07 May 2013

Eight Ways to Share Your Military Story, Part I

IS THERE A BOOK IN YOU? One of more than 25 "BookMarks" statues 
that were displayed in public venues throughout the Iowa City, Iowa metro area
from June to October 2011.
Editor's note: Much of the following appeared in my classroom materials for an April 2013 military-writing workshop, at which fellow writer and journalist Doug Bradley and I presented workshops regarding online-journaling and military-blogging. This version is hyperlinked for easy reference.

Part II of this content will post on the Red Bull Rising blog Thurs., May 9.


First thoughts:

The word “blog” is a contraction: “web” plus “log” equals “blog.” It’s an overly limited term, and, in an age of other forms, formats, and technologies, may have outlived some of its original vitality and utility. (For you're interested, here's a quick history of mil-blogging, and you can keep to date on currect practitioners at Milblogging.com).

Another way to describe the activity is “online journaling.” Writers have used journals and notebooks to explore ideas since long before there was an Internet, and they’ll continue to do so long after current forms of “blogs” have been replaced.

Today’s technologies allow writers to share their thoughts, ideas, and words more widely; to engage with others in discussions and dialogues; and to build more awareness of their works.


Second thoughts:

One model for an “ideal” blog-post is to be no more than 500 words, illustrated by at least one picture, and relate through first-person narrative a unique experience, insight, or topic. As you write over time, you may be able to detect ways these posts might interconnect into larger, longer work. You may also detect recurring themes or topics.

Regardless of whether you make the contents of your online journal available to the public, to just a few friends and colleagues, or only to yourself, remember to periodically revisit and review your blog as a source for topical targets and publishable products.



Some troops write final letters home to be sent to their families in the event of their deaths. Others write letters to their future selves, or to their sons and daughters, briefly describing their actions, impressions, and memories of military service. Write such a letter. Put it somewhere safe. Put it where it will be found.



Take it from a former newspaper editor: Do not call these “articles.” Do not call them “editorials.” Instead, they are “op-ed essays,” “guest opinions,” or “letters to the editor.” (The term “op-ed” comes from the traditional placement of such content opposite the editorial page in a newspaper. It's pronounced "AHP-ehd.") Query the editorial page editor, usually around 30 days prior to significant dates such as Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Pearl Harbor Day, anniversaries of U.S. involvement in a given country. Usually, it’s best to have the article written prior to query. Aim for 500 words. Offer pictures if available. Be prepared with a current mugshot of yourself. Sometimes, newspapers offer a token payment ($25-$75) for guest opinions.

Here's an example of an Memorial Day op-ed, which I wrote for the Iowa City (Iowa) Press-Citizen for Memorial Day 2012. Here's another, penned by Doug Bradley for Veterans Day 2012.



Many regions offer multiple venues for writing on historical topics, including military history. Some publications focus on an educational purpose, while others seek to entertain. Still others blend the two.

In Iowa, for example, there is Iowa Heritage Illustrated, formerly The Palimpsest, published quarterly by the Iowa State Historical Society. The editors seek well-researched work of 1,250 to 5,000 words, presented in an accessible, non-academic voice. Payment ranges from $50-$500; author also receives 5 free copies, a 40% discount on additional copies; and a one-year subscription.

Published by Pioneer Communications in Des Moines, Iowa, The Iowan is a consumer newsstand publication focusing on people, events, topics, and places of interest to Iowans.

The Iowa History Journal is also a newsstand publication, published in Newton, Iowa.



Investigate general-interest history magazines to find opportunities to tell first-person stories, or to pitch longer form explorations a particular time, place, or object. Query publications such as The SmithsonianAmerican Heritage, and American History through an engaging letter or e-mail message, one that describes your idea, and your relevant expertise and experience. Submit your work only after receiving a positive response from an editor.

From American History magazine, here's a creative example connecting histories past and present. The writer follows a U.S. veteran of the war in Afghanistan on a trip to the European cemeteries of World War II.



There are special-interest magazines that cover military history from a variety of first- and third-person angles. This shotgun-list is only intended to illustrate the breadth of titles out there:

There are publications that focus on particular conflicts, such as Vietnam and World War II magazines.
Military History and MHQ: Military History Quarterly cover all eras.

Strategy & Tactics, Modern War, and Armchair General are newsstand history magazines that also cover war gaming.

There are technology-specific titles, such as Aviation History and Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine.

Skirmish is a magazine that serves living history practitioners and military reinactors. Depending on your local newsstands, you may find these titles various displayed in history, hobbies, transportation, and even lifestyle sections.

Here are two examples from Air & Space magazine, each of which illustrates how history can be compellingly communicated in the first-person voice: The first regards memories of flying the F/A-18 "Hornet" aircraft; the second is a "you are there" MEDEVAC piece written by a former U.S. Army National Guard helicopter pilot.

COMING IN PART II: Writing for literary magazines and journals, anthologies, and oral/written history projects!


Note: This Red Bull Rising blog-post about military writing is sponsored by the Red Earth MFA program at Oklahoma City University. This Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program requires 10-day residencies twice a year, in January and July. The program encourages explorations in all forms of creative non-fiction, poetry, screenwriting, and literary and genre fiction. The program has been approved for post-9/11 G.I. Bill funding, and Oklahoma City University appears on Victory Media's 2013 list of Military Friendly Schools.

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