Look Out, School’s Out!

Posted on June 27, 2015

This is a re-blog from my interview on the Military Writers Guild Medium 

Chris Zeitz is hooked on Twitter. Returning from Afghanistan he found it therapeutic even. It keeps him connected to the veteran community while he transitions to a civilian life. Chris has also found it an outlet to offer a counter-narrative to what were overly optimistic assessments of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. He now has found a voice at Point of Decision hosting a number of others writing on foreign policy and defense matters.

On a brief layover while traveling, he was kind enough to spare some time for a quick interview for the Guild. Chris is always at the keyboard — less so for his own writing and more so for work and school. He finds time for his own writing mostly on the weekends but look out —school’s out.

[John DeRosa] What does the first hour of your day look like? What time do you typically wake up? What are some of your daily routines?

[Chris Zeitz] The first thing I do every day is acquire coffee. That is an absolute must. I tend to wake up early, and my second task is clearing out emails.

I work full-time and I have been taking online classes from Norwich University (VT, USA) for a Masters. That degree is just about done so I will have more free time starting this summer. Basically, with work and school I have been hitting a keyboard whenever I can but it’s not always with the words I want to write.

[JD] How does your routine change on the weekend to decompress?

[CZ] Usually during the weekend I have time to write what I have wanted to write during the week. Although I also observe weekends where I don’t touch a computer (other than my phone).

[JD] Describe your writing space and routine.

[CZ] I purchased my current laptop based in part on the size of an airplane seat’s fold-down table. I also maintain a few notebooks and folders with what I am reading. My creative writing space is contained in a messenger bag.

My routine is reading followed by note taking followed by more reading followed by note consolidation. Repeat. It is at best a work in progress.

[JD] How do you determine what you are writing about?

[CZ] My classes had a huge influence on what I was reading and what I was writing. The Norwich master’s degree I am working on, Diplomacy, involves six classes with a required 35–50 pages per class. I’ve tried to use some of that material with blog posts and have submitted better articles to other websites (no success yet, so any pointers are appreciated). I’ve got two very good papers (at least I think so) on counterinsurgency that I would like to work on over the summer.

Sometimes though, I just see something and I write something quick as a response. Tom Ricks and Jim Gourley had a great topic on Best Defense not long ago (Why we Lost in Afghanistan). I had two quick responses to that discussion and enjoyed reading the thoughts of other contributors (Could We Kill Our Way Out of Afghanistan?). My responses were informed by what I have read on counterinsurgency, but also just scratched the surface.

[JD] What does your note taking system look like? How do you gather information for your writing?

[CZ] Chaotic, multimedia used and abused with lists everywhere. But, I have a good memory for details. For instance, if you have read the larger reports on ISIS and Iraq that have been released by some think-tanks, there are some contradictory details about the occupation of Mosul. When I run into that, I know I’ve read something different. I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus here, as it’s murky and the exact happenings aren’t clear. I guess I just have a knack for remembering who is in charge and who got sent packing.

[JD] What are you reading lately?

[CZ] I’m reading David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace now. I wanted to learn more about the Middle East from one century ago — as I am woefully ignorant on the details of that period. So, it’s a start.

[JD] How do you find what to read?

[CZ] Twitter is an excellent resource for book recommendations and available articles online. What I come across is either downloaded onto my desktop (and those files are getting full of unread pdfs) or, I add it to a similarly extensive Amazon wish list.

[JD] Is there a genre of reading you prefer?

[CZ] I have been reading a lot of academic articles, for class and also because I am interested in the topics. History, political science, sociology and the like are all very interesting to me. I’ve primarily been reading nonfiction for the last few years. But, I hope to work on some creative writing soon as well. I have lots of plans for the summer, so hopefully I get about 20% of them done.

[JD] What is the book you’re most likely to give as a gift or one you’ve given as a gift the most?

[CZ] The Biographies of Theodore Roosevelt; I have a stack of them.

[JD] What’s your drink of choice?

[CZ] Depends on what I’m doing and what I have been doing lately. I like red wines, craft beers, scotch, and bourbon.

[JD] Where’s the most adventurous place you have been?

[CZ] Pech River Valley and Kunar in general. I got to ride on a lot of helicopters!

[JD] What bold steps would you like to see the MWG take?

[CZ] Even though we all live online, I still love the printed text. I’d love to see the Guild issue journals at some point. There’s just something special about a physical book.

Follow Chris, John, and the Military Writers Guild on twitter. Cheers!