On April 5-7, 2013 a free writer’s workshop open to serving military members, their families and veterans will gather in Iowa City, Iowa to write about their experiences in the military. The website explains the purpose of the workshop, “We each have a story to tell and the Writing My Way Back Home weekend workshop will help you gain the tools and confidence to craft and share yours well.”
Writing My Way Back Home was founded in 2010 by Emma Rainey a graduate of the University of Iowa’s Masters in Fine Arts writing program. Graduating in 2009 with an MFA Rainey discovered that many veterans found it cathartic to write about their wartime experiences. Leading them to a healing of long buried wounds, Rainey said, “The mission for Writing My Way Back Home is to conduct writing workshops and projects for United States veterans, providing them space and time to write about their wartime experiences in order to heal, to be heard, and create meaningful expression. By using writing exercises to explore wartime experiences–the fear, the boredom, anxieties, thrills, brutality and tears–the vet learns how to write a story and make it compelling.”
The weekend long workshop starting Friday evening and running until Sunday afternoon, is free to participants. Writing styles from fiction, to non-fiction, poetry to playwriting will be taught, along with basic skills on crafting a good story. Part of the process will include personalized discussion with professional writers. The workshop will provide time on Saturday evening for participants to share their work with the public. The workshop has a staff of eight professionals including writers, educators, veteran’s administrators, and mental health professionals. John Mikelson, veteran’s advisor with the University of Iowa said, “We maintain a couple of mental health professionals on staff in case something comes up in their writing.”
Mikelson who worked directly with Rainey to bring the program to the University of Iowa in 2010 believes the process has been beneficial to many who’ve attended. “It’s essential if someone who wants to write and get their story out there,” he said, “that talking to someone else who’s already done that makes the process easier, especially if their experiences are similar to your own.”
Mikelson has seen the program grow in numbers, witnessing many of the participants go on to publish work they began at the workshop. He explained that the goal is not to produce quality work worthy of publishing, but to allow veterans a safe space to express their emotions through writing. Many of the stories are archived at Eastern Kentucky University’s Journal of Military Experience. Another form of archiving the stories is by video which is sent to the Library of Congress, through a program that preserves these stories for historical research. Mikelson said, “First class we had about 40 students. We’ve been very fortunate in that people keep wanting to come back and they tell their friends that it’s a worthwhile program.”
“We do this on a shoestring budget,” Mikelson said. “Everything is getting donated, nobody is getting paid… because people want to help, they want to see it succeed.” Everything includes the classrooms, lunches, professional staff members’ time and transportation as part of the donations. The program is in the process of becoming a charity which would allow for tax-deductible donations to keep the conference free for participants.
The program is growing, allowing for it to travel to other places across the country. One change that is being implemented is an online component for veterans unable to attend the annual conference in Iowa City.
For more information or to register for the conference visit the website here.