Today I finished leading the last 1.5-hour workshop in a series of four which took place at the Fetzer Institute. I think the title of this workshop–Timed Writing–may have scared away potential participants. Sounds as jolly as retaking the SAT. Despite the title, and despite the fact that four people on the list could not make it, we gathered around the candle in The Commons area and delved into the topic of writing and love–with one 15-minute timed writing assignment. I offered the choice of two topics: (1) walk through the house you grew up in until you uncover a story (2) think about who taught you about love in childhood and describe what you learned using all five senses.
I learned to appreciate timed writing when I took a workshop with Barbara Samuel, who is also Barbara O’Neale and has just published a new book: The Lost Recipe for Happiness, a novel, which is off to a great start. Here’s how Barbara herself describes her recent life: “It’s been a thrilling few months, with auctions in the US, between the UK and Australia, and in Germany. The book has also sold to Denmark, Holland; to Recorded Books (read by the wonderful Bernadette Dunn, who has read all of my books). It’s also available in electronic form. My new website should be up and running by the end of this week: www.barbaraoneal.com and you can always still find me at my regular blog, A Writer Afoot.”
Barbara used a lot of five-ten-minute writing assignments last summer at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. I was amazed to see how much good work and insight can come from asking interesting questions in a safe and stimulating environment.
I can’t tell you what the students learned from me, but I can describe a few things I learned from my students today:
- each of them wrote a gem of a story within 15-20 minutes
- each of them has nourished a hidden desire to write, perhaps even a repressed calling to write
- each of them experienced love in childhood that still exists as sensory-rich memory
- workshops give people a structure and an audience, two things aspiring writers cannot take for granted
- loving and truthful criticism helps writers gain courage
- writing helps people sort their thoughts
- writing helps us deal with fear and anger without taking out these feelings on others and may help the writer transform fear and anger into love and forgiveness
- learning more about each other in a setting like this workshop brought us closer together even though we work in three different units of our organization. Writing increases love!
- love naturally leads us to gratitude. We were grateful that on a very wintry day in Michigan we could experience together our organization’s mission through the powerful combination of writing and memory.