(1) First off, you have to have actually been through a war. It may sound inane to even mention this qualification, however, several journalist have been writing books and passing them off as war memoirs. Those books are not war memoirs; they are journalistic interpretations of the war. A real war memoir can only be written by someone who was there and part of the fighting (on either side). This means that journalists and politicians do not count, and neither do Generals who stayed in the homeland. Accurate and full rounded depictions of war can only be gotten from those on the ground.
(2) Start writing immediately. Too often veterans don’t start writing until years and years after their wars. By that point in time, memories can become foggy and fragmented. A person recalling something will generally be guessing. Guessing how they were feeling, what they were thinking. A person cannot memorize pain. However, if a journal was kept, or writing commenced immediately after returning home, the memories will be raw and still on the surface.
(3) Do not leave anything out. Living through a war is no easy task, and when writing and having to relive through everything that you’ve already been through, it can be a morose and daunting experience. However, a writer cannot let emotions get in the way of telling a true story. Granted, it may be hard to write about almost dying, or having to kill someone, or having your friend kill themselves. But a story needs to include everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s our duty as veterans to give a full and accurate depiction.
(4) Do not try to write politics into the story. Too often war memoirs will be written, and once read, it becomes instantly apparent that the author is trying to convey a pro-war or an anti-war point of view. This muddles up the writing. If a writers’ intent is to only giving one point of view, they are going to leave out necessary stories. In conjunction with rule number 3, all stories need to be told. If all stories aren’t told it’s not an accurate depiction of war, it’s just a one sided view. Talk about the good times, the bad times and everything in-between.
(5) Read several books on writing. Books by journalist written about the war are outselling books written by veterans about the war. People would rather read a war memoir by a journalist than an actual veteran. This is simply because journalists are better writers. Journalists are journalists and veterans are veterans. Their job is to write and our job is to fight. To write a successful and accurate memoir and to adequately get your point across, a veteran needs to learn how to write.
(6) Interview friends that fought with you. Even if you start writing immediately, it will still help to hear different points of views for similar stories. In your eyes you may have seen something one way, but another person could have caught a thousand different things that you missed. This will help with descriptions and capturing the minute details.
(7) Take criticism well. If you’re writing an accurate war memoir and telling all the stories. No matter what, some people are not going to like it. The pro-war people will only want you writing stories that make everything look great, as if no one dies during war. The anti-war people will want you writing stories that make everything look horrible, as if everyone dies during war. Listen politely to both and then shake it off. Just tell all the stories and let people judge them for themselves.
(8) Finish the entire book before you go back and start editing. Often when people start writing, they’ll write one chapter and then they’ll want to edit it again and again. This will get a person nowhere. A year could go by and they could still be on chapter one. The best thing to do is write the whole book at once. That way when you go back and reread the beginning again, you’ll have fresh eyes.
(9) Edit. Edit. Edit. Edit. Edit. Ernest Hemmingway is credited with writing over thirty drafts for some of his books. That is dedication. All writers need to have that same amount of dedication. How often in life does something happen perfectly on the first try? Hardly ever, if never. Writing is the same way. The first draft might be crap, the second might be slightly better, the third might be good, the fourth might be crap again, but by the time you get to the twentieth, you might have something that is publishable.
(10) Allow yourself to write for the fun of it. Realize that even your writing never becomes published, writing about the war will act as a cathartic release and may help deal with the rest of life.
Recap: Start writing immediately, don’t try to get anything across except what really happened, tell all the stories, learn how to write, interview friends, take criticism well, edit, and have fun.