For the first session of a writing class, I face a challenge. What will we do with the “read and share” portion of our time? The answer I’ve come up with is to do an in-class writing exercise. We write, then share what we’ve written. And so the pattern is set; the work begins.
In November I started a new workshop at the new South Madison Library branch. The exercise I’d chosen for this first session was a timed writing on a selected topic. The exercise goes like this:
- Spend 1 minute listing FACTS about the topic.
- Spend 3 minutes writing a MEMORY about the topic.
- Spend 1 minute drawing MEANING from what you’ve written. (This can be linking your personal experience to larger history, or exploring the significance of the memory in your own life.)
The topic I’d chosen was “Invasions.” I don’t exactly why–it was just an idea that came to me as I prepared for that night’s class.
The class got off to an odd start. The library was having its Grand Opening celebration that evening–the mayor held his ceremonial ribbon-cutting just an hour before the class was to start. The meeting room was still full of revelers as class-time arrived. I wasn’t about to ask them to leave–we’ve all waited too long for this glorious facility to replace the bleak old strip-mall library. So instead, I moved my group to a corner of the library where we pulled chairs into a circle.
I cringed at the lack of privacy–an essential part of a writers’ group where personal information is shared–but plunged ahead. We commenced our writing exercise, some scribbling on pads in their laps, a lucky few around the little table. The only sound was the scratch of pens and the occasional resonant chime as I tapped my Tibetan bowl to indicate the transitions in the timed writing exercise. Then we began to read.
What a startling variety of stories poured out! We heard about invasions of cats, bugs, mice, and lice, ranging from funny to sad. We heard about invasions of personal space, from curious little brothers to bellicose customers. We heard about encounters with “the Other” in many forms. These readings left no doubt about the talent in each of us. As that first session came to a close, I’ve never been so eager for the next week’s class to come around.
I’ll be sharing some of these “Invasion” stories on this blog, introducing you to some of the people I think of as my “fearless, peerless writers.”
In the meantime, I’d like to thank Carol Franco and Ken Lineback for contributing the “Facts, Memory, Meaning” framework to my grab-bag of teaching techniques. This and many other good thoughts for life writers can be found in their book, The Legacy Guide: Capturing the Facts, Memories, and Meaning of Your Life.