Helen Deutsch Writing Workshops
In April 2008, the Writer’s Guild of America, East Foundation began a series of Writing Workshops for veterans and active duty military.
Concept and Background: Conceived by Board member Michael Weller, the Helen Deutsch Veterans’ Writing Workshop was named for the late librettist / screenwriter, a primary benefactor of The Writers Guild of America, East, Foundation. The first workshop was launched on the weekend of April 12th, 2008, and for two days, twenty novelists, playwrights, screenwriters and television writers mentored forty service men and women at the non-profit James Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Any member of the armed forces who had served in recent conflicts (mostly Afghanistan and Iraq) and who had a desire to write was invited. Word about the workshop was spread through VA hospitals, flyers and emails within the military community. Most of the 40 veterans attending were reservists, many still on active duty; with roughly a 60-40 ratio of men to women. Three Vietnam veterans also attended.
Prior to the workshop, a majority of the mentors had met in New York to set the project format and to be briefed by Mark Cline, PhD, who specializes in clinical and behavioral psychology and post-war trauma. At the initial morning breakfast/orientation in Columbus, WGAE Foundation President Tom Fontana spoke to the entire group about the workshop’s overall purpose—to help veterans explore storytelling in all its forms with the mentors’ guidance and support. Two mentors were paired with groups of four to five veterans, with eight groups in all. No specific goals were set and no one was pressured to “produce” any work. In working groups composed of veterans with a wide range of writing experiences, each was to find the storyteller within him or herself. Participants were reminded that the writing belonged exclusively to them and the WGAE Foundation would have no rights to their work.
Building immediate trust between the veterans and the mentors was paramount. Every effort was made to create a safe and informal environment in the spirit of humility, collaboration and humor. Three of the mentors were formerly in the military: Ryan Kelly and David Tucker in Iraq, Matthew Eck in Somalia. Their involvement gave the entire workshop added credibility. The writing among participants varied: some had projects already in progress, while many had never written a word and didn’t know how to begin. The mentors encouraged them to write about whatever they wished: military experience, first dog, first love, sci-fi, etc. The mentors initiated extensive conversations about craft and process, with some using writing exercises to increase the creative flow. Many great stories were told. Some of the veterans shared experiences they had never shared before, not even with members of their own families. Others read poems, children’s stories and blogs that they had written while serving in the war. Each group took on its own unique personality. 100% of the veterans returned for the second day, eager to continue. In the afternoon of both days, the entire group reconvened for a question and answer session, which focused on the practical aspects of the writing profession.
At the conclusion of the second day, mentors and participants exchanged contact information. Several mentors had assigned deadlines for the veterans’ continued work and all have continued advising their group via email. Upon departure, each vet was given a packet of writing samples by the mentors (as well as a much appreciated WGAE T-shirt, which reads “writer” on the back). Subsequently, the vets received a list of books on writing, recommended by the mentors, as well as various “writing terms” and related websites. Additionally, the Foundation has negotiated with Final Draft to donate screenwriting software programs for all participants. Feedback has been extraordinarily positive. During and after the workshop the participants expressed profound gratitude and a genuine feeling of accomplishment, while many of the mentors said how grateful and inspired they felt throughout their interactions. The consensus was the workshop provided a model for future writing projects, both with other military personnel and with other under-served groups, in hopes of stimulating additional American story-telling in this inspiring approach.
In October 2008, we returned to Columbus, Ohio, to work with twenty of the original group and some new mentees (we purposely kept the number of new people small, even though there was a large demand, in order to focus on the work done by the original group). The returning mentees had shared their work in advance with each other and the mentors, which allowed the time spent at the workshop to be used to hone their writing skills. A deeper sense of sharing evolved over the weekend. Participants want to continue to work together. We are currently helping to facilitate an on-going community of writer/veterans.
Mentors include: Neena Beber, Andrew Bergman, Jessica Blank, Rick Dresser, Matthew Eck, Peter Hedges, Erik Jensen , Ryan Kelly, Chris Kyle, Richard LaGravenese, John Markus, Marsha Norman, Mark St. Germain, David Tucker, Michael Weller, Michael Winship, Chris Albers, Tom Fontana, Lulie Haddad and Jim V. Hart
Our third workshop was in San Antonio, Texas (near the Brook Army Medical Center) on June 5th-7th, 2009 for wounded veterans.
Read more about:
San Antonio Workshop I
San Antonio Workshop II
Read Testimonials about the Workshops.
San Antonio Workshop I
San Antonio Workshop II
List of Ohio Local Mentors