by Amber Jensen (National Guard)
Military stories can be difficult–to write, and to share–but they are important. And that is why Tracy Crow’s On Point: A Guide to Writing the Military Story is an essential book for all of us linked to the military community.
When my husband, Blake, shares stories of his military service, they seem to come tumbling out. Like the (in-his-words) funny war story that slipped from his lips, reaching me via the echoing phone connection between Baghdad and Sioux Falls, SD, before he could even think about what he was telling me. When the words ran out, he paused, and then whispered, “Why’d I tell you that? I never should have told you that.” And then my words ran out. I didn’t know how to respond.
Not all of Blake’s military stories are sad. But when he tells a funny story, I don’t laugh like an insider, like someone who gets it. Even though my relationship with Blake has spanned basic training, AIT, years of drill, a deployment, and now ten years of VA medical claims, there are a lot of things about military experience that I just don’t understand. So, I understand why military personnel might hold tightly to their stories. Why they so often only come tumbling out. Unexpectedly. Surprising the story teller almost as much as the listener.
But that is also why I’ve come to understand just how important the sharing of those stories is. And that is why Tracy Crow’s straight-forward approach to On Point: A Guide to Writing the Military Story is so necessary.
Crow gets it. She gets the military experience, and she gets writing. She invites us in by relating those moments when she doubted her own story, struggled through the writing process, and faced the personal and professional challenges of publication. She pulls us along by sprinkling excerpts of military stories throughout—examples of stories we can relate to and writing we can learn from. Then, at the end of each chapter, she translates those stories and examples into short journaling exercises that encourage both reading and writing practice—a crucial combination. A student in the Veteran’s Writing Program I lead at SDSU praises the way Crow’s examples and explanations make writing more relatable, explaining that in class he is given rules and guidelines, but through On Point he is able to imagine how those are relevant to his story.
Because the exercises in On Point start from the very beginning of the idea-generating process, and link the writing process directly to reading and learning from other writers’ style, the book is appropriate for very beginning writers, but it holds value, too, for writers like myself, who have been trudging through their stories for years. On Point offers insights that have rejuvenated my work, like thinking about progressive complications and the emotional charge and energy shifts within scenes. And On Point reminds me of the importance of my story, because I have continued, throughout ten years of writing, to doubt the importance of our story as a military family. Sometimes we need encouragement, and Crow’s book provides that along with the tools to move beyond a pat on the back and into the process of putting words on the page.
Crow writes in the introduction to the guide: “My wish is for On Point to inspire you to write about your military experiences and, more important, to grant you permission. Your story matters, even if you don’t yet fully believe so.” Military stories do matter. Each of our stories matters.
For all of us who have lived the military experience as servicewomen, servicemen, or soldiers, or as parents, siblings, spouses, or children of military personnel, the process of writing can help us develop understanding, make connections, and heal. In Crow’s words:
“Writing about your military experiences, even if you decide to turn your true stories into fiction, will help you develop a deeper understanding about your life, your decisions, and the motives behind your decision because meaningful writing comes from identifying meaningful patterns. Meaningful writing requires a self-awakening. When we write, we’re training ourselves to search deeply for motive behind choices, whether we’re writing about ourselves in a memoir or essay or about the characters within our military short story or novel.”
But military writing extends beyond the military community, and its benefits reach out beyond those of us tied to military experience. Military writing documents history as well as personal experience. That combination is what our country needs so that citizens removed from the military experience might begin to understand what it means to serve our country. What it costs to go to war. What it means to carry those experiences with us as we walk among the majority of our citizens who seem not to understand. Which is the point of sharing stories. Through writing, we document, explore, connect, and reflect. Through reading, we learn, empathize, connect, and understand.
On Point leads an important step in the right direction to making the military experience more visible to ourselves and those around us.
Buy On Point here
Buy Tracy Crow’s memoir, Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine
About the Author: Tracy Crow is the author of the award-winning memoir, Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine; the military conspiracy thriller, An Unlawful Order, under her pen name, Carver Greene; the true story collection, Red, White, & True: Stories from Veterans and Families, WWII to Present; and the new writing text, On Point: A Guide to Writing the Military Story, in which Crow combines her skills and experience as a former Marine Corps officer, award-winning military journalist, author, editor, and professor of creative writing.
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