The first Helen Deutsch Writing Workshop evolved from a simple question: could the Writers Guild Initiative find a way to put its member’s skills to work in the service of people who wanred to write, but had found few opportunities to expore this interest? Were there populations who might welcome the chance to work with us, and of so, how would we find them and who would they be? This last question was the first answered; let’s serve a group who have served us I namely, the military – men and women who’ve shown a willingness to put their lives at risk in the sevice of their country.
We started from scratch, canvassing our Board for anyone with contacts in the military. We needed a liaison to help us set up an exploratory writing workshop with veterans and active-duty servicemen.
After meeting in Columbus, Ohio with staff from several branches of the military, and with preperatory guidance from Mark Cline, PhD, a specialist in behavioral psychology and post war trauma, a group of twenty novelists, playwrights, screen and television writers travelled to the James Thurber House in Columbus and spent an intensive week-end with forty members of the armed forces who’d served in recent conflicts (primarily Afghanistan and Iraq).
The results were amazing. Servicemen wrote about anything they pleased, in any form that appealed to them – screenplay, poetry, prose, self-improvement, blogs, children’s stories. Some had never written a thing, others had already self-published. The week-end was a huge success, so much so that attendees wanted more. With their input, we decided to invite the group back for a followup workshop at a future date to develop work they’d begun during the initial week-end, or to bring in something new. This was the beginning of our “two-week-ends” approach – a first week-end to introduce writing as a natural way to explore experience, and a follow-up week-end to hone and edit and plan for writing projects in the future.
News of our workshops spread quickly. The VA helped us get the word out, and also helped find us participants for future week-ends. We have since held week-ends with disabled Veterans in San Antonio and Texas and (after a 2011 in partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project) with Caregivers of the wounded. In addition, we held workshops with the staff at the military hospital in Landstuhl, who had developed extreme compassion fatigue from their work stabilizing severely wounded soldiers before sending them on to long term care in America.
As of 2015 we have held roughly 20 workshops with upwards of 500 participants. And our work continues to evolve and expand.