Leveraging Self-Doubt

Writing Techniques

Last month, I led two writing seminars at the San Diego State University Writer’s Conference. The three-day event was packed with great editors, agents and writers and there was a wealth of advice I wrote down – twenty-eight pages worth! More on that event in future blogs on Writing Techniques.

Several of the keynote speakers addressed the writer’s “curse” of self-doubt and talked about ways to overcome it. Somewhere, deep in the recesses of my writer’s brain, I knew I’d read a killer-good article on the subject. I had. It was a piece in the New York Times Magazine aptly-called: “The Dutch-Elm Disease of Creative Minds.” Here is part of what it said:

If you are in any kind of creative business you likely ride on the razor edge between hubris and self-doubt. Some call self-doubt, “The Dutch-Elm Disease of Creative Minds.” Mark O’Connell takes a refreshing view of this in his article: “Sorry, Chief, but that’s Not Going to Cut It,” in the New York Times Magazine. He addresses self-doubt head-on

Because if I had to identify a single element that characterizes my life as a writer, a dominant affective note, it would be self-doubt. It is a more-or-less constant presence in everything I do. It is there even as I type these words, in my realization that almost all writers struggle in this way; that the notion of a self-doubting writer is as close to tautology as to make no difference, and that to refer to such a thing as a “struggle” is to concede the game immediately to cliché, to lose on a technicality before you’ve even begun.

You can read this awesome piece here:


Curious Mind

How do we humans “do” innovation?  It is a question that intrigues most of us. I’ve written about this in previous blogs on this website and many others have too (for example, Walter Isaacson in his best-selling book, The Innovators, discussed in detail on my blog here: http://georgegaldorisi.com/a-digital-tomorrow)

Isaacson’s book focuses on the kind of technology innovation that led to what Silicon Valley delivers to us today. But most know there is another deep pocket of innovation. It comes from those who specialize in “Life Imitating Art.” It comes from Hollywood

In his review of Brian Glazer and Charles Fishman’s book, A Curious Mind, Philip Delves Broughton takes us deep inside that world. Here is just a snippet of what he says:

For the past 30 years, the Hollywood producer Brian Grazer has been holding what he calls “curiosity conversations.” Twice a month (on average), he meets with scientists, politicians, writers, athletes and all sorts of other people to pick their brains, sometimes to inform a particular project but usually just to fill up the reserves of information, stories and relationships that any great producer needs.

Mr. Grazer, who amply credits his co-author, the journalist Charles Fishman, writes with a well-earned swagger. He doesn’t try to hang his case for curiosity on some dimly grasped shard of neuroscience or psychological research. The main proof of its value is his own success. Yet having an interest in the people and world beyond our experience, he argues, is worth far more than the business world’s barren spins on innovation and creativity.

More on this book here:



High Tech Nirvana?


Like many of you, I’m a big believer in technology, especially high-tech that springs from the big brains in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. But here’s the question: Will the best brains of the future build things resembling past innovations like cars and electricity or will they spend all their time making Twitter more user-friendly?

It’s worth asking: are the strides we are seeing in high-technology today really going to change our lives that profoundly and usher-in the same kind of life-altering changes past technology revolutions have. Many think it will. But without being a “techno-phoebe,” Robert Gordon takes a different view, and his arguments are compelling.

His new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, takes a thoughtful look at previous revolutions and without dismissing today’s tech revolution, and looks at how truly life-changing previous revolutions were. Here is part of what noted economist Paul Krugman says in his review of Gordon’s 762-page book:

I was fascinated by Gordon’s account of the changes wrought by his Great Inventions. As he says, “Except in the rural South, daily life for every American changed beyond recognition between 1870 and 1940.” Electric lights replaced candles and whale oil, flush toilets replaced outhouses, cars and electric trains replaced horses. (In the 1880s, parts of New York’s financial district were seven feet deep in manure.)

Meanwhile, backbreaking toil both in the workplace and in the home was for the most part replaced by far less onerous employment. This is a point all too often missed by economists, who tend to think only about how much purchasing power people have, not about what they have to do to get it, and Gordon does an important service by reminding us that the conditions under which men and women labor are as important as the amount they get paid.

Aside from its being an interesting story, however, why is it important to study this transformation? Mainly, Gordon suggests — although these are my words, not his — to provide a baseline. What happened between 1870 and 1940, he argues, and I would agree, is what real transformation looks like. Any claims about current progress need to be compared with that baseline to see how they measure up.

And it’s hard not to agree with him that nothing that has happened since is remotely comparable. Urban life in America on the eve of World War II was already recognizably modern; you or I could walk into a 1940s apartment, with its indoor plumbing, gas range, electric lights, refrigerator and telephone, and we’d find it basically functional. We’d be annoyed at the lack of television and Internet — but not horrified or disgusted.

By contrast, urban Americans from 1940 walking into 1870-style accommodations — which they could still do in the rural South — were indeed horrified and disgusted. Life fundamentally improved between 1870 and 1940 in a way it hasn’t since.

Something to think about as we pin our hopes for the future on today’s emerging technology.

You can read Krugman’s full review here:


Bringing Characters to Life!


I’ve recently led seminars at a number of writing conferences and writing classes including: “Get Published Now!” at Coronado, CA, Adult Education Class; the San Diego State University Writer’s Conference and the Coronado Writer’s Workshop. At those events, “best practices” was a constant theme and Silas House was an author mentioned frequently as one all of us want to emulate.

Most everyone at least considers writing at some point in their lives. For those of us not as gifted as the Hemingway’s, Fitzgerald’s and Faulkner’s of this world, sometimes some writing techniques can come in handy. Here is a suggestion from Silas House, author of five novels as well as plays and works of nonfiction:

To Kill a Mockingbird would certainly have had little effect without the presence of memorable folks like Scout, Jem, Dill, Atticus and Calpurnia. The Outsiders wouldn’t have meant much to me without Ponyboy, Johnny, Cherry Valance and all the others. The Color Purple only took up housekeeping in my heart because of characters like Celie, Shug and Sofia.

Characters are what make us love fiction, what make the stories stick with us and speak to us. Yes, plot and sense of place and action and the language are hugely important. But a novel would be a boring affair indeed without those who populate it.

The point is that I didn’t come to care about Scout or Ponyboy or Celie because of how they looked. I cared about them because I knew what was going on in their minds and hearts. Readers are better informed if we give them what is in a character’s brain, not what is on her body.

Read more about writing techniques in Silas House’s article in the New York Times, here:


Life Imitates Art in the Mideast

Out of the Ashes

As we enter 2016, what many feared for the Mideast has finally happened.  We predicted this turn of events in our first book of the rebooted Tom Clancy: Op-Center series, the book, shown here, Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Out of the Ashes. Not many understand what is at the root of the enmity between nations in the Gulf.

We wrote the first book of the series in 2012 and had Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the greater Mideast in our sights. Now life imitates art. We were especially pleased Publisher’s Weekly focused on how the novel had life imitating art.

Fans of the original Op-Center series created by Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik that ended with Jeff Rovin’s War of Eagles (2005) will welcome this solid continuation from Couch and Galdorisi. The original Op-Center, “an information clearinghouse with SWAT capabilities,” fell under the budget ax and was disbanded, but after a horrific series of bombings at four NFL stadiums, U.S. president Wyatt Midkiff decides to dust off the Op-Center file and bring the group back to life. Chase Williams, a retired four-star Navy admiral, agrees to head the new center and hunt down the terrorists responsible for the devastating attack. The trail takes the men and women of the revitalized agency into the Middle East, where they find a new plot aimed at the American homeland. This thriller procedural packs plenty of pulse-raising action.

And here is what one of the most well-respected thriller writers of our generation, Stephen Coonts, had to say about Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Out of the Ashes:

“Thriller addicts like me devoured every Tom Clancy’s Op-Center tale. Now they are back, intricately plotted, with wonderfully evil villains and enough realistic military action and suspense to ruin a couple of night’s sleep. Highly recommended.”

Read more about that book, Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Out of the Ashes here:


The Pros from Dover


Earlier this month, we blogged on looking to the future – it is a subject that interests all of us, whatever our walk of life. We looked at “life imitating art” in the sense of fiction writers – and especially science fiction writers – having a unique knack for looking into the future. Many of you who follow this website or my tweets have asked, “Does our government do this – look into the future?” The answer is a resounding yes!

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) has been in existence for over three decades and represents the primary way the U.S. intelligence community (IC) communicates in the unclassified realm.  Initially a “wholly-owned subsidiary” of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the NIC now works directly for the Director of National Intelligence and presents the collective research and analysis of the entire IC, an enterprise comprising 16 agencies with a combined budget of over $80 billion.  In a sentence: There is no more comprehensive analysis of future trends available anywhere, at any price. Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds is the latest edition of its analysis. It’s not an overstatement to say this 160-page document represents the most definitive analytical look at the future security environment.


The comprehensive quadrennial report forecasting global trends that have a major impact on our world, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds is the definitive U.S. Government document that looks to the future.  In shorthand it is GT2030. Global Trends 2030 helps us have an informed and well-nuanced view of the future. This is not as easy as it sounds, for, as John Maynard Keynes famously said in 1937: “The idea of the future being different from the present is so repugnant to our conventional modes of thought and behavior that we, most of us, offer a great resistance to acting on it in practice.”

I’ve reported on Global Trends 2030 on the Defense Media Network website. Read the first article of the series here:


Flying Adventure


The mantra of the military services is: “One team, one fight.” And for the most part, that is 100% true. That said, there are pockets where the rivalry is intense, and where pride in performance takes on important – but often humorous – connotations.

A naval aviator friend of mine penned this response to a letter from an aspiring fighter pilot asking him which military academy to attend:

Young Man

Congratulations on your selection to both the Naval and Air Force Academies. Your goal of becoming a fighter pilot is impressive and a fine way to serve your country. As you requested, I’d be happy to share some insight into which service would be the best choice. Each service has a distinctly different culture. You need to ask yourself “Which one am I more likely to thrive in?”

USAF Snapshot: The USAF is exceptionally well organized and well run. Their training programs are terrific. All pilots are groomed to meet high standards for knowledge and professionalism. Their aircraft are top-notch and extremely well maintained. Their facilities are excellent. Their enlisted personnel are the brightest and the best trained. The USAF is homogenous and macro. No matter where you go, you’ll know what to expect, what is expected of you, and you’ll be given the training & tools you need to meet those expectations. You will never be put in a situation over your head. Over a 20-year career, you will be home for most important family events. Your Mom would want you to be an Air Force pilot…so would your wife. Your Dad would want your sister to marry one.

Navy Snapshot: Aviators are part of the Navy, but so are Black Shoes (surface warfare) and Bubble Heads (submariners). Furthermore, the Navy is split into two distinctly different Fleets (West and East Coast). The Navy is heterogeneous and micro. Your squadron is your home; it may be great, average, or awful. A squadron can go from one extreme to the other before you know it. You will spend months preparing for cruise and months on cruise. The quality of the aircraft varies directly with the availability of parts. Senior Navy enlisted are salt of the earth; you’ll be proud if you earn their respect. Junior enlisted vary from terrific to the troubled kid the judge made join the service. You will be given the opportunity to lead these people during your career; you will be humbled and get your hands dirty. The quality of your training will vary and sometimes you will be over your head. You will miss many important family events. There will be long stretches of tedious duty aboard ship. You will fly in very bad weather and/or at night and you will be scared many times. You will fly with legends in the Navy and they will kick your ass until you become a lethal force. And some days – when the scheduling Gods have smiled upon you – your jet will catapult into a glorious morning over a far-away sea and you will be drop-jawed that someone would pay you to do it. The hottest girl in the bar wants to meet the Naval Aviator. That bar is in Singapore.
Bottom line, son, if you gotta ask…pack warm & good luck in Colorado.

P.S. Air Force pilots wear scarves and iron their flight suits.

The U.S. Navy’s Troubled Ship


Late last year, one of the U.S. Navy’s newest and most-modern ships, the Freedom-Class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), USS Milwaukee, suffered a major engineering casualty. One of the most-controversial ships the Navy has ever built, the LCS has had bright – and not so bright – spots in its brief history.

Here is what the U.S. Naval Institute, the premier professional journal of the United States Sea Services, said about this incident:

The Navy’s newest Littoral Combat Ship – USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) – could be sidelined for weeks to repair an engine casualty that occurred last week during an Atlantic Ocean transit. Lockheed Martin and the service are currently working through the total scope of the repair package for the gearings that connect the ship’s main engines to its water jets.

More here from the U.S. Naval Institute website:


When Dick Couch and I rebooted the best-selling Tom Clancy Op-Center series, our first geographical focus was the Mideast, and the second was Northeast Asia, with the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) featured prominently. We wrote that second book, Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Into the Fire in 2013 and had the LCS in our sights. Here is how we introduced USS Milwaukee in that book:

And there was the LCS itself, the Milwaukee. The critics of the U.S. Navy’s LCS program, both in congress and within the naval establishment, were right in their assessment of the ship’s shortcomings. The LCS was basically defenseless. She was a sitting duck for any ship or small craft with a surface-to-surface missile capability. Her single gun, the Mark 110, Mod 0 57mm BAE Systems cannon was capable of 200 rounds per minute with 240 rounds in ready-service availability. It could be deadly to small craft that came within five miles, but most of the world’s navies, including that of North Korea, had small craft with accurate surface-to-surface missiles that could be fired well outside that range. And they would be operating well within the arc of North Korean land-based air. Milwaukee’s RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile system was compact and effective against both flow-flying aircraft and surface-to-surface cruise missiles. But there was an interface flaw. The RIM-116 had no built-in acquisition capability; it had to be carefully aimed along the axis of the incoming threat. The system that aimed the missiles was the AN/SWY-2 Ship Defense Surface Missile System. When the two systems worked, they worked well. But they didn’t always work well. In Bigelow’s experience, they produced a missile launch and a missile kill only about half the time.

into-the-fireNow life imitates art. Read more about the Littoral Combat Ship, USS Milwaukee and about Commander Kate Bigelow’s efforts to save her ship and her crew in a snippet from Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Into the Fire here:



Fiction and Future Wars


Late last year, the Atlantic Council published an anthology of short fiction and graphic art it curated during the first year of its Art of Future Warfare Project. Entitled War Stories from the Future, the collection makes good on the project’s ambition “to advance thinking [about] the future of warfare [by] cultivating a community of interest in works and ideas arising from the intersection of creativity and expectations about how emerging antagonists, disruptive technologies, and novel warfighting concepts may animate tomorrow’s conflicts.”

Writing in a forward to the anthology, Gen. (ret.) Martin Dempsey, recently retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, commends the book’s ten stories for their “power to develop the professional imagination.”

On no topic do these war stories more powerfully engage the imagination than human-machine collaboration, which Deputy Secretary Bob Work calls “the big idea” now animating the Defense Department’s pursuit of a third offset strategy to mitigate deterioration in conventional deterrence. “We will go after human-machine collaboration,” Work said, “by allowing the machine to help humans make better decisions faster.” What Work described as the “building blocks” of this collaboration—learning machines, automated systems, machine-assisted human operations, human-machine combat teaming, and autonomous weapons—are the very wonders and worries of War Stories from the Future.

As one would expect, the book depicts an array of cool machines and futuristic capabilities. A renegade pilot wears haptic gloves to command a spaceplane from the ground station of her college dormitory. The Internet of Things goes awry in the violent crash of autonomous streetcars in Seoul and the fatal hacking of a certain president’s pacemaker in Moscow. Tattoos stream data, robotic EMTs rescue the wounded and 3-D printers fabricate an airborne arsenal literally on the fly.

And women play decisive roles. Commanding palm-sized drones from a cubicle 5,000 mi. away, Karin renders real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to two female lieutenants defending a desert city against insurgents. Claire coordinates police interventions on Britons who exhibit a genetic tendency toward radicalization. A small, dark-haired woman holding an ambiguous shopping bag stands defiantly (or threateningly or perhaps plaintively) before a monstrous armored vehicle in the middle of a sunbaked highway.

Still, the compilation’s deeper insights arise from its ruminations about the complex relationship between humans and the machines of future war. While robotics and autonomy spare human flesh in these stories, the remote operations they enable also turn soldiering into a profession of physical isolation and spiritual alienation. Big-data computations drive action by helping humans make good, speedy decisions faster, but the great drama in these stories still turns on the heroic, tragic, and comic consequences of human choices.

The novelist Frederick Pohl, author of The Space Merchants, once wrote, “A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.” So, too, in War Stories from the Future: It is the messy, odd coupling of “human-machine combat teaming,” not their elegant symbiosis, that will do the most to inspire professional imagination about the third offset strategy.

More here on the Atlantic Council’s War Stories from the Future:


What’s Ahead in 2016?


We all want to know what the future will hold. And we all are futurists. We teed up this question on this site in 2015 and it’s worth looking at again as we begin 2016.

As the late Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” In the event Yogi isn’t the person you turn to for philosophical insights, here is what Walter Frick had to say in the Harvard Business Review about the art and science of looking at the future. He talked about the new book by Phillip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Superforcasting: The Art and Science of Prediction.

Forecasting is difficult. Still, accurate predictions are essential to good decision making in every realm of life. We are all forecasters. When we think about changing jobs, getting married, buying a home, making an investment, launching a product, or retiring, we decide based on how we expect the future to unfold.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but in The New York Times Book Review, Leonard Mlodinow reviewed both Richard Nisbett’s Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking and Superforcasting: The Art and Science of Prediction and found the arguments made by Nisbett (who Malcom Gladwell called “the most influential thinker in my life) lacking, while those made by Tetlock and Gardner compelling.

Stay tuned to this website as we’ll continue to look to the future – especially from a national security perspective. We’ll look at a broad range of sources, but especially what the United States Intelligence Community (the “IC”) and Silicon Valley are telling us.