Friday, January 11, 2013

Starting a Lifewriting Group is Easy! Part 1

One of the purposes of my lifewriting workshops is to inspire people to write. The place where I have found the most inspiration was in a memoir writing group. Our local Senior Center has had a writing group going for over 10 years. Periodically they present public readings of their best work. I attended one of those readings and immediately wanted to join them. I called the Senior Center and asked if I had to be a senior citizen to take part (I was only 40 at the time!). I was assured that I could join.

Cathy Fulton is the author of
Facilitating a Lifewritng Group is Easy,
which is packed with memory-kindling
ideas and worksheets for any
 memoir writing\group.
Find it in the Capturing Memories store.
I was a part of that group for two years. It met every week on Monday mornings. I wrote lots of stories and even published a book of stories about my Father. I wanted to keep attending, but I had two young children and found it difficult to find child care for them on Monday mornings. So, I had to stop attending the group. Shortly afterward, my writing decreased. I wasn’t getting my weekly inspirational fix. I missed the group terribly. Joyce Delbridge, our group leader, encouraged me to start my own group. Who me? I could never “lead” a writing group. After all, I had only been an average writer in school. Yes, after 20 years, the stigma of all those compositions returned to me “bleeding” with red ink, was still there. My friends and family told me I was a good writer, but I didn’t really believe them. My composition grades 20 years ago were a strong reminder that I wasn’t.

However, I wanted to be a part of a writing group. If it could be held in the evenings, I could attend. Over the course of a year, I occasionally talked to other people who would be interested. I started working on my family history at the local LDS genealogy center. I met more people who were potential family history writers. Finally I decided to take the plunge. I would start a group to meet in the evenings so working people could attend. By now, I had done enough reading on the subject to realize that this would not be a class in writing compositions. Our objective would be to get our family stories down on paper—nothing more.

Because the group at the Senior Center was so successful, I was determined to follow the format that Joyce had used. Here’s what worked for them for over 10 years:
  • No cost—except the nominal membership at the Senior Center ($8.00/year) and cost of copying handouts.
  • No guilt. Don’t worry if you can’t attend every meeting or write something every week.
  • No writing “assignments.” Write what you are inspired to write. Share your stories with the group only if you wish to.
  • Meet once a week, except during holidays and the summer.
  • Most of the meeting time is spent listening to readings and commenting on them—not critiquing. (Keep the meetings positive.) We didn’t worry about grammar or sentence structure. Our comments were mostly along the lines of “I liked the part about…” or “Could you tell us more about…” The closest we came to negative comments was “I didn’t understand who was talking when…” or “Can you explain what happened there at the beginning…?” or something along those lines.
  • Spend 15 to 20 minutes discussing a specific topic, like where to get inspiration, how to organize stories, how to write dialogue, etc.
Stay tuned for Part 2...

“Research has shown that the act of telling your life story increases self-esteem, reduces depression, alleviates loneliness and helps people deal with grief and loss,” says John Kunz, manager of the International Institute for Reminiscence and Life Review at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.   
~TIME Magazine, Nov. 11, 2002

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