Writing Breakthrough

By Richard Gilman From the age of six, I knew that I would design computers. My whole life has been about science, math, and statistics. I only wrote to put a few words between the formulas, postulates, and theorems, so they would flow better. Arts and literature were not for me.

But, something happened last year that allowed me to begin to focus on what had been bothering me deep in the recesses of my being. I found myself at a writing workshop, sitting in a semicircle, surrounded by an eclectic group of people, listening to a tiny grey-haired woman whose strong, yet gentle, voice commanded my attention. I had been hot, scared, uncomfortable, and ready to exit at the first opportunity, but the melodiousness of her tone said stay for a while, listen to us, and feel welcome here.

At that introductory session, we paired off and talked with the person next to us for a few minutes, and then listened to them for a few more minutes. Meeting Jim Janko was the most powerful, overwhelming, and bonding experience of my life. Somehow this person knew my fears, trepidations, and issues even better than I did—and in only a couple of minutes. Very powerful stuff.

I was still too uptight to participate for very long though, and left before the end of the session. I felt intimidated by all these people who seemed like professional writers looking to just get a few pointers from the master writer. But as I rode my motorcycle out the long driveway from Green Gulch Farm, instead of turning right to go home, I turned left toward the ocean. I stopped at this magnificent spot with all of the Pacific in front of me, and wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote some more. When I stopped, seven hours had passed! Nothing in my life had ever fueled me that swiftly and with such passion. I wrote about people I had met in Vietnam, about many of the events that I had been part of there, and about some of my feelings of what went on during the war.

At the second gathering I attended, thoughts flowed out faster than I could write them. I had said to myself that I needed some experience from Vietnam to write about. Ten minutes later, I had 36 major events listed, at least 30 of which I hadn't thought about in 20 years!

The Veterans Writing Workshop opened a new path for me. The thought that I would leave engineering to write and listen to new ideas, and experience literature—wow!

Richard Gilman, a Vietnam war veteran, lives in San Francisco, and now writes full-time.

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