped as weak and thin and pale, and no rational person outside of prison is frightened by the pens and pencils and keyboards with which they ply their trade.
Unless you own a suppressor, firing a gun is a loud affair. In fact, very few things in modern life are as loud as a gunshot. By contrast, very few things are so quiet as a writer sitting at a desk and writing with his pencil, pen, or keyboard.
Bullets can travel very far and very fast. Bullets put holes in whatever soft things they strike, with nothing but contemptuous disregard for whether those things were inclined to be receptive to bullets before they were struck. A writer’s words hit the page gently and often take hours to travel from the first draft to the final audience, but whether they hit their mark depends a great deal on whether the reader chooses to pick up the work in the first place.
Shooting is a primal, red-blooded activity. Go out with friends and family to do some target practice, plinking empty soda cans or glass bottles off their stands. Listen to whoops and cheers from yourself and your companions as the targets burst and fall over with each bullet that hits its mark. Go out on a deer hunt and feel your pulse quicken, your heart pounding as a big, majestic buck strolls into view between the trees and bushes of a forest.
Shooting guns gets the blood pumping like very few things, whereas I at least have to drink quite a lot of coffee to keep myself alert when writing.
Believe me, I get it. You’re wondering to yourself whether any two activities be more opposite than writing and shooting. Bear with me here
Attacking, Defending, Hunting, and Sport
Besides being fascinating pieces of machinery to marvel at or collect, guns have four basic purposes: attacking, defending, hunting, and sport.
To listen to the liberal politicians incessantly advocating stricter gun control, you’d think guns only had one main use: assault. But while it’s true that guns can be and sometimes are used by criminals and crazies to attack innocent men, women, and children, guns aren’t only owned by criminals and crazies.
For the very fact that there are criminals and crazies and evil people in this world, guns in America are more often owned for defense. This is one of the primary reasons I bought my first firearm, a Remington 870 pump-action shotgun. Especially if I’m away at work and someone tries to break into our home and hurt my family, I wanted Lauren to have something she could defend herself and our children with.
But my family doesn’t just need protection from harm, I also have to put food on the table. That’s why I bought a really good bolt-action rifle last year, so I could get into deer and elk hunting. We live in Eastern Montana, where the deer and the antelope play. First-hand experience tells me those deer are mighty tasty, as are the elk. The opportunity hasn’t presented itself, but I’d also like to try pronghorn sometime. So if I can get into it consistently, hunting will provide my family with a great deal of inexpensive, lean, organic meat.
Between now and hunting season, days like yesterday are pretty great. Driving out to the country on a warm, sunny day and getting in some target practice with friends and family – it’s just good, clean fun. And like any sport, shooting takes skill. Variations in distance, wind, and in make and mode of firearms, in caliber, and each individual’s proficiency – there’s an endless variety of combinations to try. I have yet to meet a man or woman who can help getting a kick out of pitting their skill against others to see who the better marksman is.
But both words and bullets are only as good as you are.
Marksmanship is like writing in the sense that it requires intentionality, focus, and consistency.
Some people are blessed with certain qualities that give them a natural advantage, to be sure – good vision, good instincts, a steady hand. But nobody gets really good at either writing or shooting accidentally, and all the inborne giftedness in the world can’t make up for flippancy on the part of the gifted.
Both words and bullets are wasted when your aim is poor.
The first similarity between writing and shooting is that being skillful in either requires not only knowing where your target is but also where you are. You have to care about both Point A and Point B in order to get from one to the other. If you fail to grasp either, you’re lost, and every word or bullet you throw is going to miss.
Not every shot is going to hit its mark, mind you, especially when you’re just starting out or becoming acquainted with a new gun or optic. But both great writers and great marksmen make note of their misses and correct for them quickly so as to minimize future misses, and maximize future hits.
When words and bullets are used flippantly, the people you love can be hurt.
The second thing writing and shooting have in common is that both can wind up hurting the people you love needlessly when used without care and consideration.
The fundamental rules of firearms safety are that you should treat every gun like it’s loaded, not point your barrel at anything you don’t mean to shoot, and keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire. Why are these important rules to live by when it comes to guns? Because the consequences of firearms accidents can be and many times have been deadly.
Similarly, when writing is haphazard and flippant, especially when the writing process is accompanied by strong emotions, readers caught in the line of fire can wind up being hurt needlessly.
In an age of internet trolls and heated rhetoric on social and political issues, many people want to act like they’re immune from being wounded by the things they read. One could argue, however, that even if this is true that people have grown numb to the vitriol, it is actually proof that our deadened sensitivity to what other people say has been a casualty of an overwhelming volume of careless and poorly aimed writing.
Just like we should always treat every gun like it’s loaded and not point it at anything we don’t mean to shoot, we should treat every word and phrase and sentence as if it’s loaded. Always write and speak with the assumption that people will take what you say at face value. Ask yourself what might happen if people actually acted on what you’re proposing.
If you’re not careful in your writing and shooting, you can really shoot yourself in the foot.
The third way in which writing and shooting are alike is the way in which excessive casualness and horseplay can lead to self-injury.
Tombstone, The Magnificent Seven, Lonesome Dove – no Western is complete without an epic shootout or showdown between the good guy and the bad guys. Quick-draw gun-slingers with their lightning fast six-shooters have been essential to every cowboy movie I’ve ever seen that was worth seeing.
But besides the fact that I have never been in a showdown at the OK Corral in which I really needed to, what’s prevented me from ever trying to quick-draw my handgun for fun and fire off a couple rapid shots at a target is one very basic concern: I’m afraid of shooting myself in the foot. I can imagine few things that would ruin a beautiful afternoon of target practice quite like having to go to the ER with a bleeding hole in my shoe.
Just so with writing. Especially in the internet age when it’s so incredibly easy and quick to self-publish your work on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, or your very own blog like On The Rocks, there has likely never been a time in human history in which it was easier to make an absolute fool of yourself if you aren’t careful.
A good reputation is hard to build, but scarily easy to throw away. Lack of research, hyperbole and overly broad generalizations, false and unfair accusations against persons, poor grammar and spelling and punctuation, incomplete ideas and faulty logic – these are just a few of the ways to make yourself look silly if you’re not taking care. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.
But writing and shooting can both accomplish great good when done right.
Just like either can be mishandled or employed as a force for evil, both writing and shooting can be employed for good also.
There’s no shortage of practiced sinners and crazies in the world who employ both writing and shooting to hurt innocent men, women, and children. A bully who just wants to feel powerful and push other people around will employ anything at their disposal – whether pump-action shotguns or No. 2 pencils – to accomplish their wicked and selfish goals.
But that’s why good men must not stand idly by and let evil triumph. When you realize that falsehoods can sometimes do as much or more damage to the heart and mind as can bullets to the body, it should stir you to action.
Skillful writing can and should be employed to tear down falsehoods, insincerities, and baseless slanders, and to promote truth and goodness as absolutely essential to real and lasting health and happiness. Courage is needed to confront evil and folly even at personal risk, and wisdom is essential to doing so effectively.
But the human soul needs more than just to be defended from vicious lies. Nourishment is needed as much for your spirit as for your body, and good writing can feed the soul by hunting for the hearty truths that sustain hope, faith, and love.
Whether you write books and essays and blog like we here, or you’re just tapping out little Facebook comments, Twitter tweets, and emails – train yourself as a writer to seek truth and pursue it, and you’ll know the thrill the hunter feels when a stag enters his field of vision for a clear shot. When an elusive truth is suddenly in your grasp and you have a clear shot, take it and make that truth your own.
Lastly, practice your aim to make sure it’s true, whether you’re writing or shooting. Train yourself to understand when you’ve missed the mark, and make corrections quickly so as to minimize future misses and maximize your hits on the target. Write first-drafts and look them over before sending them out or publishing them. Find someone trustworthy to serve as a sounding board when you’re not sure you’re being objective about what you’ve written, and listen humbly to their feedback.
The No. 2 pencil may be mightier than the sword.
America is at a cross-road now. This is why Marshall, Micah, and myself launched On The Rocks Blog in September of 2015. Economically, militarily, socially, and spiritually – our nation is at a tipping point in so many ways. Countless times in recent years I’ve read and heard elusions made to a coming second Civil War or a new Revolutionary War. The Lord only knows what the future holds for the United States, this once great nation that prospered under his Sovereign hand. But each of us has a duty. Each of us has a part to play in deciding what sort of America we will be today and in the future.
The 2nd Amendment is very much in the spotlight as I write this. Progressives have made it quite clear that they don’t believe Americans should have a right to own firearms. In a very un-liberal fashion, the Democrats believe ‘We the People’ can’t be trusted with power anymore, and have shown ourselves too foolish and primitive to take personal care for our self-defense. They fear us, and so hope to disarm us.
Either President Hillary Clinton or President Bernie Sanders will fill Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacancy with a liberal judge who can be expected to effectively nullify the 2nd Amendment – “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” – in an effort to strip Americans of their guns. The same will happen if President Obama is allowed by Republicans in the Senate to nominate a replacement to his liking.
Meanwhile universities all over America are becoming “safe-zones” where hyper-sensitive, brainwashed, spoiled-brat youths zombified by the Progressive stranglehold on K-12 public education and the entertainment industry are showing a fanatical contempt for the 1st Amendment – “the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
It is absolutely crucial now more than ever, as these two fundamental freedoms are under siege in America, that we as Americans defend both and realize that they are intimately tied together.
What Writing and Shooting Have In Common
Yes, a disarmed population can be oppressed and intimidated into political silence much more easily than can an armed citizenry. That’s true. But on the flip-side we must realize that exercising our 1st Amendment rights is far and away preferable to shouldering our firearms in defense of the 2nd.
Now is a time to keep our heads and exhaust all diplomatic methods of accomplishing change and defending our nation, using carefully considered and well-aimed words and phrases to make the case in defense of American liberty. Now is the time to explain patiently why guns shouldn’t be stigmatized. Guns are not evil in themselves any more than pencils and pens and keyboards are, but all are merely tools which are as good or evil as the one wielding them.
“Make America Great Again” is a superb slogan, it really is. But how do we go about doing that? Attending rallies isn’t enough. Putting signs on your lawn or bumper stickers on your car isn’t enough. We need to learn how to think and reason again, and employ our 1st Amendment rights with full force and careful aim to accomplish lasting change and renew hopes of a bright future for our children and grandchildren.
What writing and shooting have in common is that both have the potential to create or destroy great peoples and nations. May God grant us the wisdom and self-discipline to employ both skillfully in a way that fulfills the words of the prophet.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does Yahweh require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”