Writing provides creative outlet; way to ‘tell your truth'

2 Aug 2007 | Ms. Heather Owens

Master Sgt. Larry D. Johns of the II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) felt that improving his writing was such a worthy endeavor that he spent one evening of his two-week leave from Iraq at a writing class.

“Writing allows me to really focus on what’s in my heart,” said Johns.

Writing from his heart is Johns’ specialty. He spends part of his free time at Camp Fallujah, Iraq, writing devotionals that he distributes via e-mail to interested parties.

“I incorporate what we do there into a devotional to encourage the Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen,” said Johns, a 21-year Marine Corps veteran.

“Writing is very therapeutic. It allows you to escape reality, but at the same time face reality,” said Johns. “It has made the first half of my deployment go faster.”

Coastal Carolina Community College sponsored the workshop Johns and other service members attended titled “Writing the War Home: Telling your story from stateside or the combat zone” Wednesday at the John A. Lejeune Education Center.

Andrea Bates, an English teacher at Coastal and published author, and Bill Tripp, a retired Marine first sergeant with 27 years of service to the Corps, taught the class.

“Writing is a way to connect with other people,” said Bates in introducing the class. “Think of all of the stories locked inside of you — how is anyone going to know about them unless you write them down?”

Tripp, who is a graduate of Coastal and is currently working on his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing degree at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, said it was important for service members to tell their truth through writing in order to get the average service member’s experience in the Global War on Terrorism out to the general public.

“Honestly, they want to hear your story,” said Tripp.

Johns agreed. “It’s not all about doom and gloom [in Iraq]. The media is doing a great disservice. We don’t hear a lot about the families coming together, about the tribes coming together,” he said.

There’s no reason for the average Marine or sailor not to think that their story is important. Tripp said that traditionally there have been a lot of books written about the “heroes and the generals” of war.

However, he said, “There are still plenty of books out there by the average guy or gal.”

One such book Bates encouraged military writers to check out is “Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families” edited by Andrew Carroll (Random House, 2006).

The book contains eye witness accounts, private journals, short stories, poems and other writings from the average Joe’s and Jane’s of the war.

One of the best ways to remember experiences from deployment (so as to eventually write a short story or book) is to keep a journal.

Bates and Tripp encouraged writers at the workshop to carry around a notebook as a way to capture thoughts, quotations and other bits of information that can be used later in one’s writing.

Johns brought his “thoughts” notebook to the class. He said he carries it everywhere to write down bits of information he can later use in his devotionals and other writings.

Lance Cpl. Emanuel Nelson of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, who also attended the workshop, kept a journal in Iraq as a way to “show my family my emotions at certain times.”

“I’m big on history,” said Nelson who is about the start work on a criminal justice degree and, therefore, attended the class to get tips to improve his writing. “I want to write about my previous experience so my children and grandchildren can read it.”

Nelson’s buddy, Cpl. Andrew Morrison, also of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, said he kept a journal for the first part of his tour in Iraq, until things got too busy for him to continue.

“I write about the different experiences I had in Iraq, the different cultures in Iraq, what a typical Marine goes through serving their country,” said Morrison.

Morrison said the workshop was helpful to him and could be helpful to other Marines as well.

“There’s probably a lot of Marines out there that want to write a book, but they don’t know how to do it,” said Morrison. “I think that this is a good [workshop] because it might let them know how to do it. So I think the word should be spread [about it].”

Editor’s note: Another “Writing the War Home” workshop is scheduled for Sept. 19. For more information about the workshop, call 938-6864.