Bourbon & Battles: One Year In

During Christmas Break one year ago, I wrote a piece for PMJWire, the blog for PolicyMatters Journal, which is the student-run journal for my school, the Goldman School of Public Policy. In that blog post, I argued for including women in registering for the Selective Service. Not satisfied with whatever audience that post would reach, I decided to share the post on Medium—my first self-published piece. I published a few more things on Medium, but it wasn’t long before I bought BourbonandBattles.com.

So began Bourbon & Battles Year One.

Year in Review

I spent many of the last few years reading and admiring the work of a bunch of awesome leaders and writers. There is a variety of curated-type sites (think, for instance, Strategy Bridge, Modern War Institute, War on the RocksTask & Purpose, and many others), but what I wanted was something else—an individually operated blog that I controlled with corresponding social media (kind of like The Pendulum by Doctrine ManAngry Staff Officer with his Twitter presence, Drew Steadman‘s The Military Leader, and Joe Byerly‘s From the Green Notebook, but nowhere near as cool). I wanted to write content that interested me on the site while sharing military and national security-related social media posts that could spark professional development discussions (or get a laugh).

So I surfed over (that’s still an acceptable verb, right?) to WordPress.com, secured the domain, had my talented wife design some logos, and started writing. My goal? To write, and to get better at writing. (See more about that here.)

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My current mini-B&B logo. (via mi esposa)

I was all over the subject landscape in 2016. I wrote funny pieces to get a laugh—some related directly to Army life, and some just for fun. I wrote some serious pieces based on my own experience, some that were even (more or less) academic. I wrote some silly pieces that were well-received and some that decidedly flopped (man, I really enjoyed writing some of the flops, too—more on that later).

For some pieces, I was reflective on behaviors and trends. Very often I tried to convey lessons learned, frequently with humor, although sometimes straight forward. One prevailing trend was my focus on reading, which included a plug for fiction in professional readingmy summer reading list, and (although it wasn’t published here) a book review at The Strategy Bridge.

img_0706Of course, I’ve also tried to stay true to this site’s name by writing my recurring #BourbonOfTheMonth feature and by occasionally writing about military history (my loose interpretation of the “Battles” half of the title). The latter has included my dig on the so-called “father of the AG Corps,” Horatio Gates, a list of lessons gleaned from a 1942 Army Technical Manual, and a look at the U.S. Army’s accomplishments in 1927.

One goal of Bourbon & Battles is to offer a space for young, new writers (like me) to guest write using my site, and a handful of authors did just that in 2016. Oren Hammerquist wrote about why mustaches make better NCOs. Josh Larson wrote about operationalizing your command philosophy. Alex Licea shared the leadership lessons he learned while brewing coffee. Bourbon & Battles is always looking for new guest writers. Check out the Write! section to learn more.

TOP 2016 BOURBON & BATTLES POSTS

  1. Surviving When You’re Stuck on Staff
  2. An Adjutant’s Advice
  3. 6 Slow Realizations of the Headquarters Company Commander
  4. Officer Evaluation Report for Kylo Ren
  5. Guest Post: Why Mustaches Make Better NCOs
  6. In Between: The One About More Fiction in Military Professional Reading
  7. On Administration and Leadership: Wisdom from 1942
  8. Lessons from a First Semester in ACS
  9. Profanity My Ass!: The 5 Military Cussers
  10. B&B Summer Reading List 2016

What Have I Learned?

Community

It didn’t take long for me to realize just how rich and developed the online communities are for those interested in general military topics, leadership, national security policy, military writing, and related things. Facebook is a great place to preview and access these communities, but they truly thrive on Twitter and in niche organizations like the Military Writers Guild (of which I am a proud associate member). I am truly blessed to have access to experts, professionals, enthusiasts, educators, leaders, mentors, and just great people in general.MIlitary Writers Guild

But guess what? You can have that same access. Get a Twitter handle, start following the folks you like, and engage in conversations. I might not be the most consistent Twitterer, but when I am part of discussions, it’s a blast.

Determining What to Write

I admit I continue to struggle with this one. As I write above, I was all over the place this year, but there are certainly topics I’m more comfortable with. I love history, though the research often takes more time than I usually want to commit. Easier, and often also fun, are listicles and “lessons learned” style posts, but I’ve come to realize there are only so many lessons I can share before I get repetitive and boring. Plus, the more removed I get from the “real Army” (going on a year and a half in grad school, now), the less I remember from my time in command and KD jobs (outside of the things that stick out that I already shared).

calvin-hobbes-writers-block
Then, of course, there are times where you can’t think of anything to write.

Now that I’ve lamented about running out of lessons to share, here are some new lessons I’ve learned about deciding what to write over the last year:

  • Choose something you know about: The easiest stuff to write about is stuff you know about from personal experience. A leader writing about leadership. A researcher writing about their research. A lawmaker writing about legislation. It makes sense.
  • Choose something you know little or nothing about: You don’t have to be an expert on something to write about it, but you should be able to write intelligently after some thoughtful and diligent research. A great way to learn about something is to write about it because it forces you to do the research and then to order your thoughts into a cohesive structure.
  • Write something funny (or something you think is funny): There will always be an audience for humor. I must stress the parenthetical here, however. Satisfy yourself and write something you think is funny. Maybe others will think you’re funny, too. Cool. If not, oh well. You expressed yourself, and that’s what’s important.
  • Point out (and propose solutions to) problems: If you’ve spent any time as a leader in the Army, you’ve probably learned that you never point out problems without also presenting potential solutions. Writing about the issues concerning Army talent management is very trendy, but what do you propose leaders do about it?
  • Or don’t: Maybe you just want to write because it’s therapeutic, cathartic, etc. Good on you, and go for it.

Comfort in Not Writing

When I first started this blog, I made it a goal to write something once a week. Some weeks were better than others, but I still wrote something every week. But then the summer hit along with my internship. The internship and its corresponding commute were a boon for my reading time (which culminated with my summer reading list), but a death knell for my weekly writing goal.

I whined about it on Twitter, but got a good pick-me-up:

I no longer aim for publishing once a week. Hell, I’m happy with once a month as long as it’s halfway decent. I’m now comfortable not writing because I know I will keep on writing eventually. To be honest, it’s more fun this way.

Audience Taste Isn’t Your Taste

Like I just wrote above, some weeks were better than others. I’ve had some posts that I loved writing and they ended up getting great readership and tons of shares. Big names with big followings like Doctrine Man rebroadcast Surviving When You’re Stuck on Staff, and it became one of my most viewed pieces. It was fun to write, but there was no academic rigor whatsoever to it. I wrote Put a Hat On It after a delighted thought about how a statistics concept has similar practical application elsewhere. It’s not exactly Shakespeare, but I like it. It got very little play. Similarly, I wrote a sort of silly, satirical piece called Garrison Tips for the 21st Century Army Leader! after watching some old Army training videos. The reaction was mixed and included some confusion, such as this comment on the Medium repost:

screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-11-18-28-am
It was snark for the sake of snark. Can’t win ’em all, I guess.

Oh well.

The audience may not always like what you write. Who cares? At least you wrote something you like, which I feel is far more important. Not everyone will like what you say or agree with you. Is that so bad? Maybe it will lead to vigorous debate about something worthwhile. Maybe it will drive professional development or worthwhile conversation about something important. Time will tell if I burned too many bridges in the Adjutant General community with my takedown of Horatio Gates, The Case Against Horatio, but I don’t regret writing and publishing a piece that has at least some level of academic research to back it along with a proposed solution to the problem.

What’s Next?

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2017 has to be better than 2016, right? (via The Oatmeal Twitter)

2017 is already shaping up to be a much busier year for me. My fourth (and final) kid is due in January, which is an adventure unto itself. After that, I start my final semester of grad school and my capstone policy analysis project. Barring any unforeseen issues, I will graduate in May with my MPP (plus my side MA in History), followed by a cross-country trip to scenic West Point, NY where I will return to wearing a uniform on the daily.

All that is to say that I will continue to embrace a non-regular publishing timeline here on Bourbon & Battles. Speaking of the site, I’m considering sprucing up the website design and updating logos/graphics. More to follow.

As far as content, I’m generally happy with my shotgun scatter of topics. Military lessons learned (often in listicle format), military history, military-related humor, general military/national security discussions, and posts about books will continue to dominate my blog posts. As long as I have new bourbons to add, I will also continue the #BourbonOfTheMonth feature. I plan to put a little more effort into the military history aspect of the site, not only to justify the “Battles” portion of the name, but to force myself to spend more time with casual history research, something I always enjoy once I get into but always seem to hate starting.

I offer my sincerest gratitude to the communities I mention above, especially the amazing folks of the Military Writers Guild and The Strategy Bridge for helping me hone my writing craft, even if a majority of my writing is goofy nonsense.

And of course, I thank you for visiting Bourbon & Battles in its first year and helping to make me feel like this is a worthwhile effort. Not counting content on Medium, BourbonandBattles.com had over 21,000 views this year and was accessed (according to my stats anyway) from over 100 countries. Over 400 of you fine folks follow B&B on Facebook and another 900 or so follow B&B on Twitter (and I’m certain there’s some, but not a lot, of overlap between the two). Those are modest numbers compared with some of the big names out there, but I’m very happy with them.

Thanks for a great 2016!


If you like this post, please share it using the buttons below. Follow Bourbon & Battles on Twitter |@BourbonBattles and on Facebook |https://www.facebook.com/BourbonandBattles. Add to this conversation by leaving a reply below.

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