Archive | Writing Workshops

Why I Write: Words During War, Words After War

Words After War

David Eisler

Words After War Policy Writing Fellow, David Eisler, reflects on why he writes and on the importance of bridging the military-civilian divide through writing.

My first experience with writing regularly started during my deployment to Iraq in 2008. I was young, inexperienced and following in the footsteps of so many others who had written about their time in combat. I kept a handwritten journal for personal thoughts, as well as a public blog where I wrote for family and friends. At the time, I didn’t think too much about the words themselves, but instead used the writing as a chance to escape from the daily routine.

I ended up writing far more than I’d ever anticipated, and then continued the process during my second deployment to Afghanistan. When I eventually left the Army, I had two journals collecting dust on my shelf and an online blog that served as a nostalgic reminder of my time at war. It took a long time before I was able to read it all from start to finish.

When I finally did look at it, I soon realized I wanted to transform it from simple journal entries and blog posts into a more polished product, transform it from words during war into words after war. I didn’t necessarily feel the need to tell my story, but rather use it as a medium to help bridge a psychological gap between those who have been there and those who haven’t. For me, it’s not necessarily a war diary, but the mostly coherent thoughts of a guy in a warzone. And yes, I believe there is a difference.

Putting that collection together has rekindled my interest in writing. I no longer write as a way of coming to terms with my own experiences, but rather I write to tell a much larger story, or maybe even to influence the national conversation in a meaningful way.

As veterans, we have a tendency to lament the state of the national conversation about those who have served. We sometimes rationalize our complaints by telling ourselves that “civilians don’t understand,” or other times we wonder about the disappearing social contract and fading culture of shared national responsibility.

But it’s up to us, as veterans, to take the initiative and bridge that divide, to reach out to those who might not see the common humanity that we all share. It’s up to us to reach out to those who might not see how veterans have much to offer in the way of knowledge and experience. When we block civilians from our conversations, we are only reinforcing tired stereotypes.

By coming together in a creative environment, such as a writing workshop, where we can find common ground through narrative and character development, we are closing the gap between all of us, both vet and civilian. We are letting go of tired stereotypes – one story at a time.

–David Eisler



Weekly Round-up: Full Swing Edition

friday afternoon couch

Welcome to the fourth Words After War Weekly Round-Up: Full Swing Edition. In this space we share 7 links relevant to our mission of improving the veteran-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

Big week here at Words After War. Instructor Matt Gallagher posted this piece in the Times At War blog; we filled our inaugural workshop (and started a wait list); we hit 500 Facebook “likes” (editor’s note: 550); we wrote our first ad copy AND we secured our fiscal sponsorship, allowing us to begin thinking about fundraising. Of course, none of this would be possible without your continued support, so thank you.

Here we go:

1. A great interview with the veterans who climbed Yosemite peaks on September 11th.

2. A look at The O. Henry Prize Stories 2013.

3. A quick tour of the “online writing universe” via The Daily Dot.

4. We’re a bit late to this, but Are Novelists Too Wary of Criticizing Other Novelists? A conversation between Zoe Heller (bonus: read her evisceration of Salman Rushdie in The New York Review of Books here) and Adam Kirsh.

5. The National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” honorees were announced.

6. The mystery and debate surrounding the death of Chris McCandless has persisted for over twenty years. Jon Krakauer, author of Into the Wild, finds some closure.

7. Finally, two opportunities to share your work. Military Experience and the Arts is currently seeking submissions. And check out Dreams of the Fallen, an exciting multimedia project featuring the poet Brian Turner.

Have a great weekend.


The inaugural Words After War Writing Workshop, led by veteran and writer Matt Gallagher, will begin Sept. 24 at Mellow Pages Library in Brooklyn, NY. More details can be found here. The workshop is open to veterans and civilians alike. Join the waitlist or spread the word!

Questions, concerns, suggestions? Visit our Facebook Page and follow us on Twitter.


How to Run a Writing Workshop for Veterans

Writing Workshop for Veterans

How to bridge the civilian-military divide

For veteran writing workshops to flourish, I found, they needed to stress the writing part over the veteran part, and they needed to focus on improving students’ work over making students feel good about themselves. Like anyone else, battle-hardened Iraq and Afghanistan veterans appreciate positive reinforcement, but in a society with a civilian-military divide as wide as ours, blanket positivity can often come across as condescending. Further, even vets at workshops predominantly for healing purposes sought to improve their work. Sometimes that required a suggestion to pick up classics like Isaac Babel’s “Red Cavalry.” Other times it required a quick lesson on the importance of active verbs. And still other times it required a frank discussion about rising above tired military tropes and clichés, or not including confusing details in order to ‘stay true to life,’ as if writing itself wasn’t already artifice. – Matt Gallagher

I couldn’t be more excited to share a new article by Words After War writing instructor Matt Gallagher. His essay, “How to Run a Successful Writing Workshop for Veterans,” appears in the New York Times: At War Blog.

From the beginning, Matt has been one of the biggest supporters of the Words After War vision: to change the national conversation around veteran issues by including civilians in that conversation.

Before Matt and I were friends, I was a devoted reader of his work. Matt’s writing and his willingness to put himself out there made my move to NYC considerably easier. Whenever I read his work I saw a vet who was making it as a writer, and from his example I took much confidence.

For many years, I found myself desperate for a community of veterans who were also writing, talking, and thinking seriously about the craft of writing. And, along the way, I learned to make due with what I had, and learned to appreciate and respect the perspective of my civilian peers.

After I moved to NYC, I finally found that community of veteran writers. At the same time, I was still very much connected to a community of civilian writers. The only logical thing, due mostly to what I saw as obvious similarities, was to find a way to bridge the overwhelming gap that existed between these two groups. For instance, on an average week, I’d find myself writing alongside a former stock trader with an MFA from Iowa, and then later I’d be having a conversation with a vet writer with a few publications in Granta. I saw only similarities. I still do.

Words After War is a community of writers, first and foremost. But it just so happens that some of us are also veterans. Some of us live in NYC, while many of us don’t. We all care about vets, just as we all care about writing. More than that, though, we all care about building bridges between the two.

Thanks for your time.

Keep writing.



The inaugural Words After War Writing Workshop, led by veteran and writer Matt Gallagher, will begin Sept. 24 at Mellow Pages Library in Brooklyn, NY. More details can be found here. The workshop is open to veterans and civilians alike. No spots remain but we have a waitlist. Join us and spread the word!

Questions, concerns, suggestions? We’re on the Internet.


Weekly Round-Up No. 1

Welcome to the first installment of the Words After War Weekly Round-Up. Every Friday we will be sharing 7 links relevant to veteran affairs and/or the writing life. Here we go.

1. Elmore Leonard, who died this week at the age of 87, wrote nearly 50 novels. Here are their opening sentences, via Deadspin.

2. Blake Butler looks back on his MFA days for Vice.

4. Rutgers has made veteran students a priority through their Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services. Read more here.

5. A fascinating, annotated interview with Sebastian Junger in Nieman Storyboard.

6. An interview with Fire and Forget contributor Brian Turner.

7. An ideal writing retreat, lost to the wild. Looking for some new roommates?

If you are interested in enrolling in our fall fiction workshop, led by Matt Gallagher and hosted by Mellow Pages Library, please register here. Spots are filling quickly.

Have a great weekend.






Join the New York Veteran Writing Workshop at Mellow Pages Library – September 2013

Join our writing workshop

Words After War is proud to announce the launch of our New York veterans writing workshop. Through the gracious support of Mellow Pages Library, a Brooklyn library and reading room located on the Morgan L stop in West Bushwick, we are able to serve the growing population of veteran writers in the borough of Brooklyn. Beginning September 24th and running to November 12th, our New York veteran writing workshops are open to all, veteran and civilian alike.

Similar quality New York writing workshops can range in price from $200 to $400 dollars, but due to a generous donation, we are able to provide our veteran writing workshops at no-cost to the participants. We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to provide veteran writers, their families and their supporters with the highest quality literary instruction, without any out-of-pocket expense.

The workshop will be led by Matt Gallagher, a veteran, writer and educator. Matt is a former Army captain, and he’s the author of the Iraq War memoir Kaboom, and a co-editor of and contributor to Fire and Forget: Short Stories From the Long War, both published by Da Capo Press.

We believe citizens of all stripes read, study and write about war and its aftereffects. Why not you? Join us in September in Brooklyn.

We look forward to working with you soon.

Keep writing.

Brandon & Mike & Matt