Writing toward healing: Workshops provide space for sharing

Veteran and writer Don Jaffa participates in the Wednesday workshop and faciliated several previous sessions.

JOSHUA TREE — Writers have gathered for the past two months to participate in Mil-Tree’s Wednesday Writing Workshops. The ongoing series invites and inspires veterans, active-duty service members, family and civilians to write creatively.

A writing workshop gives participants access to crucial opportunities for writers: prompts, feedback and deadlines. The workshops are free and there is no requirement other than signing up in advance. The small group dynamic encourages everyone to share and comment while the years of experience in the room provides a wealth of knowledge and insight.

Francis Moss started facilitating the series on April 3 and will continue through May 29. He’s run the Desert Writers Guild for three years and has been a writer for over 30 years. 

He taught screen writing and creative writing in LA before moving to the Morongo Basin six years ago. His most recent young adult book, “Losing Normal,” recently won the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators SPARK award.

This was his third week facilitating the ongoing workshop series.

Moss started the session with introductions and then had the group read aloud a short story called “A Thief in the House” by Joe Frank. Everyone took turns reading paragraphs with several pauses for laughter. Then the group discussed how the story, about a boy constantly stealing items from his own home, resonated for them.

Moss used the discussion as a lead-in to a writing prompt, asking attendees to write about a time they stole something.

The sounds of pens moving across paper were the only noises in the room while everyone wrote for several minutes. 

Once finished, everyone shared what they had written. The stories showcased the uniqueness of each individual and highlighted what can be produced in a short amount of time.

While this particular prompt was playful, the art of writing can play a serious role in people’s healing.

“Writing is a process that allows redemption and catharsis. It is not a complete cure, but a process that starts the healing, especially for those of us who went through those catastrophic events that qualify as the hallmarks of PTSD” said Donald Jaffa, who facilitated the first few weeks of the workshops.

“Unfortunately, veterans are not the only ones who incur these events, but events on the battlefield are disturbingly memorable. Even vehicle accidents here on the Twentynine Palms Highway can be such events.”

He described his decade as an intelligence officer in the Navy as one of the catalysts for his writing, since he had to write reports every day.

Veteran Martin Milas grew up in the Midwest and served in the Navy before becoming a lawyer. His interest in philosophy comes through in a piece that he’s revised based on feedback from the group. Everyone applauded his improvement and the additions and edits he made.

Writing is one way he spends his free time. 

“I’m retired now and every day is just another Saturday, except for Sunday of course,” said Milas.

Ashley Estabrook shared a story that she has been crafting over time. The incredible detail kept everyone riveted and spoke to the high caliber of expression the writers bring to the table. This workshop series is free and open to active duty, veterans, family members and civilians. To sign up, email Mil-Tree at info@mil-tree.org.

Workshops are held 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays at the Lutheran Church of the Desert, 6336 Hallee Road in Joshua Tree.

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