WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – A soldier-turned-scribe conducted a writing workshop at the College of William and Mary here Feb. 22-23, the latest in an ongoing, no-cost series of seminars and workshops for veterans, active and reserve service members, and military family members.
The seminars are part of the Veterans Writing Project, a nonprofit program based in Washington, D.C., and founded by veterans and family members.
Program founder and director Ron Capps parlayed 25 years of Army and Army Reserve combat experience, as well as a stint with the State Department, to write his own fiction and nonfiction works and inspire others to do the same.
“There is a new wave of great literature coming, and much of that will be written by veterans and their families,” Capps said, noting that the United States has the smallest-everproportion of its population in service during a time of war.
“Less than 1 percent of Americans have taken part in these most recent wars, [and] our World War II veterans are dying off at a rate of nearly 1,000 per day,” Capps said. “We want to put as many of these stories in front of as many readers as we can.”
While Capps acknowledged the art form is therapeutic and recounted that he “wrote his way back home” following his own bouts of depression and suicidal tendencies, he urged participants to also get the mental and medical help they need to weather their storms.
“Returning warriors have known for centuries the healing power of narrative,” Capps said. “We give veterans the skills they need to capture their stories and to do so in an environment of mutual trust and respect.”
Working writers and combat veterans who hold master’s degrees in arts or fine arts lead the seminars, but the participants, too, have a range of experience in education and writing, from novices to doctorate degree holders and published authors.
Capps wrote the seminar’s core curriculum, “Writing War,” which includes detailed examples demonstrating each element of the craft and designed to be relatable to a spectrum of writers.
Retired Army Col. Jim Belin said he learned about the project through his military officers association, and that he expected merely to get a few details about how to craft better stories to leave for his grandchildren.
“I’m walking away with a more personal feeling to my writing and I plan to broaden my audience,” Belin said. “Whether you have a Ph.D. or a high school education, you can get good tips here, and something that’s really going to help you in life.”
Another participant, Jenny Loveland, who grew up in a military family, had a 20-year Air Force career and spent time as a defense contractor and consultant. She said she’s working on a collection of short stories and poems about her experience.
“Now I’ll go back and know what to revise and how to think about my work,” Loveland said. “I’ll be a much better reader, and I’ll keep working on my writing.”
And that’s a good thing, because Capps ends both his seminar and his book with perhaps the most important advice of all: “Keep writing.”