Exiting The Comfort Zone

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Adin Dobkin is communications director of the Military Writers Guild. He can be found on Twitter at @adindobkin.

A conflict erupting in Iran and a speech delivered to Congress on the eve of a Department of Defense shutdown. These were the stories, if only the germinated seeds, that greeted participants as they entered the recent Military Writers Guild workshop at the DEF[x]DC conference. A crowd, save one, entirely out of their comfort zones when confronted with a writing challenge that stemmed from a fictional prompt.

When first approached with the idea of hosting a writing workshop at Defense Entrepreneurs Forum’s annual DC conference on behalf of MWG, I knew that first and foremost, the workshop should reflect the unique qualities of the organizations it was supporting. For MWG, this task meant building into the program a diversity of viewpoints, backgrounds, and writing styles. For DEF, it meant intellectually and interactively engaging some of the brightest young innovation-focused minds in the national security sphere. What better way to accomplish both these goals than a writing exercise whose only constraints were the mind of a participant?

For the first of two prompts, participants were dropped into the shoes of a White House speechwriter in the weeks leading up to the Commander-in-Chief’s first State of the Union address to Congress in 2021. Though the Oval Office’s predecessor defeated ISIS a few years prior, an increasingly bellicose Russia threatens to turn the Second Cold War into the first hot war between these two great powers. A participant’s natural desire to repeat the past at this point was tempered by the inclusion of dire economic straits in the U.S. These economic conditions necessitated quick, innovative thinking to reform significant parts of the Department of Defense.

Prompt two took a more conventional storytelling route based on the ongoing serialized work 2026: Operation Iranian Freedom at the Strategy Bridge. Participants who chose this prompt found themselves in a world featuring an expanded NATO, an angered Russia, and a failed Iranian nuclear deal. Through the eyes of one individual leading up to or involved in the first stages of a raid into Iran, participants tell the story of this burgeoning conflict.

“I didn’t go far from my personal perspective and got in the shoes of a journalist immediately before the attacks occurred. I have a feeling something is going on, but obviously nothing explicit. Rather, there’s a tone there that surrounds my daily routine.”

– MWG Workshop Participant

From the moment we opened up the room for discussion, the most noticeable trend throughout both prompts was the diversity of perspectives participants sought to show in their writing. This diversity wasn’t simply a function of creativity but a fundamental understanding of the characters involved with this conflict. An understanding that could only be brought up on such short notice from one’s own experiences. In many ways, participants lived out their own, albeit fictional, lives in these scenarios. The Air Force pilot who’s suiting up to provide air support, the naval officer in a small vessel off the coast of Bahrain, the foreign journalist in the days leading up to the conflict.

“I wanted to look at it from the perspective of someone like myself, a naval officer, and think about how I would have to deal with the situation and its after-effects if I were stationed somewhere nearby like Bahrain.”

MWG Workshop Participant

How these characters – an honest reflection of the authors themselves – view conflicts real or imagined can give one insight into the human component at the heart of these scenarios. What’s more, by alleviating the burden of factual frameworks, particularly for those in politically sensitive positions, some additional measure of honesty can be found. When the group participating in the workshop happens to be made up of bright, young leaders in the military and national security communities, ignoring that sort of insight is done at one’s own risk. It also revealed the opportunity for further fictional experimentation with alternative points of view wholly unfamiliar to our own.

“I thought, why not write through the eyes of someone on the other side of the conflict, an Iranian general, who has to convince his superiors to retaliate against the U.S. incursion.”

MWG Workshop Participant

In the coming months, we hope to share some of the perspectives that grew out of the workshop from the participants themselves. If the stories have inspired you to share your own perspective, the prompts and submission instructions can be found here.