Embedded Writing

During World War II, one of the highest profile journalists who wrote about the war for Americans back at the home front was Ernie Pyle.

Ernie was one of the first “embedded” journalists in wartime and he lived and wrote while among the soldiers. He focused his stories on individual soldiers and their daily struggles. The troops loved him because he “got it.” The generals and politicians weren’t always happy, but Ernie was so popular with the troops, if they ever thought about preventing him from writing, they knew there would be substantial backlash.

Pyle even lobbied for pay raises for combat troops and Congress passed it. They named the spending bill after him.

Ernie was in his early 40’s when World War II broke out and he spent several years going back and forth from the US to Africa and Europe with the troops before leaving for the Pacific theater of war.

He was eventually killed while accompanying an amphibious assault on an island off the coast of Okinawa in April 1945.  His wife died later in 1945 as her health declined after his death. Their marriage was tumultuous to say the least and she struggled with alcohol their entire marriage.

Ernie won a Pulitzer Prize and the school of journalism at Indiana University bears his name. He wrote several books along the way as well.

Ernie led a rather tragic life, but he provided an example to writers for the last seven-plus decades.

Whenever any agent or publisher reviews a proposal from an author, it is pretty easy to discern whether an author is writing from “within” the content of the book or whether they are writing “about” something.

Lots of people can write about something. Fewer write from within a topic.

The best journalists “embed” themselves in a story before they write about it. Television and radio field reporters are different than news readers. One reports from within. The other simply reads it.

This “inside” requirement is not only for writers.

Most people are probably not aware that rehab clinics rarely employ people who have not themselves gone through rehab.  Many of the most successful social service organizations were started and run by people who needed the help themselves at some point in their lives, which they now deliver to others.

It’s the same with books. Those which are simply about a topic are not nearly as interesting as those which come from the author who wrote from within a subject.

Many can write about God and live a fairly righteous life by all appearances. Fewer can write from within an experience, portraying lessons learned from the battlefields of life as they worked out their faith in relationships and service to the Creator.

For example, any intelligent person can scan scripture and write a book containing positions and principles on how to be a better parent. You don’t even need to be a parent yourself to do it.

Fewer can give a true biblical perspective on parenting, showing how principles found in scripture actually play out in life.

Fewer still have the courage to write about failures, times when biblical principles didn’t seem to work at the moment and be humble enough to portray life the way it actually happens as we battle our way through a sin-corrupted, imperfect world.

So, next time you open up a Word document and start to write about something, ask yourself how deep you are embedded in the topic, whether you are writing from deep within it…or whether this is just a surface connection.

I guarantee others will see a difference in the depth of writing as they sense you have intimate knowledge of the subject, which makes your work worth reading.


25 Responses to Embedded Writing

  1. Shirlee Abbott August 28, 2018 at 5:06 am #

    Thank you, Dan. At the very least, I must write “in Christ,” not “about Christ.”

  2. Rebekah Love Dorris August 28, 2018 at 5:21 am #

    Thank you so much for writing this. Lately I’ve had to shelve much of my writing because, as a mother of eight, I’m up to my eyeballs in life. This gives me such hope that my writing will be better for the wait. I sure don’t want my kids ending up like Mrs. Pyle because I neglected them in the meantime!

    • Jeanne Takenaka August 28, 2018 at 9:12 am #

      Great perspective, Rebecca! I’m up to my eyeballs in life with my kiddos too, currently too. Waiting is hard, sometimes.

  3. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 28, 2018 at 6:47 am #

    Kind of funny; writing from within a place I truly shouldn’t want to be, I find I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, for I’ve found that the cancer and the witness to it have given me a sense of purpose and a real appreciation for the choice that is faith, and the gift of joy, offered so freely by a God who embedded Himself in this fallen world, who truly feels my pain, and who, I think, could still smile through His Tears at the incongruities of life.

    If I may, I’d like to ask for prayer to give me the strength to face the day; I’m having a terrible time this morning.

    In return, I will share a joke.

    Did you hear about the new horror movie, set in a haunted oatmeal factory?

    It’s called ‘Scream of Wheat’.

    • Kristi Woods August 28, 2018 at 7:11 am #

      Praying for you, Andrew. And payment with a joke? Loved every bit of it. I hope the day turns north.

    • Jeanne Takenaka August 28, 2018 at 9:10 am #

      Love your words here, Andrew.

    • Jaime August 28, 2018 at 9:14 am #

      Praying for you here, too, Andrew.
      I always look for your comments. I really learn from your insight and perspective.
      And my kids are totally going to use that joke at their next ‘dad joke’ youth night!

    • claire o'sullivan August 28, 2018 at 2:53 pm #


      I love the joke. And I am praying that your day improves dramatically. And when you put it like that, God embedding Himself into our fallen world, it gives it so much more depth.

  4. Linda Riggs Mayfield August 28, 2018 at 7:09 am #

    What an important challenge, Dan! I share my failures, usually with humor, in social media, and the response is warm and strong. I think we all relate to falling short of perfect choices and responses.

    In addition to the need to write embedded in a place of spiritual strength, as you admonish, I also enjoy writing fiction from a context in which I am or have been embedded. When we were missionaries in Chile we were involved in a very odd “mystery” involving a prowler who was able to safely get into and out of our walled space again and again no matter what we or the police did to stop him, a fact that kept me awake nights at the time and for a long time after he finally stopped coming. It became the plot for a book in which the mystery WAS solved and gave me so much closure I finished it, shelved it, and have never pitched it to anyone. Maybe it’s time to do that. I was certainly “embedded” in that action–the mystery man passed so close to our bed I could have reached through the wrought iron grating on the open window next to me and touched him, if I had known the night and time of his next visit.

    My husband’s reaction was quite different–the prowler couldn’t get to us through the grating, so why not just ignore his comings and goings and get a good night’s sleep? Perceptions of being embedded can vary greatly! ?

  5. Kristi Woods August 28, 2018 at 7:13 am #

    Good words to digest this morning, Dan, especially as I continue working on the manuscript. Had a conversation with myself about this very issue yesterday, to allow the depth into the writing, to bring the “real.” Thanks so much for continuing to champion and encourage writers. Have a good day.

  6. J.D. Rempel August 28, 2018 at 7:55 am #

    Great article and very inspiring. I use writing to escape from the pain in my life, but the lessons I’ve learned seem to creep into my stories anyway. But, I had never thought about it in that way. Thanks for the insight.

  7. Jeanne Takenaka August 28, 2018 at 9:14 am #

    Dan, I so appreciate this post. As a novel writer, I try to become embedded in my characters so I can write authentically how they feeling, reacting to situations, the decisions they’ll make. Sometimes writing embedded feels risky, but it almost always makes for compelling pieces readers want to read.

  8. Carol Ashby August 28, 2018 at 9:15 am #

    Embedded: I never thought about my training to write what I do in that way, but it’s a good one. As a scientist who knew the presence and transcendent power of God while working with many who insisted on reducing everything to purely materialistic explanations, I got on-the-ground training in the questions and arguments raised between someone who believes and someone who’s been trained not to.

    It’s what lets me write Roman-era stories about people being changed through the loving influence of a believer without them feeling cheesy or forced. Been there, done that for those conversations. I only wish mine had borne as much fruit as those of my characters do. But as long as my friends and I are still alive to talk, it’s a possibility.

    If you ever get to Albuquerque, NM, you can visit the public library branch in Ernie Pyle’s house that was his home from 1940 to 1945. It’s called the Ernie Pyle Branch (go figure!).

  9. Jaime August 28, 2018 at 9:18 am #

    This is such a great post, Dan. I feel like you’re speaking right to me. 🙂

    Any time I speak or write about something very personal, especially a failure, people seem to connect better. Because why would we want to hear from someone who has always gotten everything right? I would certainly have very little in common with that person.

    I am gradually getting bolder and bolder in sharing my failures, and consequently Christ is being glorified more and more.

  10. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D August 28, 2018 at 9:58 am #

    Thanks, Dan. As my favorite English teacher used to say, “Always heed the ancient law and never write what you ain’t saw.” Grammar aside, it is very true.

  11. Karen Sargent August 28, 2018 at 10:29 am #

    This perfectly describes my writing experience (and sometimes struggle) with posts for my mom blog. Sometimes when I’m pressured to put out content, I write “about” a topic. I can feel when that’s happening, but I couldn’t verbalize why I felt the struggle. The posts that get the biggest response from followers are those that I write from “within” a topic. I can feel those as I write as well, and I’m pretty sure my followers will feel them, too. Thanks for this insight. It’s going to help me be more intentional about my blog posts.

  12. Daphne Woodall August 28, 2018 at 11:25 am #

    I love this post. I recognized Ernie Pyle’s name from the movie “The Story of G. I. Joe” which was based on his war coverage and released during the war.

    Guess there’s power also in writing what you know because you have life experiences. When I wrote for a local newspaper I did a lot of research particularly when the subject was unfamiliar.

  13. Peggy Booher August 28, 2018 at 1:36 pm #


    Years ago I read a story by Ernie Pyle, “Thunderbird Limps Home” from Here Is Your War. It was the account of a crippled Flying Fortress bomber and crew which made it back to the base over incredible odds. Mr. Pyle wrote so simply but eloquently about the plane and crew that any time I read it, I get tears in my eyes.

    This story, BTW, is included in The New Junior Classics, a set of children’s books, which came with a set of Collier encyclopedias my parents bought decades ago. The New Junior Classics were meant for children; I still enjoy reading them!

  14. claire o'sullivan August 28, 2018 at 2:50 pm #

    Hi Dan,

    Great post. I am going for some ice cream because I see more failures for me than great characters/plots.

    I think my first novel, I embedded myself because of my own angst, despite the fact that I wasn’t being shot at or committing crimes (it makes sense, the MC was a skittish, unpleasant, sarcastic identity thief at first).

    Novel number two is vexation at its height. One, the character is stupid. I am rewriting her. The love interest was overbearing. I rewrote him. I have no, none expertise in fighting crime. Well, at least my character doesn’t have much, either…

    Now, where which body size freezer did I put that ice cream in? Don’t worry, I haven’t used the freezer mob-style.

  15. Kathy Sheldon Davis August 28, 2018 at 5:52 pm #

    The word embedding is frightening, making me think of mortar shells exploding nearby as I clutch my determination to be in a place. A great example of this is Andrew Budek-Schmeisser’s blog, which I visited a few minutes ago. He’s got a good handle on being real in a terribly difficult place.

    The line that speaks most to me personally, Dan, is “Fewer can give a true biblical perspective on parenting, showing how principles found in scripture actually play out in life.” This gave me the clarity I was looking for today. Thank you!

  16. Christine O'Malley August 29, 2018 at 5:08 pm #

    Thanks for this valuable lesson. God has been talking to me about this very thing this morning. I promised myself I would read only one more thing before I moved on the list of tasks for the day, and your thoughtful writing has been a wonderful motivator. )i(

  17. Lori Altebaumer August 30, 2018 at 9:00 am #

    Many times God embeds me in a situation I didn’t ask for, seek, or want in any way. Hopefully I will faithfully use those times to write with truth and love.

  18. Tisha Martin August 30, 2018 at 10:31 am #

    Dan, this blog post is fantastic and pure printable-frame-on-the-wall quality. Thanks for all you do in helping us authors ensure we immerse ourselves into our story world so that our readers will come away with a better perspective for whatever our message might be.

  19. Simon Di Nucci September 2, 2018 at 2:59 am #

    Thanks, Dan,

    I had been struggling with my ‘authority’ to write on a subject, but you’ve made me see that to fail, to struggle and overcome – however imperfectly – provides a great basis for ‘authority’.

  20. Kim Endraske September 8, 2018 at 9:44 pm #

    Thank you, Mr. Balow, for this excellent article. As a former atheist, converted at the age of 21, I’ve been wanting to write a book about evangelism, sharing from my experience. I’ve recently been sensing the need for me to be more active myself in my daily life to share my faith in Christ with those I meet. I’ve been amazed at how often God has been giving me opportunities to do just that! Thank you for the encouragement.

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