Forget about being clever or educated or persuasive or having a great vocabulary. Quit trying to look so cheerful, so victorious, so worthy. Become a humble servant of your own truth, and your writing will become a vital force for healing, because once our truths are known and witnessed and no one in the room faints or screams, muscles in the mother ship relax. Muscles in your co-students ALSO relax, allowing them to dig deeper, to become more truthful themselves. The literary wealth is shared. The healing starts to spread.
As intimate and subjective as it is, your truth is a facet of the human condition, and it will resonate with others. One of the ironies here is that the MORE subjective and intimate your writing becomes, the more universal it becomes. It’s mysterious but it’s true. That’s my basic philosophy on my writing classes. Even scientists are finding that writing is good for our bodies and our souls (read more about that here.) Read on if you have questions about my classes!
My Heroine’s Journey and one-shot classes are open to writers of all experience levels. Former circus acrobats have rubbed elbows with award-winning authors in my class; sex educators have shared their writing with climatologists; motorcycle mamas have sat next to retired Danish ladies. It’s a mixed bag, and it works. I think that’s because we all have access to the truth, whether we are professional writers or occasional journalers. Famed memoirists Elizabeth Gilbert or Mary Karr could sit right next to you at my table and all they would have access to is their own story. Which means we’re all equals here, when it comes to knowing and owning our own experiences. The class is designed as a big fat invitation to commit your own pile of subjective truths to the page, in good company.
I believe that the heart of good memoir and personal essay lies in telling the unvarnished truth about ourselves.
Which is why this is NOT a class in composition — structure, plot, grammar — or getting an agent. I am happy to leave those aspects of writing to other teachers. But we DO talk a lot about what makes good writing.
A class often looks like this:
I offer two in-class prompts. We usually write for 20 to 30 minutes per prompt. Then, 99 percent of the time, everyone reads what they’ve written out loud. In the spirit of the class being an invitation to truth-telling, I keep feedback to short, positive comments, especially in the early weeks. When emotions come up, I do my very best to provide people a safe space to have those emotions. The small group of writers often get to know each other really well.
Once in a blue moon, someone will pass on reading out loud — and that is totally fine. But I’ve noticed that people who pass consistently don’t tend to stick with the class.
Well, airing all your dirty laundry in the first (or eighth) class isn’t required! And during our first meeting, everyone agrees that what is written and shared in the class will be confidential. The confidentiality agreement is key. Of course, if you see another student outside of class and want to discuss your own writing with them, that’s fine — it’s the other students, those who aren’t present, whose writing is off limits. What is begotten in the workshop, stays in the workshop. Again, safety and intimacy are so important that we all contribute in kind.
Well, I know that students have used these prompts to write MFA theses in writing, and have also used them in memoir proposals — really, truth makes for better writing. And so, mysteriously, does writing in a group. I do all of the exercises along with my students, and I get some of my best writing done during class.
The format and atmosphere of the class is more or less the same in both classes. But while each Heroine’s Journey class covers one step of the journey, the Highest Form of Flattery is a bit more of literary stretch, and we often work the same piece for two or three classes in a row. Put as simply as possible, the Heroine’s Journey is to get your material on the page, and the Highest Form of Flattery is to structure and polish that material. The Heroine’s Journey class is open to all comers every time, but some Highest Form of Flattery classes require an application.
No one is required to do homework, but for students who want to polish their in-class work at home, there are a couple of options: they may take 5 minutes at the beginning of class to read how they’ve developed their class work from the week before; and some classes take this farther by signing up to have their work formally critiqued in class. But most classes don’t do that. I occasionally hand out a reading that’s relevant to the next week’s exercises for people to peruse at home.
I haven’t scheduled my 2015 classes yet, but I’ll likely start those in Jan. or Feb. If you’ve never received an e-mail from me, contact me to get on my mailing list.
Yes! You can assemble a group of friends, co-workers, or neighbors (seven maximum), and figure out some dates when you’d like to do an intensive. For example, a Friday evening plus all day Saturday and Sunday is a perfect length of time to do a fast, powerful Heroine’s Journey. I can facilitate classes from 2 1/2 hours to four days in length. Contact me if you’d like to schedule a date talk about setting up your own intensive.