As someone who enjoys writing personal essays, this session, Writing True Stories, really appealed to me when I saw it on the schedule for the Writers On The Sound Writing Conference. Portland author Gigi Rosenberg led the session; she’s currently working on a memoir about the time she spent with her husband and daughter in Italy while he was teaching there.
I could relate when Gigi said she’s considering making her middle name Sparrow when she submits to The Sun. That got a chuckle from most everyone in the room, and it was encouraging to be reminded that all writers get rejections.
Nuggets I took away from the session about writing:
- If you’re stuck, go to the senses — write about the details of what it is to be you.
- Stay in the scene.
- Worried about hurting people with your memoir? Write your truth, with love, and then you can’t be unfair. Think of it as, “According to me, this is what happened.”
Observations about facilitation or teaching style:
- Lead feedback sessions by having the writer say what type of feedback they want — she even said at times she tells her writing group, “This piece is done, I’m only reading it to you as a final step. Only tell me what works.” In our session she asked volunteers to read what they had written during the freewrite and then we all wrote down any phrase, word, or image that really worked for us. Then, when the person was done a few people read their lists and we all passed our lists to the reader. It’s a nice, positive way of highlighting what is working in a piece.
- Be honest. One of the participants volunteered to read her writing. As she began it was clear she’d written a piece about people sitting in our workshop. She started the piece by saying something like, “I’m in Edmonds at a writing workshop. The instructor is at the front, she’s thin with dark hair.” And, she continued to explore our group of participants and included specific details, from her perspective as a doctor, about two other participants who had visible health limitations (a woman in a wheel chair and a man who used an oxygen tank). The piece was quite lovely and well-written. But, it was also shocking and gave a good illustration about memoir and writing about real people and how one should generally let someone know about a piece that will be made public if it involves them. Gigi handled it brilliantly, she said she had never had this happen before and that normally one should get permission before sharing that type of piece. She said that she hoped the two participants weren’t offended and that they could discuss more after class. That was it and she moved on. I admired that she was honest, upfront and effectively communicated that it was inappropriate without being confrontational or wasting the class time.
This session was useful not only in the writing nuggets, but in the example of a teaching style that I admired. Gigi’s approach served as a good reminder that a writer who makes her living using words can do that via the page as well as thorugh her voice. Tune in next Sunday for session three from the conference: The Secret Power of Story.