Kay: When Writing Can Save Your Life

Władysław Podkowiński (1866-1865)

Władysław Podkowiński (1866-1865)

Every day that I describe (okay, complain) about my various writing blockages or my inability to move my manuscript forward, there’s a small place in the back of my brain that reminds me how lucky I am that I have the time, the space, and the quiet to write essentially as much as I want. When I have a good writing day, all is right in my world. But even a bad day writing—when nothing works and I delete 1,000 words for every 100 that I add to my manuscript—is still a better day than a day spent at the office.

But my bad writing days are nothing compared to those of some military vets, for whom writing can be a testimonial to life itself, an “act of survival,” as one vet described it. More returning soldiers are discovering that writing can ease re-entry in several ways: their narratives can help explain their experiences to friends and family (between 2001 and 2014, 2.7 million service members deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan; that’s less than 1% of the population), and it can help them cope with trauma and PTSD.

However, for some vets, writing about their wartime experiences means peeling back layers of memory and pain that can amplify the symptoms it’s meant to diminish. Ex-soldiers can be unprepared for the trauma—or not know how to manage it.

The article “War of Words” has a lot more to say about vets and the writing they do to corral their demons and make sense of what they experienced. I don’t want to paraphrase it: the writers can describe how they feel and why they write more powerfully than I.


One thought on “Kay: When Writing Can Save Your Life

  1. That was really powerful, and it’s hard to unpack all the feelings I have. War is a huge source of stories. From the beginning of history (and before), war stories must have been a way to cope and a source of entertainment. In the very old days, you didn’t tell the war stories to yourself alone (or maybe you did) — you told them after a few numbing drinks in a big hall with a huge audience.

    It strikes me that the way we tell stories today and the way we used to tell stories are very, very different. It’s possible to isolate ourselves and not ask for feedback. Or, if we are very popular, millions and millions of people hear our stories (but may never provide direct feedback).

    It seems to me that telling one’s war stories do need a lot of support. There’s that dichotomy — total lack of trust for one’s fellow humans, but also the need to trust them with your secrets. I think it’s easier to transform secrets if you do it with someone else; going around and around in your own head about secrets just sounds like something from The Yellow Wallpaper. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/literatureofprescription/exhibitionAssets/digitalDocs/The-Yellow-Wall-Paper.pdf

    Another thing that I thought about is the vets who do share their stories serve their countries twice. First on the battlefield, but second in the cultural milieu. It’s easy for some gal or guy who only knows war from movies and video games to glorify it . . . I think every generation needs first-hand accounts of how war really is. So, to all the vets out there who go through hell to get their stories out . . . thank you for your service, twice.

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