I write because I believe the expression of thought from all sources is important; no one person has a monopoly on good ideas. The best ideas are formed from collaboration and consultation. No one is too junior or too inexperienced to contribute to creating a new model of thought. Nor should one’s ability to articulate that idea or concept be a hurdle from the idea being championed. As someone who has never found writing with artistic flair to come naturally, the concept of communicating or expressing ideas is still a daunting prospect. What I do know however, is if I do not practise regularly, then the notion of writing becomes more and more overwhelming. If I can push past the uneasiness, and put ideas down on paper, I have always found a supportive group of colleagues to share my ideas with, and seek suggestions from. It is this feedback that enables my writing to develop into something I can be proud of. Feedback and constructive criticism only come from being vulnerable in the first place.
Perhaps even harder than allowing your ideas to be criticised, is the very notion of coming up with an idea to write about. Often, when I suggest to friends that they write, the first reply is always – But what do I write about? Or; I don’t have anything worthwhile saying that hasn’t been said before. To this, I refer back to my opening statement – no one person has a monopoly on good or valid ideas. Importantly, I very rarely come up with ideas alone. Ideas are born from conversations and debate. Conversations with friends, conversations that occur between others, or even public lectures where I listen to people much smarter than me conversing about important and interesting topics. What these conversations help me realise is I am not the only one struggling to come to terms with important subjects. Through debate and conversation, it becomes clear that there is no one answer or way to approach a solution. Some issues are so complex that multiple explanations from multiple perspectives are essential to fully understand the magnitude of the issue. I would further suggest that Australian society, on the whole, does not openly discuss matters concerning national security; especially in a style that enables everyone in society to be a part of that conversation. It is left to a select, vocal, few to raise awareness. As educated, informed individuals, we should encourage this conversation, and add to it in a disarming and inclusive manner.
Another hurdle I face, like many others, is finding time to read or write about issues that I am interested in. To sit and read a hardcopy book feels like a luxurious decadence. It is something I reserve for holidays or long weekends by the coast. To overcome this, I listen to podcasts. A lot of podcasts. My favourites being The Diplomat, Modern War Institute, Conversations (ABC), Crossing Continents (BBC Radio), The Dead Prussian or Bombshell. This combination of podcasts satisfies my desire to understand my favourite topics surrounding national security policy and strategy. And there are many more out there if you are more inclined to learn about military technology, artificial intelligence, or joint warfare.
Finding the time to write is yet another barrier to the expression of ideas. Over the years, there have been a number of reasons why I haven’t found time to write; lack of stable WIFI connection while traveling, performing a mentally draining role at work, and poor time management are just a few of my personal reasons. Regardless of these various personal reasons, there is one trick that usually convinces me to find time. Accountability. This trick is proven, and no more evident than when completing tertiary study or formal PME. You have no choice but to get the job done; you just write. The solution is an imposed deadline. Someone is reliant on you to complete a task. When writing for personal pleasure or for interests’ sake, accountability and deadlines largely cease to exist. To overcome this, I find ways to write for a purpose. For example, I will commit to write when a call for papers is published, or to enter an essay competition. If this method fails, or I want to write about a very specific topic, I tell other people about my writing endeavours so that they can continue to hold me to account. I make personal deadlines and request colleagues and friends question me about them.
The single most important piece of advice I would give to new and aspiring writers is to join or create a network of like-minded individuals. Find a group of people who you feel comfortable bouncing ideas off, and who enjoy debating a wide array of topics. I would not have pursued my interest in writing without a group of supportive friends and colleagues who were willing to take the time to help develop my ideas and offer their insights which had gained during their own journey. This is at the heart of why I love working for The Central Blue. It is a pre-made network of air minded individuals who are willing to work with and mentor any aspiring writer. The prerequisites for submission are an enthusiasm for learning something new, and a positive, resilient attitude.
In closing, I would also offer that writing takes time and practise. Don’t be disheartened by enthusiastic editing, suggestions, critiques or by comparing your work to others. Aspiring new writing should set attainable goals – not everyone is a born academic, nor do we all need to be. The first goal should not be to write a book, a chapter or long academic article. Aim to publish work on a peer reviewed blog site. There is a very wide PME network these days; The Forge, Grounded Curiosity or Wavell Room just to name a few. Each site has their own niche and slightly different focus. Through exploring these sites, you may discover topics that interest you the most. If its technology, focus on that. If its policy, focus on that. Keep copies of your favourite articles and note down what about that article you liked. Maybe it was the style, or how the author explained a complex topic. Use these notes as a guide to how you write your own article.
Finally, just keep at it. Write, review, edit, re-write, Repeat.
Jenna Higgins is Air Force Officer, Co-Editor of The Central Blue, Defence policy and military strategy enthusiast.