It’s difficult for most writers of war to even begin to tell their story at all. I’m speaking primarily about veterans of course, but the subject in general is a touchy one, even for non-vets.
1. Start Where You Feel Comfortable
I remember talking with Bruce Weigl about his own experiences with war writing, and he said that he initially didn’t want to write about the “war stuff,” so he wrote about other things he had experienced in Vietnam, like laundry girls who wouldn’t give him his clothes back when he was supposed to be leaving on missions.
The point of his story was that you must start wherever you’re comfortable. For some people this means writing for oneself only. Begin by keeping a journal, write down your thoughts and don’t feel like you have to share them with anyone.
However, keep in mind that the more desirable goal when writing about war, especially if you are having trouble with PTSD, is to share these feelings and memories with someone you trust, or a group of people you trust. There are many other writers out there who have written wonderful works of art and shared them with the world, but as I said before, you must start where you are comfortable.
Above all, you must begin writing, but aim to take time for writing daily.
2. Take Time To Write
This one isn’t always as easy as it sounds, but it will do you a great service in the end. I promise. When you take time to write, you’re allowing yourself not only time to create, but also time for reflection. If you’re writing about war you have a lot to reflect upon.
Remember, begin where your comfort level directs you. Here’s a few ideas. Write about what it was like to step foot on a ship for the first time, knowing you’d be very far from home. Write about a time when you came back to your hometown on leave and did something fun. The “war stuff,” will eventually find its way onto the page, but just make sure it doesn’t force you to freeze and stop writing altogether.
3. Believe That Your Story Matters
A great error would be made if you didn’t share what you experienced with others. Your family needs to know how you feel about what you went through. Granted, there hardly seems to be a good time to bring up the subject of war. Along with politics and religion, it’s not exactly polite table talk. Nonetheless, find someone you trust, and begin by sharing it with them.
I remember sharing a poem I wrote with my wife about feeling an immeasurable level of guilt and sadness knowing that eighteen Marines had died at the Battle of Nasiriyah, and I’d somehow made it home. After sharing it, I felt much better. I even let other people read it as well.
At the very least, your children will someday want to know what you experienced. Think of it as a gift. It’s an opportunity to move beyond the pain of the past and share a connection with your loved ones, to let them into your world. If you decide to share your stories with the rest of the world, your impact can only increase. Trust me, people will want to hear what you have to say.
4. Build Your Own Library
Find out who has written about war in the past. You may be surprised how many of your favorite authors served in war. J.D. Salinger for instance, one of my favorite authors, has a very interesting connection to war. Here are a few to get you started:
Find out what you like, there are many authors to choose from. Feel free to leave a comment if you’d like more suggestions. Above all, read widely, and read what you like to write. If you’re a poet read lots of poems, and if you’re a fiction writer, read lots of books and short stories, or just read everything you can get your hands on.
5. Talk To Other Vets
An important aspect of writing is communication, and even more succinctly, it’s ability to enrich communities. You may feel sometimes that no one understands the way your buddies did. This may be true, but there are also a lot of vets out there who will share many commonalities with you, both in experience and pain. They undoubtedly will have different experiences as well. Both of these realities only serve to enrich your understanding about war and how to write about it.
By letting people in, and creating a group to write with, or even just talking with people with similar experiences, you’re getting some of the tension released from your mind. This will only help you to heal from the trauma of war.
When I started a writing group, it seemed intimidating at first, but in the end, I’ve made some valuable lifelong friends as a result. Take this post as a place to help you begin writing today, and look for more informative posts and writing prompts in the future. If you have suggestions for a post, please feel free to contact me on my website via email, and I’ll do my best to write an article based on it.
Thank you for reading,