Writing Prompt from Zero Dark Thirty (Fall 2016) - First Day in Theater

Sometimes the first days are the worst days, as one Air Force veteran described how mortars hit Camp Bucca on his first full day assigned to guard duty in Iraq:

Other times little memories, simple things stick out. An Army veteran who showed up for the Warrior Writers workshop at The Suffolk Poetry Center last Wednesday wrote about her first day back from Afghanistan. After reading what she’d written on the fly, she described noticing the smell of the rain at the airport. She put her face out of the window of the car as she left the airport, heading home.

Reading a poem by John Rodriguez published in a journal of war art and writing, Zero-Dark-Thirty, we discussed first experiences, how we describe them and how they take shape in our memories.


Notice how Rodriguez splinters his language using the present tense, and sentence fragments, conveying some detachment in his memory of landing in Afghanistan. He writes in the frank way one might speak in conversation.


First Day in Theater is published by The Veteran Writing Project, founded by Ron Capps. You can read all of the old pdfs on the journal’s website, and the fall 2016 issue with Rodriguez’s poem here:

At Warrior Writers workshops we generally start each prompt by reading a piece of flash fiction or a poem, like First Day in Theater, discuss it and then we write for 10 or 15 minutes straight. Often writing with a group helps discipline the mind to focus on the task at hand. But if you have the warewithal to write alone, maybe post whatever you come up with on for friendly comments and revision suggestions.

Write about a first day: leaving on a deployment, a first day home, your first time jumping out of an airplane, launching off a carrier, cooking in the galley, on watch or patrol, whatever. Think about the sights, the smells. How did your senses react to the new environment? Maybe you’d rather write about the first day that pops to your mind. Go with it. Explore that memory. Set a timer to write for 15 minutes. Don’t stop.