5-Minute Memoir: The Art of Falling Without Hitting the Ground

5-Minute Memoir is exactly what it sounds like—a personal essay on some facet of the writing life, be it a narrative or a reflection, pensive, touching or hilarious. Enjoy this installment from Robert B Robeson.
Author:
Publish date:

Overwhelming emotions surfaced when I was forced to witness the murders of fellow soldiers, along with those of civilian men, women and children, who were trapped in war’s unforgiving web of violence. That was the brutal reality while flying helicopter medical evacuation missions as a U.S. Army aviator during the Vietnam War.

5MinMemoir

I was 26 years of age. By then, 22 of my articles and short stories had already been published in a variety of national magazines. I figured if I survived my one-year tour of duty, I would have accrued plenty of experiences to write about afterward.

I evacuated more than 2,500 patients to aid stations and hospitals in 987 combat missions. Seven times my helicopter was shot up by enemy fire. I was shot down twice. My fellow pilots, who teetered on the edge of testosterone poisoning while mainlining adrenaline like the risk junkies they were, provided more than enough action and memories to whet any scribbler’s interest. Nearly every day, injustices of war lay in bloody heaps on my cargo deck. The outrageous suffering I witnessed could have made even horror movie villains wince. And by the end of that traumatic year, my initial hunch was correct: I’d accumulated enough material to last a lifetime. In fact, more than 40 years later, I’m still publishing articles and short stories based on those experiences.

My time in Vietnam inspired my writing life beyond the page itself. In war, you learn to live with what combat is, not what you want it to be. And everybody’s afraid. It’s OK and reasonable to be frightened when you’re being shot at. Fear is good because it makes every sense sharper. Your mind works faster and better. Nothing is wrong with fear unless it rules you. It can’t be allowed to keep you from completing your mission.

The most fundamental technique of storytelling is placing the reader in the mind and heart of your protagonist.

My main character in combat was the patient. His condition was paramount, far more pressing than my continual fear about the prospects of being blown out of the sky. Similarly, confronting a blank page with only your imagination takes courage when you know fear and rejection could be lurking nearby. Many times I thought my aircraft was about to become a metal pretzel in some sewage-filled rice paddy. But I never gave up, even with death staring me in the face. And I learned that that’s the attitude writers must have, too, if they want to persevere in the literary world.

Combat taught me to do all I could, while I could, before it was too late. This has served me well as a pilot, newspaper managing editor, columnist and freelancer. Since Vietnam, I’ve published more than 740 articles and short stories in 130 countries, in magazines such as Reader’s Digest and Positive Living, and my work has been featured in 10 anthologies. And I owe it all to the lesson I learned to challenge my own fear of failure.
Flying helicopters has been referred to as the art of falling without hitting the ground—and the same might be said of the ride to publication. It’s the art of hanging in during the free fall, keeping your eye on the horizon, and refusing to give up. No matter what.

Turn your most important personal stories into compelling and meaningful reading experiences for others by considering:
Writing & Selling Your Memoir

Z9358

Become a WD VIP and Save 10%:
Get a 1-year pass to WritersMarket.com, a 1-year subscription to Writer’s Digest magazine and 10% off all WritersDigestShop.com orders! Click here to join.

Also check out these items from the Writer’s Digest’s collection:
Writer’s Digest Writing Life Stories
You Don’t Have To Be Famous: How to Write Your Life Story

How To Write A Book Proposal
How To Write & Sell Your First Novel
Writer’s Digest University: Essentials Of Writing Personal Essays
Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript
Book In A Month
Grammar Sucks: What to Do to Make Your Writing Much More Better
Plot versus Character

6 Tools for Writing Nonfiction That Breathes

6 Tools for Writing Nonfiction That Breathes

Nonfiction author Liz Heinecke gives her top 6 tips for crafting a nonfiction book that will really capture your subject.

Flash Fiction Challenge

2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 27

Write a piece of flash fiction each day of February with the February Flash Fiction Challenge, led by editor Moriah Richard. Each day, receive a prompt, example story, and write your own. Today's prompt is to write something that makes you laugh.

Poetic Forms

Ars Poetica: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at ars poetica and the art of writing poems about poems.

Flash Fiction Challenge

2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 26

Write a piece of flash fiction each day of February with the February Flash Fiction Challenge, led by editor Moriah Richard. Each day, receive a prompt, example story, and write your own. Today's prompt is to write about an article of clothing.

Authors Share Tips on Writing Mystery and Thriller Novels That Readers Love

23 Authors Share Tips on Writing Mystery and Thriller Novels That Readers Love

23 authors share tips on writing mystery and thriller novels that readers love, covering topics related to building suspense, inserting humor, crafting incredible villains, and figuring out the time of death.

Jaclyn Goldis: From Personal History to Historical Fiction

Jaclyn Goldis: From Personal History to Historical Fiction

Debut author Jaclyn Goldis explains how her novel When We Were Young was inspired by her real-life grandmothers and how many times she rewrote her first chapter.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Forced Decision

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Forced Decision

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, force a character to make a decision.

Flash Fiction Challenge

2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 25

Write a piece of flash fiction each day of February with the February Flash Fiction Challenge, led by editor Moriah Richard. Each day, receive a prompt, example story, and write your own. Today's prompt is to write about a cryptid.

From the Practical to the Mystic: 7 Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

From the Practical to the Mystic: 7 Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

Bestselling author Erika Robuck provides her top 7 tips for creating an engaging historical fiction novel.