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!

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