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Starting professional writing
A Harding Project: How-to
The Chief of Staff and Sergeant Major of the Army are calling on all of us to improve our profession through writing. As part of that effort, the Harding Project is at AUSA presenting on how to start writing. We thought we’d share our thoughts with the Substack too.
As noted previously, professional writing helps senior leaders communicate down, serves as an outlet for communication up, breaks down silos through lateral communication, inspires us to find solutions to contemporary challenges from the past, and makes us better communicators.
Below, we suggest places to find professional content, and then present a framework for writers. There’s also a handout at the bottom if you’d like something printable on this topic.
First, read widely
Before diving into writing, we recommend immersing yourself in your branch's professional bulletin, skimming the Chief of Staff’s monthly articles, taking in the news, and curating social media to bring you interesting ideas.1
Check out these outlets.
Military Review, NCO Journal, and the Warrant Officer Journal: https://www.armyupress.army.mil/
West Point's Modern War Institute: https://mwi.westpoint.edu/
Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin: https://mipb.army.mil/home
Army Sustainment: https://alu.army.mil/alog/
The Army Lawyer: https://tjaglcs.army.mil/tal
Field Artillery Professional Bulletin: https://sill-www.army.mil/usafas/bulletin/
Air Defense Artillery Journal: https://sill-www.army.mil/ada-journal/
Aviation Digest: https://home.army.mil/novosel/aviationdigest
Military Police: https://home.army.mil/wood/contact/publications/mp_mag
Army Chemical Review: https://home.army.mil/wood/contact/publications/CR_mag
Chaplain Corps Journal: https://usairl.tradoc.army.mil/journal/
War on the Rocks: https://warontherocks.com/
From the Green Notebook: https://fromthegreennotebook.com/
Then, find a gap and fill it
The hardest part of writing is starting. Book reviews or essay competitions are great ways to start, and we hope this framework helps.2
1. Jot down your ideas. Ideas may strike you at random times, so jot them down on a notebook or start a Google Doc. As these ideas mature, organize your thoughts.
2. Discuss your ideas. Talk with others in your unit, in chat groups, on social media, and mentors and mentees to see what they think. Familiarize yourself with what has already been said and written on the subject that interests you, to ensure you are not repeating a tired line.
3. Consider your audience and outlet. Write your piece to target a publication that reaches that audience. Understanding the standards for each outlet will minimize changes later.
4. Pitch the idea. This is for many new writers the hardest part. Most publications have a ‘submissions’ page that spells out submission and pitch criteria. Adhere to them, and pitch to one publication at a time. If the publication fails to respond, move on to the next one and do not get discouraged. All writers have a long trail of rejected pitches behind them. Persist. If your pitch addresses a topical concern in an original way, it will get eventually attention. Early interaction with an editor will save time and motivate you.
5. Research and write–in a way that works for you. There is no due date. Set one or just let ideas develop. One approach is to see what else has been written on the subject and make it modern.3
6. Get feedback and iterate. Once you have a draft, circulate it to trusted agents and your command team. Feedback is a gift. Cherish those who give you honest and compelling critiques. If possible, get outlet-specific advice.
7. Pre-publication review. Send it to Public Affairs and your S2. Army Regulation 360-1 spells out this requirement in paragraph 2-4. Pre-publication reviews are largely intended to ensure secret information is not inadvertently released to the public.
8. Submit. Double-check the submission guidance and send it. If you don’t hear anything after a week, nudge the editor. Most publications will reply to a submission in two weeks’ time.4
9. Share your work. After publication, share your work with your friends and social media connections. They might be inspired to strengthen the profession also!
What did we miss? Leave your comments below.
This month, GEN George recommended articles by two Military Police sergeants on the future of the MP platoon, the implications of FM 3-0 for aviators, and thoughts on data literacy by a team of junior officers and a sergeant. Check out the CSA's articles at https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Resources/CSA-Recommended-Articles/]
Also see Josef “Polo” Danczuk, “Overcoming Army Writer’s Block: Tips to Start Professional Writing and Publishing for Junior Officers,” The Center for Junior Officers, July 13, 2022.
Find great research guides at https://www.armyheritage.org/programs/research/reference-bibliographies/subjects/.
You strengthen the profession by contributing. Rejection happens, a lot. You'll also make mistakes. Find the mistakes in this handout.